A Senate committee this morning approved SB 74 by Sen. Ricky Hill of Cabot to allow cities and counties to build infrastructure to provide broadband service.

State law currently prohibits local governments from getting into the broadband business, reserving it for cable and telephone companies.

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The bill won’t allow municipal broadband operation, but will allow cities to issue bonds to build infrastructure for broadband. Once built, the equipment could be leased to private providers.

The bill was pitched as a way to improve the state’s 48th ranking as an Internet service provider. Cabot Mayor Ken Kincade urged adoption, saying the Internet was the new electricity, an essential. It was approved with little discussion, though Hill closed with a crack about the power of telecom lobbyists. If the providers worked as hard at providing services as lobbyists do protecting the companies, the state wouldn’t be ranked 48th, he said.

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