WITA WORKS - March 17, 2017
Legislative Negotiations Continue
Negotiations and work continue on both the 5G bill and the bill to grant additional broadband wholesaling authority to ports. The Governor has indicated a strong interest in getting the 5G bill passed, especially if it has a rural component. Right now that component is the extension of your State Universal Communications Fund but late last week another concept surfaced that could help us as well. There’s been a great deal of talk about creating a rural broadband grant program in addition to your state fund but no one knows where to find the funding. The new proposal would charge telecommunications providers $1 per attachment per pole per year. The list of providers would include all public and private companies who attach infrastructure to a pole for the purposes of providing broadband services, whether it’s wholesale or retail. When combined with the section that would reduce current pole attachment fees it appears that this proposal would result in a net savings for WITA companies.
Of course, the devil is always in the details. WITA has been pushing to ensure that 1) grant money would only be spent in those areas with broadband speeds of less than 5/1 and 2) while we would allow for public/private partnerships, those private partners would have to be facilities-based telecommunication companies. Negotiations have just started on this proposal so please contact Betty immediately if you have questions or concerns about the program’s implementation.
The House committee hearing on the port bill took a full two hours and left the committee members with two major impressions. First, the bill is deeply flawed and second, representatives from the ports all spoke of their existing authority so it was unclear why this legislation is necessary. State Representative Richard DeBolt questioned port officials at length about what appears to be an attempt to use tax dollars raised within a port’s district to pay for services outside of that district. He also questioned representatives from the Port of Ridgefield about their request for a Capitol Budget appropriation to help pay for their proposed project; an action he referred to as “socializing the cost to the rest of the state.” Rep. DeBolt’s concern was that there are many, many examples of this type of project coming back to haunt the public entities that try to engage in the broadband business, always resulting in a waste of tax payer dollars. Betty testified against the bill but stayed away from sounding too negative as it appeared the ports had sunk their own battleship. She did take the opportunity to correct the Chairman, in a humorous way, about his reference to landline telephone companies as being in a “death spiral.” She pointed out how that might have been true if all of WITA’s members had stuck with providing only landline phone services but that simply wasn’t what has happened over the years. Betty went on to suggest that if someone wanted to live someplace that provides great broadband service they could move to Toledo or Tenino or Hood Canal or the south end of Whidbey Island, among other WITA member territories. (Note: Betty chose those examples because they match up with the committee members).
For more updates about this legislative session please see Dan Coyne’s report here.
Associate Member - Thank you
Thank you Telcom Insurance Group www.wita-tel.org for being an Associate Member!