Powerful phone and cable companies in Texas are trying to push through a bill guaranteeing them a monopoly on high-speed Internet access. They want to make it illegal for towns and cities to provide inexpensive Internet access to close the digital divide and provide more diverse media sources.
Call your state representatives today and ask them to strike HB 789 and HB 3179 from the Public Utility Commission bill (SB 408).
Rep. Phil King has added HB 789 and HB 3179 to the PUC Sunset bill, a “must pass” bill that continues the existence of the Public Utility Commission. He knows the bills would have a tough time in the Senate so he snuck them onto the must pass bill. On Tuesday, May 10th he called a hearing to pass the Senate version of the Sunset bill, SB 408. The Senate must hear that HB 789 and HB 3179 are both highly controversial and they should be stripped from Senator Nelson’s Sunset bill. These provisions are too important to go without debate and to be roped in in such an underhanded manner.
On March 23, the Texas House passed an amended version of bill 789, placing limits on municipalities wishing to offer Internet service
to their residents. However, the restrictions on municipalities are watered down from the previous proposal. This is thanks in part to the
spirited efforts of grassroots activists, among them Free Press members from Texas, calling and petitioning legislators in Austin who put up a good fight in the House. Now in the Senate, the provisions added to SB 408 are much worse.
About the Bills
HB 789,a significant rewrite of Texas telecommunications law, has passed in the House with an amendment limiting the opportunities for
municipalities to offer Internet access. The bill prohibits municipalities and municipal electric utilities from providing Internet service to their residents, unless it is free or in partnership with private service providers. However, all cities providing Internet access by Sept 1, 2006 as well as cities that submit a plan for internet access by June 15, 2006 will be allowed to provide service. Cities must first show they have the financial and managerial expertise to provide service. The House ordered a study of municipal provision of Internet Access and they will revisit Municipal service in the next session. All eyes now turn to the Senate to see whether they too are moved by the lobbying of SBC Communications or strong enough to allow municipalities to serve their residents.
A separate bill has been introduced in the Texas Senate, SB 1748, which would provide broadband over power lines through the state
utilities. Representative Troy Fraser introduced the bill with the intention of getting broadband to communities unserved by DSL or cable
companies. The text of the bill was brought to Fraser by the utilities, however, and the bill itself has a lot to be desired in terms of
consumer service and financial planning. Fraser feels it’s in the early planning stages and will be looking to shape it in coming weeks.
Read Senate bill 1748.
Telecom bills may avoid Senate debate
State Rep. Phil King, has attached controversial House Bills 789 and 3179 to a must-pass bill renewing the Public Utility Commission of
Texas, pushing them through the Senate without debate.
Austin American-Statesman, May 11, 2005
Cable vs. telco: what happens Phone giants SBC and Verizon are using television ads to persuade Texas citizens and legislatures to make it easier to sell TV service in the state.
Broadcasting & Cable, May 9, 2005
Telecom deregulation battle heats up Consumers are on the line as legislators fight over HB3179. News 8 Austin, May 6, 2005
Dell stumps for free Wi-Fi The founder of Dell Inc. is urging state lawmakers not to block Texas cities from providing free Internet access. Austin Business Journal, April 29, 2005
Will the lege shut down public broadband? Will the legislature prematurely bar municipalities from implementing broadband initiatives, and thereby leave too many communities without broadband access? Austin Chronicle, April 22, 2005
Cities keep a careful eye on proposed Wi-Fi limits The Texas House has passed the bill adding barriers to municipal internet provision – now it’s time for the Senate to decide. Star Telegram, April 5, 2005