Moyers on America

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"The Net @ Risk" takes viewers to Lafayette, Louisiana, where residents and officials took on their phone company, BellSouth, and their cable company, Cox Communications, and built their own high-speed fiber network after the firms refused to bring true broadband connections to their community. Both telcom giants lobbied the state legislature to block Lafayette's plan, citing unfair competition. Ultimately, lawmakers put it to a vote to let residents decide. The measure allowing the community-built network passed overwhelmingly. BellSouth then filed suit, delaying construction by more than a year, before losing their case in court.

There are hundreds of community internet and municipal broadband projects underway or in the planning stages in the U.S But there are also 14 states that either prohibit cities and towns from building their own networks or have passed laws that make it more difficult

Another high-profile fight took place in Pennsylvania in 2004, when the mayor of Philadelphia inaugurated the nation's most ambitious city-based wireless program over the wishes of industry giants. In November of that year, Pennsylvania lawmakers, at the urging of commercial providers of broadband service, passed a law preventing most local communities from setting up their own "competitive" broadband services. The Philadelphia plan will likely still go ahead-the city was exempted from the legislation by a last-minute grandfather clause-but the rest of the state's towns and cities can't follow suit.

The battle is also moving to the national stage. Bills in both the House and the Senate would overturn state prohibitions on municipal wireless projects and specifically permit municipalities to offer broadband service. On the other hand, legislation like The Broadband Investment and Consumer Choice Act, now in the Senate, would require local governments who want to provide broadband services to seek permission from local private providers first. And in the House, the Preserving Innovation in Telecom Act of 2005 would prohibit any municipality in which a private provider serves 10 percent or more of the population from setting up municipal alternatives.

Find out more about the battle over municipal wireless in the MOYERS ON AMERICA Community Connections Citizens Class.

Join the Citizens Class discussion.

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