Cable bill proposal in Kansas causes controversy in Kansas City

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KANSAS CITY, Kan. — Cable television lobbyists in Kansas are endorsing a controversial bill that would make it illegal for cities to offer broadband services to their residents.

Senate Bill 304 states “except with regard to unserved areas, a municipality may not, directly or indirectly offer or provide to one or more subscribers, video, telecommunications or broadband service.”  It also states a city cannot partner up with a private company to offer broadband services.

The bill is being written by the Kansas Cable Telecommunications Association.

“The firestorm this bill generated was a bit unfair,” said KCTA president John Federico.  He said it’s not fair to private companies such as Time Warner, Cox Communication, AT&T and others when a city gives benefits to one cable company over another. He said private companies should be allowed to compete on a fair playing field.

He denied allegations that this bill is in response to the rise of Google Fiber. Google Fiber is working with Kansas City, Kan., Kansas City, Mo., and other cities to lease space on power poles.  Without that partnership, Google Fiber might not have headquartered its high-speed internet service here. Google signed its name on a joint statement with 11 other companies and trade associations in protest to S.B. 304, stating, “This bill will harm both the public and private sectors, stifle economic growth, prevent the creation or retention of thousands of jobs, hamper work force development and diminish the quality of life in Kansas.”

If passed, the bill would grandfather all cable companies currently working with cities to set up broadband service but would prevent cable companies and municipalities from entering into further agreements. The only exception would be in cities where there is currently no cable company presence.

Some question whether money will end up motivating lawmakers to eventually pass this bill into law.  According to the Kansas Ethics Commission, the Cable Television lobby spent more than $43,000 in 2013 wining and dining state lawmakers, with AT&T spending $25,003.86. Federico spent $8,383.92 lobbying on behalf of the cable television industry.

A hearing on S.B. 304 set for the Senate was cancelled and no future date has been set yet.  Federico said he is working with lawmakers to change some of the wording in the law to make it more acceptable and might re-introduce it before the end of the 2014 legislative session.

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