Although municipal broadband systems are a poor use of taxpayer money, the new Pennsylvania law all but banning municipal-owned systems, signed Tuesday by Gov. Edward G. Rendell, is the wrong response.
Local communities, through their elected representatives or the ballot box, have a right to direct the way their tax dollars are used. It is not the role of a state government to pre-empt what would otherwise be legitimate democratic action. True, in the past few years, many communities that have embarked on municipal broadband networks, including Kutztown, Pa., have learned they rarely achieve their goals of ubiquitous service at low cost. Yet, if that is the way communities choose to appropriate their funds, no law should stop them.
The law answers bad policy with worse. Instead of placing limits on popular sovereignty, Gov. Rendell and the Pennsylvania legislature should be considering a stronger and more sweeping measure that can unlock rural investment by eliminating the burdensome regulatory structure imposed on the state’s telecommunications industry. Outmoded economic regulation, subsidization of inefficient rural carriers, and mandated infrastructure-sharing requirements are the chief factors limiting broadband investment in underserved areas. Eliminate those and watch the broadband market thrive everywhere!
Senior Fellow, IT and Telecom Policy
The Heartland Institute
Steven Titch ([email protected]) is a senior fellow at The Heartland Institute in Chicago, focusing on issues of technology and telecommunications. He is also managing editor of the monthly publication, IT&T News.