Wednesday, June 08, 2005

Unicam Wrap-Up: The Broadband Betrayal

by Kyle Michaelis
In a state with a proud tradition of public power, you'd think state senators would be expected to provide more than knee-jerk rhetoric against the establishment of new public utilities. However, as the idea of low-cost municipal internet access has captured the imagination of several cities across the country looking to make the benefits of modern technology available to rich and poor alike, our legislature has instead climbed into bed with the very powerful, very rich telecommunications lobby to prevent such a populist notion from taking hold in Nebraska.

LB645, first proposed by Speaker Kermit Brashear in one of his myriad conflicts of interest (Cox Communications - a company sure to benefit - is a client of his law firm), was passed in the legislature and subsequently signed into law by Gov. Heineman last week. It blankly prohibits public power suppliers, as well as agencies and political subdivisions of the state from offering broadband, Internet, telecommunications, or video services.

The bill also placed a two year moratorium on the leasing of publicly-held information infrastructure to private industries, awaiting the findings of the Broadband Services Task Force it creates comprised of several elected and agency representatives along with members to be appointed by the Governor who "shall represent consumers." Yeah right! Since consumers haven't been heard from at all on this issue as their interests have been sold out from under them, these appointees are unlikely to have even a hint of the backbone and vision required to be true advocates of the people in the face of so much corporate tyranny.

This isn't the only place where the telecommunications lobby has forced these outright bans on the agenda, but few states have proven so eager with so little resistance to do as told and shut off what should be an important debate about the future of this state and the need for affordable technology.

For an excellent, eye-opening analysis of the controversy surrounding municipal broadband across the county, as corporate greed declares an all-out assault on the public good, read here.

I wonder how many state senators even considered the other side of this issue. Or is it really, as it seems, just an issue of "what big business wants, big business gets" in the halls of the state capitol?


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