On Monday, the House Commerce Committee voted to approve HB 687, legislation that would strip city governments of much of their authority to regulate telecommunications infrastructure, and limit the fees local governments can collect from telecommunications companies in exchange for access to strategically located utility poles. In its current form, the bill limits the access fee local governments can charge to only $150 per utility pole, when the going market rate around the nation is between $2,000 and $2,500 per installation.
Free market forces have met the same fate on a companion bill SB 596 in the Florida Senate.
But legislation that distorts or suppresses free market forces is in direct violation of House Speaker Richard Corcoran‘s first principle of filing legislation: “Protect the Free Market.”
Bill Peebles, appearing before the House Commerce Committee on behalf of the the Florida League of Cities, raised the issue during the hearing, reminding lawmakers of the “Applying Principles to Legislation” document they released before the 2017 Legislative Session began. He argued that the bill creates an imbalance between the private sector and local governments, which he says are just citizens organized in such a way to manage the communities they live in.
He also took direct aim at the House’s $150 per installation figure, suggesting it was pulled from thin air and is completely arbitrary.
“What evidence do you have in front of you that suggests $150 is a fair number?” Peebles asked, then promptly answered his own question. “[Ohio] said $200 on a lame duck session on a bill relating to puppy mills. Is that how we want to emulate policy-making? Ohio said $200 on a puppy mill bill, so we’ll say $150?”
Following the hearing, Representative Erin Grall filed an amendment that would require an annual assessment of competitive market forces in order to determine a fair fee. But her amendment was withdrawn hours later. A call and email to Grall’s office to ask why the amendment was withdrawn were not immediately returned.
In the Florida Senate, Tom Lee attempted a similar “fair market value” amendment on the Senate version of the bill, SB 596:
The rate to collocate equipment on authority utility poles must be reasonable and must reflect the market rate for the use of the government-owned property.
Lee’s amendment was voted down in committee.