It is the policy of this state to ensure that customers in all regions of this state, including low-income customers and customers in rural and high cost areas, have access to telecommunications and information services, including interexchange services, cable services, wireless services, and advanced telecommunications and information services, that are reasonably comparable to those services provided in urban areas and that are available at prices that are reasonably comparable to prices charged for similar services in urban areas.The focus now seems to be more on providing competitive services:
" . . . as new technologies become available, all public policy must be driven by free-market principles for the benefit of Texas consumers consistent with the public interest." "It is the policy of this state to promote and encourage the development of competitive broadband networks."Section 54.201 - 54.202, dealing with municipalities, was modified to read:
CERTIFICATES PROHIBITED. The commission may not grant to a municipality a network provider or service provider certificate. PROHIBITED MUNICIPAL SERVICES. A municipality or municipality owned network may not, directly or indirectly, on its own or with another entity, offer to the public: (1) a service for which a certificate is required; (2) a service as a network provider; (3) any telecommunications or information service, without regard to the technology platform used to provide the service.So, what could this mean? The way I read the language of the bill, the provision of Internet access, both wired and wireless, by public libraries would be prohibited. To paraphrase: a municipality may not offer information services to the public. Although the bill doesn't provide a definition for "telecommunications service," it does state that the definition for "telecommunications" should be taken from federal law. I'm assuming that we can take the definition for "telecommunications service" from federal law also. From the Telecommunications Act of 1996:
" . . . the offering of telecommunications for a fee directly to the public . . . regardless of the facilities used."Most public libraries do not provide telecommunications services under this definition. The bill does state that the definition of "information service" is the same as the one found in federal law. The definition in the Telecommunications Act of 1996 is:
" . . . the offering of a capability for generating, acquiring, storing, transforming, processing, retrieving, utilizing, or making available information via telecommunications . . . "Here's where I think we might have a problem. The provision of Internet access by a municipality (public libraries, city-owned community colleges, school districts?) seems to be prohibited. Am I reading too much into this? Remember that after a bill is passed, the legislative intent is not always taken into consideration. If this committee meant to exempt organizations like public libraries, then it should be stated. There is a public hearing on this bill scheduled for Tuesday, February 22.