Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Sham Hearing Produces Desired Results for Legislature & Lobbyists

by Kyle Michaelis
The all-mighty telecommunications lobby continues to dictate to Nebraska legislators, who have followed Governor Dave Heineman's lead in forsaking our state's economic and technological progress by closing off every avenue to public high-speed Internet service. Under the guise of protecting competition and the free market, our elected representatives continue to leave the people of Nebraska under-served and over-charged with few options and no incentive for the telecommunications industry to improve upon their wretched rates and worse service - especially in rural parts of the state.

In 2005, NNN covered the legislature's first selling out to these corporations by imposing a hardly-debated ban on state and municipal governments - as well as public agencies (i.e. power companies with the infrastructure in place and bandwidth to spare) - providing retail or even wholesale Internet service. That ban was rammed down the people of Nebraska's throats by then-Speaker of the Legislature Kermit Brashear, who already worked for the telecommunications industry in his law practice and who now unsurprisingly works as one of their chief lobbyists seeing that State Senators stay bought and don't challenge this outrageous legislation.

In the two years since, the issue was to have been studied by a taskforce appointed by Gov. Heineman, although - of course - the makeup of that taskforce littered with self-interested industry executives made it a joke from the start. Again, it didn't come as much of a surprise when its final report read like a brochure from the telecommunications lobby protecting themselves from any possibility of the public's need being sensibly served by a public entity.

Now, this might be the lamest chapter yet in this still-developing controversy. The Omaha World-Herald reports:
Legislative efforts to allow Nebraska municipalities to provide wireless Internet service to residents appear likely to die for lack of interest, the chairman of the Legislature's Transportation and Telecommunications Committee said Monday.

State Sen. Deb Fischer of Valentine commented after the committee held a hearing on whether lawmakers should open the door to publicly provided wireless service.

"We scheduled the hearing to determine if there was any interest in municipal wireless service, and I didn't hear any interest," she said.

Two years ago, lawmakers passed Legislative Bill 645, which prohibited municipalities and other local governments from selling high-speed Internet service in competition with the private telecommunications industry.

Although the Legislature now appears unlikely to change the law, two Columbus Internet service providers are ready to mount a petition drive seeking to overturn the law in the November 2008 election.

Paul Schumacher and Linda Aerni said Monday that their petition should hit the streets in about a month.

Both said they were unaware of Monday's legislative hearing and were disappointed to have missed it. Three of the five people who testified at the hearing represented the private telecommunications industry, and all were strongly opposed to allowing competition from the public sector.
A sham hearing outside the legislative session to which no voices of opposition or dissent were even invited, orchestrated by industry lobbyists and the senators who do their bidding - have you ever heard anything more pathetic?

One day, this will stand as a defining issue for this dark period of Nebraska's one-sided, Republican-controlled government that confuses corporate profits and the public interest, refusing to distinguish the one from the other because it would so quickly reveal the full extent of their backwards and diseased agenda.

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Blogger JimEenright said...

I have no problem with local governments selling internet services. I object to taxpayers SUBSIDIZING cell phone services or internet services for rural customers, which I understand is now the case, or is being proposed by members of the Public Service Commission.
Lobbyists dominate the State Senate due to public apathy and a the lack of political parties which act as a counterweight against special interest lobbyists. It doesn't help that senators are not paid a living wage and need all the free meals and trips they can get from lobbyists.


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