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Tennessee Senate Leader: Expand Broadband without Expanding Government

by Clark Packard / /

Four years ago, the National Taxpayers Union released a report, “Wired to Waste,” that explored the impact government-owned broadband networks (GONs) have on taxpayers.

What we found was astonishing.

According to “Wired to Waste,” several GONs “ended in utter failure due to mismanagement.” Taxpayers, we found, were “left to foot the bill for entrepreneurial adventurism gone wrong.” Our conclusion was obvious: lawmakers should not expand broadband access by expanding government.

Despite the failures we outlined, since 2012 calls for municipal broadband have only increased. Throughout this, we’ve maintained and proven that these ill-conceived boondoggles will fail and cost taxpayers dearly. (Click here for our 2015 list of failed GONs.) As part of our efforts, we’ve been active in several states, telling legislators, including those in Tennessee, to keep big government out of broadband.

We’re pleased that lawmakers in the Volunteer State appear to be listening.

This month, Tennessee Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris (R-Collierville) released a memo that updated his colleagues on the Tennessee Advisory Commission on Intergovernmental Relations’ (TACIR) work to expand broadband access in the state. As Sen. Norris noted, one of goals of the 25 state, county, and municipal leaders on TACIR is “to help define the appropriate role of government at all levels in private sector deployment including measures to guard against inadvertent interference with it.” The memo noted TACIR already had “learned about extensive investment in broadband by the private sector—companies of all sizes—and important plans underway to accelerate that deployment in Tennessee.”

In his memo, Sen. Norris, who chairs TACIR, made it clear that legislators should encourage private investment in broadband instead of government ownership. Specifically, Sen. Norris said TACIR’s report, which will come after dozens of interviews with stakeholders, experts, broadband providers and users, and community representatives, will “lay the groundwork for expanding broadband access without expanding the size of state government.”

The commission will issue a preliminary report of its findings this fall. Then, in January 2017, it will release a comprehensive report that will outline its recommendations and a number of options for the governor and General Assembly to consider.

We look forward to TACIR’s conclusions.

If TACIR follows the spirit of this memo, Sen. Norris and his team is on the right track and understand, as our research has shown, that the goal should be to expand broadband access, not government.