Florida bill would stop muni telecom systems

Submitted by acohill on Wed, 02/23/2005 - 07:20

Add Florida to the list of states with bills pending to stop municipal and local government investments in telecom.

Across the country, legislators, prodded by the phone and cable companies, are trying to outlaw community investments in telecom. One of the problems is that the discussion is one-sided. There are few consumer and local government advocates getting involved in educating legislators about the benefits of local telecom investments.

Barry Moline, head of the Florida Municipal Electric Association, summed up the debate from the community perspective.

"Why should our communities' needs be based" on whether private companies will provide services?"

One of the red herring arguments being tossed around by the incumbents is the notion that tax money is being used to support these projects. I've been invovled in designing business models for community telecom projects for years, and I've yet to see one that counted on one cent of tax dollars. I've never even heard anyone suggest, even casually, that tax dollars ought to be used. And finally, these simply can't be financed with tax dollars. It doesn't work, and elected leaders know that.

Community telecom projects have to be designed from the ground up to be self-supporting, or they will fail. Services fees have to balance out with the cost of managing and maintaining the network. It's a complete fiction that tax dollars are being used to support these projects, and the incumbents know it. What's really sad is that these companies, instead of choosing to compete honestly and offer their customers the services they want, are instead refusing to provide those services and simultaneously trying to cut off the options of communities to get needed services.

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