Haslam pans broadband bill

Gov. Bill Haslam says efforts by municipal electric services to expand high-speed Internet to rural areas won’t fully solve Tennessee’s broadband accessibility issues and doesn’t fairly treat for-profit servers like AT&T and Comcast, reports the Times-Free Press.

“The easy thing everybody can say is, ‘We need broadband,'” the Republican governor told Times Free Press editors and reporters last week. “The difficult thing is to say, ‘How are we going to do it?’ I mean, one of the current bills won’t really do that. It’ll provide broadband to some additional areas but it really won’t take it to everyone, anywhere.”

Proposed legislation would lift restrictions on where municipal utilities such as EPB can offer services. Chattanooga’s EPB has said the city-owned utility is eager to offer its fiber-optic telecom services throughout Bradley County.

The municipal broadband bill, sponsored in the House by Rep. Kevin Brooks, R-Cleveland, would allow EPB and other public utilities to expand into areas served by rural electric cooperatives if the co-ops agree. But for-profit companies oppose the legislation.

As proponents of the years-long effort to expand municipal broadband began cranking up another attempt this year, Randy Boyd, Haslam’s commissioner of economic and community development, announced he was launching a statewide assessment of broadband access and usage in Tennessee…. Haslam said Boyd will determine what parts of the state do not have broadband and how many people are without the service.

The governor said his own “best read of the numbers” is there are 200,000 households that don’t have broadband.

Sen. Janice Bowling, R-Tullahoma, sponsor of the upper chamber’s broadband bill, took issue with a number of the governor’s statements. The 200,000 estimate is “totally bogus” and too low, she said, adding she’s heard that estimate previously “from people who stand to profit by saying it’s that low.”

“The truth is there are hundreds of thousands, more than 200,000,” she said. “There’s a significant number of homes that have no access and an equally significant number of homes that have no competition, no choice and something that is unreliable, unaffordable and that’s not their product choice.”