City considers impacts of broadband bill

Sparks Tribune


The City of Sparks is examining a telecommunications bill introduced by Sen. John Ensign (R-Nev.) and Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) that could limit local governments’ ability to regulate the industry.

The "Broadband Investment and Consumer Choice Act" could reduce the ability of local governments to control right-of-ways and limit the placement of infrastructure according to zoning standards.

The bill could also limit the city's ability to impose taxes or fees for the use of right-of-ways or providing service.

In a statement, Ensign said federal rules should "encourage market forces to work and that allow consumers to choose the best products and services at the best prices."

Ensign said the U.S. is falling behind in the global market, and cited the company Skype out of the Netherlands, which has 40 million customers, 10 million in the U.S. alone.

A new law could bring 212,000 new jobs and millions of dollars in growth, Ensign said. The bill would allow local governments to collect 5 percent of revenues from phone video service providers, as they do for cable.

The bill would also allow for a fee on satellite services, which could provide an added revenue source for the city, said Sparks Assistant City Manager Steve Driscoll.

"It's believed that there will be a large movement from land-line type service to wireless type services," he said.

"Because of that, the city could lose money over time due to technology, not because of the bill. In the long run, we could potentially see more franchise moneys."

Opponents of the bill worry the legislation prohibits cities from charging fees for construction permits to install or upgrade a facility.

Reno Mayor Bob Cashell drafted a letter to Sen. Ensign expressing the City of Reno's concerns with the bill.

"We are alarmed by industry arguments that they are unfairly burdened and should be exempt from all state and local taxation," Cashell said. "Any pre-emption of local taxing authority over telecommunications providers will simply shift the tax burden to other businesses and property owners."

Cashell said local governments must be able to regulate their right-of-ways.

"Reno taxpayers have made major investments in its streets and roads and they are one of the community's most valuable assets," he said. "Collection of fees for their use by private companies protects these investments and ensures that they are used safely and responsibly."

The National League of Cities is also opposed to the legislation as written.

Driscoll said he had some concerns over how the bill might limit the city's authority.

"We have concerns about the bill," he said. "Anytime something would limit the ability for a city to maintain its right-of-ways or building standards, we're concerned."

Ensign's office has assured the city they would still have local control, Driscoll said.

"We have been assured we would maintain control of our right of ways," Driscoll said. "Nothing in the bill we believe is intended to change that. We're in good shape."

Driscoll said the city has been working closely with Ensign to protect local governments.

"The city is very appreciative of the fact the senator's office is working so closely with us," he said. "We're working with the senator's staff to understand how it works and how it might affect the city. We'll provide information back on aspects negatively affecting the city."

Driscoll said the legislation is still in the early stages and will probably go through several changes before its final vote.
"In reality, the bill that gets introduced and the bill that gets passed . . . a lot of times they look very different," he said.


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