Alongside a number of online advocacy groups, Netflix and Google have joined the fight against proposed laws that would ban municipalities from offering their own Internet service to certain areas.
The proposed legislation is currently being discussed in Virginia, and is known as the Virginia Broadband Deployment Act. In short, it says that city governments couldn’t offer new Internet service options except in rare situations. In areas where a broadband network already exists that gives 10Mbps download speed to over 90% of customers, a municipal offering wouldn’t be allowed.
And that’s something a lot of people have a problem with.
No competition for broadband access is bad for both business and for residents, argues Terry Kilgore, a Republican member of the Virginia House of Delegates. He feels like 10Mbps is a tremendously low threshold, and making that the cutoff point would severely limit that area’s ability to attract new businesses and residents, even comparing the situation to cities that became ghost towns a century ago because they didn’t have electrical access.
While slower than many offerings today, the 10Mbps mark was chosen because it’s low enough to work with old DSL lines in areas that don’t have cable and fiber access.
Supporters of the bill claim the legislation would help bring broadband access to underdeveloped areas instead of having companies fight for already developed areas. They also point to the fact that operating a broadband system is expensive and something local governments often have no experience in, leading to failure in the majority of times it’s been tried so far.
It makes sense why Google is in this fight. They’ve brought Google Fiber gigabit broadband to eight cities presently, and had plans to expand further, but have pulled back in recent months. When local regulations make it difficult for outsiders to challenge established ISPs, it’s a battle that’s not worth the cost. On Netflix’s end, they don’t have a specific reason to fight, but they’d surely benefit if more residents in an area have high speed broadband.
Last week, Google, Netflix, Atlantic Engineering, the Internet Association, the Coalition for Local Internet Choice, the National Association of Telecommunications Officers and Advisors, the Fiber to the Home Council, and a number of other groups sent a letter urging lawmakers to vote against this bill.
The letter (which can be read in full here) read in part “We support strong, fair, and open competition to ensure that users can enjoy the widest range of choices and opportunities. HB 2108 would take us in the wrong direction. It is bad for Virginia communities, particularly rural communities, bad for the private sector, particularly high-technology companies, and bad for America’s global competitiveness.”
The bill should come to vote some time in the next few weeks.