Chapel Hill’s hopes of offering public Wi-Fi Internet access are safealong with other municipalities’after the N.C. House Finance Committee scrapped a proposal that would have severely limited local governments in offering Internet or other communications services (see “Anti muni-broadband bill moves forward“).

On July 24, the committee recommended that a legislative committee study the issue and consider local government-owned and -operated communications services as well as privately offered services in rural areas, the costs of providing those services, the economic impact and competition between the public and private providers. A report is expected in 2009.

The new version of the bill passed the full House on July 25 and is expected to pass the Senate.

“I was very pleased,” says Mark Kleinschmidt, a member of the Chapel Hill Town Council, one of more than 50 local governments across the state that opposed the original version of the bill in the face of heavy lobbying by telecommunications and cable companies. Kleinschmidt said the study committee meant “more work” for opponents. “Morale is high now that we can ultimately win the day.”

Meanwhile, federal legislation might secure the future of municipal broadband. On July 23, Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.) introduced the Community Broadband Act of 2007. The bill, which has bipartisan support, would not allow states to prohibit local governments from offering public broadband. The issue has received increased political attention after a recent federal report showed that America lags behind other developed nations in access to broadband Internet services.