Baldwin City officials oppose bill that would limit cities’ participation in broadband extension
Count Baldwin City officials as among those unhappy with a measure introduced in the Kansas Legislature that would prevent the state’s municipalities from bringing or helping bring broadband Internet to their communities.
Senate bill 304 was introduced in the Kansas Senate two weeks ago and was set for a Tuesday hearing in the Senate Finance Committee before committee chair Sen. Julia Lynn, R-Olathe, canceled the hearing.
“This is how our process was designed to work. Based on the concerns I heard last week, I visited with industry representatives and they have agreed to spend some time gathering input before we move forward with a public hearing," Lynn said in a prepared statement.
“I have decided to cancel the meeting planned for this week, and we’ll revisit the topic when some of these initial concerns have been addressed," she said.
The Baldwin City Council was prepared Monday to authorize Mayor Marilyn Pearse to send a letter to Lynn and finance committee members opposing the bill, but held off when it was learned a committee hearing was delayed.
The bill would prevent cities from directly entering the telecommunication’s market or joining in public/private partnerships meant to bring broadband cable to their communities.
Baldwin City is considering just such a partnership with Dawn Fiber LLC. In October, the Baldwin City Council approved a resolution authorizing the city issue up to $5 million in industrial revenue bonds to the local company. Bond funds would be used to bring fiber-optic gigabit-capacity cable to the community and install a distribution network in the city.
Dawn Fiber has not presented the final details of its plans or financing to the city council, and the October resolution does not obligate the council to issue the industrial revenue bonds.
Baldwin City Administrator Chris Lowe said he participated in a Kansas League of Municipalities' conference call last week with officials from other cities opposed to the bill, including Ottawa and Chanute.
Joining the state’s municipalities in opposition to the legislation were such heavy hitters as Google, the American Public Power Association and the Fiber to Home Council, Lowe said.
“I don’t think there’s any question the delay in the hearing is because of the pushback they received,” he said. “I think they were surprised by the strength of the opposition.”
If passed, the bill wouldn’t overturn existing arrangements, such as the one that exists in Ottawa. The proposed Baldwin City partnership would not be affected should a deal be in place before any new legislation becomes effective, Lowe said.
The city’s opposition to the bill was more fundamental than the proposed agreement with Dawn Fiber, Lowe said.
“Our message has always been the city has the freedom to choose for our community the quality of infrastructure we provide,” he said. “We support the freedom of other cities to provide the same. To cut off other cities from providing that infrastructure on their own or through public-private partnerships is bad public policy.”
What is upsetting about the measure is that cable providers who support limiting the right of cities to provide upgraded cable have refused to provide the option to isolated or smaller communities, Lowe said.
“This would destroy western Kansas,” he said. “Nobody would ever move back there or start a business there.”
The hope was the bill would be made more flexible to allow city’s the ability to serve the needs of their citizens, Lowe said.
-- The Lawrence Journal-World contributed to this report.