Earlier this year, AT&T tried to pass a Missouri bill that would hinder towns and cities from improving local broadband and even partnering with private companies like Google Fiber. We’ve discussed for years how AT&T has managed to get more than 19 such bills passed in states nationwide, all of them claiming to be motivated out of concern for taxpayers’ well being, but in reality focused on protecting AT&T from the remotest specter of real competition. Missouri already passed one such bill in 1997, and AT&T’s been working to expand it ever since.
But AT&T has a problem. Passing these bills used to be easy, as the company could simply encourage partisan bickering to distract the public from the fact that AT&T’s sole motivation is keeping broadband markets uncompetitive.
But as efforts from the like of Google Fiber and Ting have highlighted that public/private partnerships are a good way to shore up broadband coverage and competition gaps, public sentiment has generally cemented against these kinds of protectionist laws. In fact, most municipal broadband networks are now being built in Conservative areas, with broad, bi-partisan support among consumers annoyed by slow speeds and high prices.
So when AT&T’s latest attempt at broadband protectionism, HB 2078, stalled in the Missouri legislature last month, AT&T devised a clever end around. They convinced Missouri Representative Lyndall Fraker to bury the language of HB 2078 in a totally unrelated Missouri traffic measure:
The bill seems to have lost momentum since mid-March but its sponsor, Rep. Lyndall Fraker, is taking another approach to make sure his bill gets passed, come hell or high water. Session ends May 13th, so he is now banking on procedural tricks, rather than the substance of his legislation.
On May 2nd, when a bill relating to traffic citations, SB 765, came before the body, Fracker proposed to amend it with language from HB 2078. Some of the amended language is even more destructive than the original proposal in HB 2078.
Should AT&T succeed, Missouri state law will ensure that there’s fewer competitive alternatives to choose from. That’s great news for AT&T, who recently announced they’ll be taking advantage of this lack of competition to impose new caps on overage fees on all of its U-Verse markets starting May 23.