Industry Issues Teed up for Review in Senate, House: Several bills of industry interest made the agendas of committees on both sides of the Capitol this week. Issues seeing action included:
- Telecom Tax Fix — The Senate Ways & Means Committee Tuesday reviewed the provisions of legislation that would reaffirm the manufacturing sales tax exemption granted to telecommunications equipment. The exemption was called into question by a 2016 Missouri Supreme Court ruling. The bill, SB 625, was supported by MTIA, AT&T, the Missouri Small Telephone Group, Verizon, the Missouri Cable Telecommunications Association, the Association of Missouri Electric Cooperatives, Associated Industries of Missouri, and the Missouri Chamber of Commerce and Industry. The committee is expected to vote on the issue next week.
- 911 Wireless Tax – The House Crime Prevention & Prevention of Public Safety Committee heard testimony Tuesday on the perennial effort to allow local communities to vote on a wireless tax to fund 911 call centers. The bill, HB 1456 , is structured as a “parity” tax that would require both wireline and wireless service to be taxed at the same rate. The measure was supported by a number of law enforcement and public safety organizations, including the Missouri Police Chiefs Association, the Missouri Fire Chiefs Association, and the Missouri chapter of the National Emergency Number Association.
- Rural Broadband Fund – A substitute proposal for legislation narrowly focused on providing broadband grants to regional planning commissions took center stage Wednesday in the House Special Committee on Innovation & Technology. Rather than discuss his original proposal, HB 1872 , Rep. Delus Johnson outlined a statewide plan that would provide broadband grants to any willing provider to reach unserved areas. The proposal is modeled on a successful grant program now operating in Minnesota. The plan was supported by the Association of Missouri Electric Cooperatives, the Missouri Farm Bureau, the Missouri Chamber of Commerce and Industry and the Missouri Cattleman’s Association. CenturyLink, MTIA, the Missouri Small Telephone Group, and the Missouri Cable Telecommunications Association all recommended provisions that should be included in the proposal, including making the grants both provider and technology neutral, allowing for a challenge process by incumbent providers, and focusing on serving unserved areas. The committee is likely to vote on the substitute proposal next week.
- Municipal Permits for Small Cell Technology – The House Utilities Committee Wednesday took more than two hours of testimony on legislation that would set up a uniform permitting process for the deployment of small cell technology. The bill, HB 1991 , was supported by MTIA member-companies AT&T and Verizon, and by Sprint. Several groups spoke in opposition to the bill as filed, including the Missouri Municipal League, the Missouri Cable Telecommunications Association, and the Missouri Public Utilities Association.
Governor Proposes Funding for Infrastructure Projects: Governor Eric Greitens has proposed a $25 million appropriation to establish a Job and Infrastructure Fund in the Missouri Department of Economic Development to help build local municipal projects. The funds would be available for transportation, utility, communications and other public infrastructure needs. The program description as announced would appear to include potential funding for municipal broadband projects.
The grants would be matching funds, requiring communities to make investments in partnership with the state. The new fund is part of the fiscal year 2019 state operating budget that the Governor unveiled this week. Both the House and Senate have begun work on their own spending plans for next year.
Sellenriek Appointed to STC Board: MTIA member Steve Sellenriek, president of Sellenriek Construction, Inc, has been appointed by Governor Eric Greitens to serve on the State Technical College Board of Regents. STC President Shawn Strong noted that Sellenriek is a strong advocate of the school, and has worked closely with campus leadership to establish the new utility technician program as well as the Safety Village to train student in locating underground utilities.
Miller Announces New GM: MTIA member Miller Telephone Company has named Casey Robinson as the general manager of the company effective January 29. Robinson is a Navy veteran with more than 20 years of industry experience with large and small telecommunications carriers around the country. He succeeds Stephanie Hill who resigned the position in November.
Industry Partner of the Week: MTIA member-company Hubbell Power Systems manufactures several OSP products, including pole line hardware, bonding and grounding equipment and other specialty products for Missouri’s telecommunications carriers. For more information, contact Brian Smith, territory manager, at 913-302-7958; or visit them online at www.hubbellpowersystems.com.