February 26, 2005

Efforts succeed - for now - to delay bill to kill Illinois community internet

Community organizers feared that a Illinois State Senate bill to obliterate the right municipalities to establish their own high-speed municipal internet networks would have been called this week before the Illinois State Senate in Springfield.

But in a last-second turaround, the bill's sponsor did not make the call amid a flurry of increased this week attention critical of the bill.

Illinois State Senator Steve Rauschenberger, the Assistant Republican leader of the twenty-second district, was slated to call Senate Bill 499, which says in part that "No political subdivision of this State shall provide or offer for sale, either to the public or to a telecommunications provider, a telecommunications service or telecommunications facility used to provide a telecommunications service."

A flurry of negative media coverage and organizing brought increased attention to the bill and its uncompromised wording, which may have contributed to Rauschenberger's about-face. The issue was covered in a number of print and online media outlets, including the Chicago Daily Herald, Muniwireless.com, Slashdot, and The NewStandard.

A coalition of citizen and community groups under the umbrella designation Get Illinois Online have been working on the issue, and continue to organize and mobilize to amidst a struggle in 2005 which will see a rewrite of the state's main legislation concerning the internet and telecommunication.

In 2004, the Supreme Court affirmed the political right of states to establish their own community internet ventures. Thus, major telecommunications companies have been forced to lobby state by state to repeal this right and hand over captured markets to companies like SBC and Comcast, as is already done in fourteen states nationwide. Senate Bill 499 would have done that in Illinois.

Annie Collins is the chairman of a campaign called Fiber For Our Future which works on municipal internet in suburban Chicago, followed the progress Senate Bill 499, and was expecting to drive down to Springfield to offer testimony against the bill when she heard that the bill would not be called.

Nevertheless, Collins fears that the bill could still be in play in a "poison pill" maneuver, which would bury the bill in another "must-pass" bill and thus indirectly bring into law the municipal-internet-killing bill.

"I think they are going to try and bury this so no one finds it," Collins noted in an email.

The "must-pass" bill in question is the Telecommunications Rewrite bill SB008.