Legislative Session Summary

Here’s our final legislative overview for the 06 regular session of the Louisiana Legislature.

The votes are in and the extent of the damage can almost be fully assessed. HB 699,the state-wide cable franchise bill was by far the most important telecommunications bill of the session. It still awaits the governors signature; she has 60 days from the close of session to ponder her choices. The original bill was horrifically bad. The current, massively amended, version remains extremely bad legislation. What remains most objectionable about the bill is that it explicitly forbids local governments to use their ownership of public rights of way to force telecom providers to offer service to the whole community. By making cherry-picking a state-sanctioned activity this bill all but assures a continued divide between rural-urban areas and between wealthy and poor areas within a community. The state simply should not be stepping in to preempt a local decision on this matter in order to increase the profitability of a monopoly incumbent. With luck, and the loud objection of the citizenry (hey that’s you), Blanco still might veto it as she vetoed the health care perk for legislators. An aroused citizenry can make a difference.

The various bills that offered repeal of the Local Government (un)Fair Competition act that at one time seemed to be shaping up to be a dramatic battleground fizzeled badly when Lafayette and BellSouth cut a deal: BellSouth promised to not sue to prevent the fiber optic bond issue and Lafayette agreed to withdraw its repeal bills and to not oppose BellSouth’s merger with AT&T — those seems to have been the major issues though the full text of the agreement hasn’t been disclosed. Part of that agreement was to have been a bill to help thwart frivolous lawsuits–that bill never materialized.

New Orleans which had pushed for repeal of the wireless portions of the (un)Fair Act in order to keep its heralded free wi-fi system up and running in New Orleans. BellSouth still has not returned service to all of the city. BellSouth and Cox opposed it. A very watered-down version that would have only given the city an extra year and up the speeds legally possible to 512k passed in the house. That died without being heard in Senate Commerce. A truly irresponsible position to take and an embarrassment to the state.

Repeal or anti-repeal in various degrees and flavors:

  • HB 244, Robideaux -in House Commerce, SB 192, Michot–Withdrawn, Poison Pill. These bills would apply most of the rules that apply to municipal telecom entrants under the Local Government Fair Competition Act to “subsidized” private telecom providers.
  • HB 245, Robideaux-in House Commerce; SB 495, MichotWithdrawn, Repeal!! These bills would have repealed the Local Government Fair Competition Act.
  • HB 257, Robideaux-in House Commerce; SB 243, Michot–Withdrawn, Exemptions. These bills would have exempted Lafayette from the Fair Competition Act and have exempted all wireless technologies. Both these bills were to be withdrawn as a consequences of a deal cut between Lafayette and BellSouth.
  • HB 537, Robideaux–Died in House Commerce; Exemptions Redux. This bill would have repealed all the restrictive clauses of the fair competition act except the feasibility study and referendum provisions. It would have exempted all wireless technologies. This bill is among those to be withdrawn as a consequences of a deal cut between Lafayette and BellSouth. [This version of repeal had several Acadiana co-sponsors: Representatives, Robideaux, Pierre, Trahan, and Alexander as well as Senator Michot]
  • SB 395, Ellington–Withdrawn, Blank Check, A placeholder bill that would have allowed the incumbents to come in after the filing deadline and introduce by amendment any changes to the (un)Fair Competition Act they might desire.
  • SB 585, Ellington–Died in Senate Commerce Blank Check Too Without making much discernable difference in the meaning of the Fair Competition Act SB 585 emphasizes that municipalities may buy a network if it leases it to private corporations. Functions as a placeholder.

Wireless-only Repeal Bills

  • SB 211, Murray–died in Senate Commerce, Wireless Exemption, Would exempt all wireless technologies from the Fair Competition Act.
  • HB 1174, LaFonta–killed by House Commerce. Wireless Exemption for Parish Executives, Would have exempted all wireless technologies from the Fair Competition Act and vested decision-making power in elected parish executives.
  • HB 1188, LaFonta–died in Senate Commerce, Wireless Disaster Recovery. The original version of this bill would have repealed the Fair Competition Act with respect to wireless technologies. Following the defeat of the similar HB 1174 LaFonta offered a series of amendments in committee that fundamentally altered the bill. It would have extended the life of an emergency WiFi system to one year after a declared disaster ends. The network must be free and not supported by advertising; that is, it cannot be self-supporting. The original law allowed networks with speeds of less than 144 k to be built without regulation. The altered version of the bill would raised that to 512 k. It was bottled up in Senate Commerce (a killing field for rational telecom bills) and died there. New Orleans gets nothing.

Bills that would move cable franchises from local to state control

  • SB 386, Ellington–died in Senate Commerce. No action since 3/27. Was scheduled for hearing on May 1st in Committee but withdrawn from the day’s schedule.
  • HB 699, Montgomery–awaiting the governor’s signature. State Video Franchise, Would eliminate local video franchises and vest control in the state. This bill has been extensively modified since its introduction. In its current form it would eliminate local franchising for both BellSouth/AT&T and incumbent cable providers. The last version made a mighty effort to obligate AT&T to provide franchise fees regardless of its status as an information service. (But state law cannot override federal preemption, leaving the security of this money at issue.) Vehemetly opposed by local governments till the final days the LMA went neutral at the last minute, apparently against advice of staff. The left the police juries, and the mayors’ organization fighting on. A final set of amendments attempted to protect private property rights. Governor Blanco has expressed concern over the bill and is being pressed to veto it by opponents.
  • HB 258, Farrar–died in House Commerce. State Video Franchise-PSC, Would have eliminated local video franchises and vest control in the Public Service Commission.

Emergency Telecommunications bills with implications for municipal broadband

  • HB 540, Burns–died in Senate Commerce. Emergency Preparedness, Would have mandated the development of a an emergency preparedness system. Lightly amended on the floor of the house.
  • HB 619, Burns–died in Senate Commerce. Emergency PreparednessCoastal, Would have mandated the development of a an emergency preparedness system in coastal regions. Amended by the house to limit the capacity of a new emergency network to an opt-in, text-based system.

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