Georgia is the latest battleground in a conflict pitting big-name telecommunications providers against local governments looking to get into the Internet business to provide better connectivity for residents. A proposed bill in the state would keep cities and towns from offering broadband service to residents if just one home in a census tract has Internet speeds of 1.5 Mbps or greater.
According to a report in ArsTechnica, legislatures in South Carolina and North Carolina passed similar measures in 2012 and 2011, respectively. Several other states, including Indiana, have rejected laws like what is being proposed in Georgia.
Opponents of municipal broadband projects argue that the private sector, not the public sector, should architect broadband networks. The free market argument holds that this model will drive competition between providers that results in viable choices for consumers. In geographic areas where this is happening, there's no place for government in broadband.
But in areas where connectivity options are few, government has stepped in to fill the void, financing modern networks with taxpayer dollars. Cities like Chattanooga, Tenn., and Lafayette, La., have gotten a lot of attention for investing public dollars in broadband infrastructure.
ArsTechnica's Timothy B. Lee cautions against state legislatures like Georgia's deciding outright that cities can't pursue municipal networks.
"If municipal networks turn out to be a disaster, as critics predict they will, then other towns will learn from the early adopters' mistakes and steer clear of them," Lee said. "But we won't learn anything if state legislatures shut down the experiments before they start."