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Broadband ban advances in Nebraska

Wed, 06/01/2005 - 8:00pm
Leslie Reed

Copyright 2005 The Omaha World-Herald Company

Omaha World-Herald (Nebraska)

June 1, 2005, Wednesday MIDLANDS EDITION

Lincoln — State lawmakers voted 33-10 Tuesday to prevent Nebraska cities and towns from offering municipal broadband services.

They gave first-round approval to LB 645, introduced by State Sen. Kermit Brashear of Omaha on behalf of the Nebraska telecommunications industry.

Brashear, a lawyer, has disclosed that Cox Communications, a high-speed Internet provider in Nebraska and elsewhere, is one of his clients.

The ban on municipal broadband must survive two more rounds of debate, with only three days remaining in the 2005 legislative session, before it would go to Gov. Dave Heineman's desk for his signature or veto.

The bill previously has been described as an attempt to prevent Nebraska's public power utilities from entering the Internet market with a service called broadband over power lines, or BPL. Such a service would use existing power lines to provide Internet connections to homes.

But a compromise proposal developed between Nebraska public power utilities and telecommunications companies such as Alltel, Qwest and Cox included a section that bars political subdivisions in general from offering Internet service.

The compromise also calls for an indepth study of the role government should play with high-speed Internet access and a two-year moratorium on "wholesale" sales of Internet services.

That moratorium would apply in situations where public power utilities might sell the use of their infrastructure — such as BPL capacity or underutilized fiber-optic networks — to telecommunications carriers.

The bill was advanced despite the objections of some lawmakers who said it goes too far.

State Sen. Chris Beutler of Lincoln said the measure's broad scope — applying to all government entities — was "mind-boggling."

State Sens. David Landis of Lincoln, Ernie Chambers of Omaha, Matt Connealy of Decatur and LeRoy Louden of Ellsworth also unsuccessfully fought the measure.

Other lawmakers, however, said public entities should not be competing with private business. Brashear said the moratorium is necessary to hold public involvement at a standstill until the study can be completed.

Chris Dibbern, a lobbyist for the Nebraska Municipal Power Pool, said her group could not support the bill with its ban on public-sector involvement in Internet services. She said she will continue to lobby against the bill, which is expected to return to the legislative agenda today.

"We think significant bans are not good for the State of Nebraska," she said.

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