Pennsylvania Municipalities Have One Year to Develop WiFi Networks

New legislation allows telecom companies to block deployment of municipal WiFi networks

by / December 1, 2004
In a message to the Pennsylvania House of Representatives after signing HB 30 -- a complex package of telecom and broadband legislation -- Pennsylvania Gov. Rendell outlined the effects of the legislation on proposed municipal WiFi networks such as the one under development in Philadelphia.

"There are communities across the state," wrote Rendell, "such as Kutztown, which have taken the initiative to develop an integrated telecommunications network that provides advanced telephone and cable television service. There are other communities, ranging in size from Perryopolis to Philadelphia that are attempting to launch wireless networks -- Wi-Fi networks as they are known in the industry -- which will enable their residents to have high-speed connection to the Internet.

"Early versions of House Bill 30 precluded communities from developing their own networks," Rendell continued. "The final version of the bill allows existing municipal systems to continue to operate and provides local governments and authorities a one-year window to develop these networks. Municipalities that are providing telecommunications service through a municipally owned or created network as of January 1, 2006 can continue to offer and provide the services "to the extent and scope" that these services were provided before that date. After that window closes, municipalities must offer the incumbent telephone company the right of first refusal to provide the proposed service. Then, the municipality can proceed with its proposed network only if the ILEC waives its right of first refusal under this act."

Prior to the bill's signing, criticism broke out over Verizon "stopping municipalities from developing their own networks." Rendell himself was rumored to be reluctant to sign the bill. However, the governor outlined a compromise of sorts in his letter, saying: "Verizon has already agreed to waive its right of first refusal in regard to Philadelphia's proposed municipal Wi-Fi network guaranteeing that that particular project can proceed. They have done so in a signed agreement with the city. We will work with other municipalities on projects that they have established or propose to establish in order to ensure that, to the extent that they are now viable, they will also have the opportunity to succeed."

Full text of the Gov. Rendell's message to the House is below:


I have the honor to inform you that I have this day approved and signed House Bill 30, entitled "An Act amending Title 66 (Public Utilities) of the Pennsylvania Consolidated Statutes, further providing for residential telephone service rates based on duration or distance of call and for local exchange service increases and limitations; adding and repealing provisions relating to alternative form of regulation of telecommunications services; establishing the Broadband Outreach and Aggregation Fund; providing for Voice Over Internet Protocol; and making a repeal."

In 1993, the General Assembly enacted telephone deregulation legislation that became known as Chapter 30 of the Public Utility Code. This legislation put into effect a basic agreement that in exchange for establishing a framework for stimulating competition in local and long distance telephone services and implementing a more predictable rate setting process, the then monopoly local telephone companies would agree to ensure that every Pennsylvanian would have access to affordable, quality basic telephone service and to provide every Pennsylvanian with access to broadband telecommunications service by no later than 2015. Chapter 30 expired on December 31, 2003.

Today I am signing into law House Bill 30, which re-enacts and expands Chapter 30.

This legislation authorizes several ambitious initiatives.

First, it will substantially increase the investment in telecommunications infrastructure within the Commonwealth. This will accelerate deployment of broadband services by:

Wayne Hanson

Wayne E. Hanson served as a writer and editor with e.Republic from 1989 to 2013, having worked for several business units including Government Technology magazine, the Center for Digital Government, Governing, and Digital Communities. Hanson was a juror from 1999 to 2004 with the Stockholm Challenge and Global Junior Challenge competitions in information technology and education.

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