Bye Urges Opposition to Bill That Would Kill Municipal Right To Expand Internet Access
State Senator Beth Bye (D-West Hartford) today urged members of the legislature’s Energy & Technology Committee to oppose a proposed bill that seeks to restrict how cities and towns can use their rightful spot on a telephone pole, a.k.a. their “gain.”
Sen. Bye helped pass legislation several years ago that clarifies the ability of cities and town to maximize the use of their municipal gain. Since then, cities and towns across Connecticut have been meeting with private-sector investment banks and internet providers to issue requests for proposal (RFPs) for the funding and creation of local fiber optic gigabit internet networks.
“For generations, phone, cable and internet utility companies have been able to limit competition by limiting access to the wires on these poles. As legislators, I am sure that you often hear constituent complaints about the cost, quality and service of cable and internet providers. Costs have skyrocketed over the last decade. This is what happens when there is little or no competition,” Sen. Bye wrote. “It is always a difficult battle advocating for public policies that advance consumer and small business interests over the very highly represented and well-funded interests of huge telecommunications firms. Still, it’s important that we keep up this fight in order to secure more and better choices—and often less-expensive options—for our residents.”
West Hartford Corporation Counsel Patrick Alair also submitted testimony in opposition to the proposed bill.
“It is impossible to imagine all the ways in which the proposed (bill) could impede municipalities from delivering services to their residents and taxpayers, because we cannot image all of the creative ways in which municipalities might be able to use the municipal gain in the future,” Alair wrote in part. “Now is the time when Connecticut needs to be more forward-thinking, not moving backward.”
Here is Sen. Bye’s written testimony in its entirety:
February 21, 2017
State Senator Gary Winfield
State Senator Paul Formica
State Representative Lonnie Reed
Good Afternoon Chairwoman Reed and Chairmen Winfield and Formica,
I am writing today to express my strong opposition to House Bill 7011, “AN ACT CONCERNING MUNICIPAL GAINS ON PUBLIC UTILITY POLES,” which seeks to require that municipal gains be used only by a town, city, borough, fire district or the Department of Transportation.
The municipal gain is a powerful economic development tool for towns; I am sure you will be hearing from them today on that point.
Connecticut is unique in its utility pole regulatory structure in that, since the 1930s, Connecticut towns have been granted the placement of a wire on a pole (a “gain”) for their purposes. This gives towns the ability to use that gain as they see fit.
But for generations, phone, cable and internet utility companies have been able to limit competition by limiting access to the wires on these poles. As legislators, I am sure that you often hear constituent complaints about the cost, quality and service of cable and internet providers. Costs have skyrocketed over the last decade. This is what happens when there is little or no competition.
Several years ago, after receiving input from my constituents and local town leaders, I helped craft legislation clarifying language for communities so that they could maximize their use of their municipal gain.
Before this legislation, every time a town tried to use that gain, cable and phone companies would sue, claiming the gain is not for ‘municipal’ purposes. These lawsuits had a chilling effect on town attempts to use their gain for the benefit of local businesses and residents.
It is always a difficult battle advocating for public policies that advance consumer and small business interests over the very highly represented and well-funded interests of huge telecommunications firms. Still, it’s important that we keep up this fight in order to secure more and better choices—and often less-expensive options—for our residents.
We in the legislature must stand up and fight for our communities’ and our constituents’ best interests, and we must turn away any proposed bill that seeks to protect the current monopolistic telecommunications landscape which is characterized by such a disturbing lack of competition and by ever-increasing costs.
Other states across America are looking at their broadband infrastructure investments. Unfortunately, Connecticut’s current leadership has not moved in that direction, leaving it to cities and towns to fight and advocate for themselves on a case-by-case basis.
This bill before you today would severely limit the infrastructure development options for our cities and towns, leaving Connecticut’s small businesses, research institutions, libraries, schools and other facilities lacking affordable gigabit service.
Connecticut is rightfully proud of its innovation economy, yet this misguided bill places our innovation economy in great peril.
Please stand up for consumers, for start-up businesses, and for the economic development potential of Connecticut’s cities and towns, and please stand against this regressive public policy which seeks only to enrich a handful of huge telecommunications companies while stifling the competition and innovation that have made America great.
State Senator Beth Bye