The 109th Congress has a lot of BITs to consider.
BIT is the acronym for “broadband Internet transmission” used in the so-far-untitled 77-page working draft of a telecommunications bill currently under comment with the Energy and Commerce Committee in the United States House of Representatives. It builds on aspects of the Telecommunications Act of 1996 that could not be foreseen at the time.
The bi-partisan bill would put broadband services like cable, DSL and even wireless, plus services like Voice over IP and video, all under the same regulatory area.
It would allow states and cities to deploy and run their own BIT services.
This isn’t the first bill to look at municipal broadband with favor. Recent legislation proposed in the Senate, called the Telecommunications Act of 2005 (S. 1294), would also grant municipalities the right to install broadband without hassles from incumbent telcos and providers. It followed some legislation trying to limit municipal broadband that was proposed in early June. That bill, called the Preserving Innovation in Telecom Act (H.R. 2726), came from a representative who formerly worked for a telco.
The new House bill also includes rules for VoIP services, broadband video, and 911/E911 services.
This comes at a time when the most-watched municipal wireless broadband plan in the country, Wireless Philadelphia, came under further scrutiny this week. The Philadelphia Inquirer reports that city CIO Dianah Neff had to face the City Council this week and assure them that taxpayers would not be paying for the $15+ million deployment, which she says is vital to bridging the digital divide in the city.
Competition is also an issue. Verizon — which helped push through state legislation to block municipal broadband in Pennsylvania and yet still granted Philly the option to install it after its right of first refusal — has dropped its DSL price to $15. Local company Closed Networks is already covering 50 square miles of the city with fixed wireless (point to multipoint) connections, but at a cost of $50 per month plus setup fees.
Wireless Philadelphia will use a wireless mesh system that can, in theory, cover more ground, both inside and outside buildings. The city plans to finalize who will be the network provider soon. The finalists are led by HP and Earthlink.