Louisiana legislators approved Senate Bill 407 on Monday to clear the path for electric co-ops to bring high-speed internet to rural areas. Electric co-ops, however, oppose the bill due to amended language that prohibits them from competing for broadband internet business.
According to State Sen. Beth Mizell, changes to the bill included language that clarified the difference between “served” and “unserved.” Federal grants available to broadband operators are designated for “unserved” areas only, GovTech reported.
The FCC’s defined standard broadband speeds in 2010, at 4 Mbps download and 1 Mbps upload. Those standards are now 25 Mbps download/3 Mbps upload. Meeting these standards defines areas as “served.”
Co-ops initially supported the bill, but now oppose it due to the recent amendment, according to GovTech. Jeff Arnold, head of the Association of Louisiana Electric Cooperatives, said, “The language would restrict us from competing with others in the broadband market, but would not stop them from cherry picking [customers] from cooperatives who choose to get in the broadband market.”
Louisiana’s rural cooperatives currently offer broadband internet to about 1 million customers. GovTech reported the co-ops charge what it costs to buy and deliver electricity without the profit that corporations, like Entergy, charge their customers.
Committee Chair Paula Davis said the bill’s language could be negotiated before its final House vote if no changes are made. If passed, Davis’ bill will allow broadband companies to string fiber along the co-ops’ poles on easements that were negotiated and installed decades ago.
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