Controversial municipal broadband bill passes Virginia House with changes

By  | 

RICHMOND, Va. (WDBJ7) We're following developments in Richmond tonight on a heavily criticized bill affecting municipal broadband.

Shayne Dwyer/WDBJ7

Tuesday morning the Virginia House of Delegates passed the "Wireless Services Authority Act." Delegate Kathy Byron of Bedford sponsored the legislation.

Originally the bill would have required local governments share confidential customer pricing agreements with the public, and thus competitors. The bill went through two substitutions and on the house floor Tuesday, Byron promised to remove that regulation restricting confidentiality when the bill makes it to a senate committee.

Frank Smith is the President and CEO of the Roanoke Valley Broadband Authority. He worked in Richmond with lawmakers to help change the bill This version, with the promise by Byron, is something the Roanoke Valley Broadband Authority said it can live with.

"I affectionately called it the broadband death star bill and we're glad that the delegate has listened to us and to our concerns, and to other members of her constituents," Smith said. "So we think that the fact that this has changed from a bill that we thought was extremely harmful to our efforts to provide municipal broadband and now it's to the point where it actually restates and reinforces the laws as far as open books and open rates which we do right now."

Smith said the RVBA supports transparency and open information, but the sharing of specific contract pricing and negotiations with customers would have severely impacted its success.

He added that the RVBA wasn't the only one with problems with the bill, adding that other municipalities across Virginia had issues with it and even the Coalition for Local Internet Choice, a national organization, had taken a stance against it. Smith said major IT companies like Google, Netflix, Nokia, and others had written letters against the previous versions of the bill.

According to Smith, there was some support for the bill - but that support came from competing Internet Service Providers.

"Primarily I would say that it was some of the incumbent providers, in particular in the cable association," Smith said.

The bill still needs to clear the Senate before it could go to the Governor's desk for signing.