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ALEC Goes After Municipal Broadband Advocates

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By Casey C. Sullivan, Esq. on April 17, 2015 9:58 AM

It hasn't been a good few months for ALEC, the American Legislative Exchange Council, the organization that brings together (often conservative) state legislators and corporate interests to write model legislation. Several major corporations have been jumping ship as the organization has faced increasing criticism.

What's the best way to deal with critics? Sue them! At least that's increasingly become ALEC's strategy. The group has sued critics in the past and has will probably continue to -- the group has started to send out cease and desist letters to MVNO Credo after the small telecom claimed ALEC's policies keep broadband uncompetitive.

You Can't Say That About My Legislation!

For an organization that proposes public legislation, ALEC can be touchy when that legislation is criticized. After Google parted ways with ALEC last fall, claiming that the organization was "literally lying" about climate change, the group went on the offensive. About the same time they threatened Credo with a defamation lawsuit, they also went after critics claiming the group denies climate change. That's not the case, ALEC's threatening letters assert -- the group, which has proposed legislation to repeal renewable energy standards and opposing EPA clean power plans, doesn't deny climate change. They just deny the scientific consensus surrounding it!

What does that have to do with telecoms like Credo? It's the same tactic, different issue. Credo, a small telecom with an activist bent, has criticized ALEC's proposed Municipal Telecommunications Private Industry Safeguards Act, which limits the authority of localities to provide their own cable TV and telecom services. Credo called the group out for "pushing its anti-municipal broadband agenda," which was too much for ALEC, even though the model legislation would make it very difficult for cities to provide municipal broadband. According to the group, it does not oppose cities developing their own broadband, it just advocates "certain steps" be taken beforehand. ALEC also took umbrage with being called a lobbying group.

Why Municipal Broadband Matters

We all know that climate change will kill us all, but what's all the kerfuffle about municipal broadband? Municipal broadband is simply broadband Internet access provided in full or part by local governments. Advocates view it as a way to update America's lagging Internet infrastructure and increase speeds while decreasing costs. It could also allow cities to prevent the sort of fast tracking of certain internet content that some private providers have argued for. Opponents view it as anticompetitive government interference.

As with net neutrality, the municipal broadband battle is a fight over how the Internet will operate in the future -- will it be more of a public good or a private enterprise? ALEC falls heavily on the private side. So do many states, with over 20 of them banning or restricting municipal broadband. The FCC recently voted narrowly to override those state bans.

Though ALEC's proposed legislation has often been successful in the past, it's unlikely that its cease and desist letters will be. Both Common Cause and Credo have stood by their statements and refused to make any retractions.

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