Down to the wire in Indiana

The press has not generally covered the fight in Indiana over their telecom dereg bill, known in the Indiana Senate as SB 245. What coverage there has been has primarily focused on deregulating phone rates or elimination of local franchising of video offerings (i.e., the new telco video products will not need local franchsies). Few stories have observed that Chapter 35 of SB 245, as drafted, would hamstring the ability of local governments to either provide broadband services directly or do so through partnerships with others.

The version of SB 245 that passed the Senate included minor modifications to Chapter 35. In the Indiana House of Representatives, the House eliminated both Chapter 35 and the state franchising provisions. The bill has now gone back to the Senate.

I want to urge folks in Indiana, and elsewhere if you do business in Indiana or otherwise have a connection to the state, to make your views known to the Senate. In I hope people and organizations will tell the Indiana State senators that anything that impedes the flexibility of localities to create effective broadband strategies, such as Chapter 35, cannot be good for the people of Indiana.

I have included a draft letter below. Please feel free to print out or in any other way use it to help stop Chapter 35 of SB 245.

This is also a good time for me to stress that, as usual, I speak only on behalf of myself and not my employer or Wetmachine.

Stay tuned . . . .

[___________, 2006]

Dear State Legislator:

I write to express my concern with Chapter 35 of SB 245. Everyone agrees that the economic future of Indiana depends on broadband. Cities and towns therefore need the flexibility to meet the broadband needs of existing employers and residents, as well as to attract new jobs or foster new economic growth. Chapter 35 of SB 245 would frustrate the ability of local government leaders to meet the unique, local needs of each Indiana community.

Whether it’s a high tech firm looking to locate a new office in an area with a high quality of living, an auto parts manufacturer that takes orders online to compete with a manufacturer in China, a bank transmitting and receiving time-sensitive financial information, or a local architect trying to send a client a drawing, broadband has become a “must have” commodity. Chapter 35 of SB 245 would make it harder for local communities to meet these needs by imposing onerous, unnecessary, and expensive regulatory requirements. That’s bad for the people living in those communities, bad for companies trying to do business there, and bad for Indiana.

In Scottsburg and Marion, for example, the largest employers threatened to relocate unless the city could guarantee access to broadband. Because no private company would provide broadband, these towns built their own networks, saving hundreds of much needed jobs in Indiana and hopefully attracting new business. Had Chapter 35 been law, these towns could not have acted in time to stop these businesses from leaving for better connected places.

Not every city or town will want to build its own network. Every local community is different, with its own set of unique opportunities and challenges. Every potential employer looking to move to communities in Indiana to enjoy its high quality of living will have its own set of broadband needs. Local governments need flexibility to respond to those needs. By the time a local government has completed the lengthy and expensive process required by Chapter 35, a potential new employer will most likely have taken its business to a more responsive locality in another state.

In addition to the economic reasons, cities and towns need the flexibility to provide broadband services for what they can do to benefit the people of Indiana. Broadband creates opportunities for education, telemedicine, and just the simple pleasure of sending a video of child’s high school graduation to relatives who couldn’t be there. Since every city and town in Indiana is different, local governments need to have the maximum flexibility to respond to the challenges of delivering needed broadband services. The regulatory straight jacket of Chapter 35 of SB 245 will make it impossible for local governments to respond to local needs in an appropriate, cost effective, and timely manner.

Supporters of Chapter 35 of SB 245 claim that Indiana must regulate local communities with such a heavy hand because private broadband companies can’t compete with local governments. I do not believe this is true. Public transportation does not bankrupt taxi companies, libraries don’t bankrupt bookstores, and public schools don’t bankrupt private schools. Private sector companies are, I believe, eager to deploy their services in Indiana. Leaving local communities the flexibility to address local needs does not threaten private sector broadband. If anything, the competition will drive deployment, keep down prices, and benefit the people of Indiana.

For all these reasons, I urge you to reject Chapter 35 of SB 245.

Thank you for your consideration.

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