Speed minimums and muni broadband partnership provisions in proposed legislation are misdirected, ineffective

Proposed legislation in Harrisburg that would mandate minimum broadband speeds for regulated phone carriers and allow municipal governments to own and operate their own broadband networks, absent any requirements to explore potential partnerships with successful private sector telcos, will waste taxpayer dollars and bring zero benefit to Pennsylvania consumers.

State Sen. John Kane (D-Chester/Delaware) has circulated a co-sponsorship memo among his colleagues to sign onto legislation that would increase broadband  speeds from the 1.544 Mbps download speed required of  Pennsylvania’s rural local exchange carriers (RLECs) in a 2004 law (Act 183) to 100 Mbps download speeds endorsed by many public policy officials.

Unaccounted for in the proposed Kane bill is the fact that RLEC networks  already far surpass the 1.544 minimums designated in the act  in wide swaths of the state and that these carriers have invested millions in their networks since the passage of the act to keep up with customer demand and competition from unregulated providers. Some RLECs, in fact, offer their customers gigabit speed in some of the most remote regions in the state. That’s ten times the speed cited in  the proposed bill.

In addition, broadband speed is increasingly becoming  a non-issue since potentially more than a  billion in federal funding under the Broadband Equity, Access and Deployment (BEAD) Program could be coming to Pennsylvania, with strings attached, including requiring higher speeds. Many carriers already participate in other federally funded broadband programs that likewise require certain minimum  speeds faster than those required in 2004

Since it is cited as a reason for the introduction of the legislation, it is also important to remember that RLECs are not permitted to serve only profitable areas as unregulated providers do; they must make broadband service available to every home and business in their coverage areas which requests it. The law paved the way for the networks we now have, networks that could be overbuilt by a variety of competing carriers.

Finally, the  co-sponsorship memo does hit the mark when it calls for legislation which will “give local governments the ability to choose whether or not they need to or want to provide necessary service to their residents” and “give municipalities the ability to form partnerships” with other entities to build broadband networks. These are laudable goals, which is precisely why the legislature included language in Act 183 to achieve them. Legislation stripping that language out of state law would undo just what Senator Kane wants to achieve.

I would encourage (again) all legislators/regulators, public policymakers and the general public to read the law. The circulation of inaccurate information, leading to the introduction of misguided legislation, could end up costing us valuable time and money with the ultimate price being paid by Pennsylvania consumers.