Ohio lawmakers look to outlaw municipal broadband

Ethernet cable with lights shooting from the end

Ohio’s state legislature is close to passing a new law that would ban municipal broadband networks over the vast majority of the state. Ohio cities that already have public broadband networks vow to fight the ban.

Nationwide, 17 states have laws restricting municipal broadband, benefiting internet service providers that would rather not compete with publicly owned broadband networks. Until recently, the count was 19 states, but Arkansas and Washington recently ended those restrictions.

In Ohio, the proposed law would kill over 30 existing municipal broadband networks, according to reports. Ohio would be the first state in a decade to pass such a law.

Ohio’s Republican-controlled Senate passed the anti-municipal broadband measure, which was included in a Senate budget bill, last week on a party-line vote. It remains to be seen if the bill survives upcoming budget negotiations in the state’s Republican-controlled House of Representatives.

A law firm concluded the bill would outlaw municipal broadband across 98% of the state, allowing cities and towns to provide broadband only to “unserved areas,” which it defines as places that don’t have access to download speeds of at least 10Mbps. Critics of the bill say a 10Mbps standard is low, as many DSL lines offer that speed.

The bill would also forbid cities and towns from offering broadband service outside their municipal borders, even if the area in question is “unserved.”

Charter, the US’ second-biggest broadband provider after Comcast, covers most of Ohio. Cable and telecom companies AT&T, Comcast, Frontier, and WOW also have broadband networks in the state.

Meanwhile, Ohio cities that operate broadband networks are preparing to challenge the ban in court.

“It is just a transparent attack on municipalities and our efforts to extend broadband services for those who need it the most at a time when we need it the most,” said Cleveland City Council President Kevin Kelley, according to Cleveland.com. “It is absolutely irresponsible legislating. It is done as a favor to the legacy carriers, and we’re going to do everything we can to fight it.”