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Chattanooga Video Explains Potential Gigabit Expansion Process

Following up on our post last week noting the new video from Tennessee Fiber Optic Communities, another video recently posted explains what needs to change in Tennessee law for Chattanooga to expand Internet access beyond the current footprint. EPB Chief Operating Officer David Wade also explains the process the municipal electric distributor will use to connect nearby communities.

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Tennessee Fiber Optic Communities - Video on Gig Freedom

In a video calling for "Broadband Equity," the Tennessee Fiber Optic Communities have released a video explaining why communities must have their local Internet choice restored.

We encourage you to Like and Follow their campaign on Facebook.

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Alabama Republican Speaks Out in Favor of Local Authority

As we have learned, communities with municipal networks have tended to be politically conservative. Nevertheless, conservative state level politicians have often supported measures to revoke local authority to encourage local Internet choice. Recently, Alabama State Senator Tom Whatley, a Republican from Auburn, expressed his support for local authority in AL.com.

Whatley introduced SB 438, which would remove service area restrictions on municipal providers and remove the currently restriction preventing other municipalities from providing voice, video, or Internet access services. As he notes in his opinion piece, the bill did not move beyond the Transportation and Energy Committee, but he also asserts that he will be back next year to press for the measure. 

Auburn is near Opelika where the community has deployed a FTTH network to serve residents and spur economic development. If the restrictions are eliminated, Opelika could expand to Auburn and even other rural areas nearby.

Whatley makes comparisons to the strides America made with the national interstate system. He also acknowledges the way Chattanooga's network has transformed what was once described as the "dirtiest city in America." Whatley takes the same approach we encounter from many communities where, after failed attempts to entice private providers to serve their citizenry, eventually decided to take on the task themselves.

He writes:

As a Republican, I believe the private sector is usually the best and most efficient method for providing a service. But when private companies, for whatever reason, make a decision not to serve an area, we should not handcuff the people of that region if they decide to use a public entity to receive that service (in this case, broadband Internet) in order to compete today for the jobs of tomorrow.

ALEC in Savannah: Local News Video Exposes the Corrupt Process of Lawmaking

We have reported on the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) in the past and stories about ALEC sponsored legislative retreats pop up in the news on a regulary basis. Most recently, NBC Channel 11 from Atlanta reported on the shadowy world of big corporate influence in Georgia. 

None of this will be new to anyone familiar with ALEC's shadowy way of doing business, but having it on video makes it more compelling.

Brendan Keefe visited Savannah and tried to observe one of these meetings between ALEC corporate members and state legislators. Even though Keefe and his crew had an official press pass, they were blocked from entering the meeting.

Keefe spoke with a Georgia State Senator Nan Orrock, who once belonged to ALEC. She told him about the meetings, paid for with ALEC funds or "legislator scholarships," and pointed out the true nature of the closed door gatherings:

It's really a corporate bill mill…the truth be told, they write the bills.

Even though Keefe was not able to attend one of the meetings, he did encounter a legislator and several lobbyists in the bar the night before. They didn't mind describing what they were doing in Savannah and who paid the bill. Watch the brief expose below.

We also include a 2013 Real News video with Branden Fischer from the Center for Media and Democracy. He goes more indepth on ALEC's modus operandi and its membership.

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See video
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In NC, Bald Head Island Releases RFP for Gigabit Network

The Village of Bald Head Island, North Carolina, recently released a Request for Proposals (RFP), in its search for an FTTP network. The Village, home to about 160 year-round residents, is accessible only by ferry. Transportation on the island is limited to feet, bikes, and electric golf carts. While they may choose slower transportation methods, the people of the island want speed when it comes to Internet access.

Members of the community began working on the idea in the summer of 2013 as part of an initiative that involved several challenges facing this quiet community. They determined that the economic health of local businesses and quality of life depended on improving access, traditionally provided by AT&T and Tele-Media.

Real estate professionals on the island noted that lack of broadband interfered with the housing market. According to the RFP:

Adequate broadband service is at such a premium that current real estate transactions require conveyance of current Internet service. Otherwise, new installations can take a very long time. Inadequate broadband is a known and aggravating hindrance to daily operations of local businesses. There is very strong demand from prospective real estate buyers for high-speed broadband. Current services are of inadequate quality, and worsen in bad weather and during peak usage.

After reaching out to incumbents and potential new providers, Bald Head Island's Village Council chose to open up the possibilities and issue an RFP.

While the number of year round residents is small, part-time housing, vacation rentals, and local businesses catering to tourists are plentiful. As a result, a fiber network could reach approximately 2,500 premises. The population of the island varies based on holidays, with the number of people as high as 7,000. Community leaders expect it to increase significantly when fiber comes to the island.

We reached out to Calvin Peck, Village Manager:

"We are looking for a partner. We think fiber to the home is the way to do it. At this point there is no broadband on the island that fits the FCC's definition."

The community's main industries are real estate and tourism. While we often think of "getting away from it all" as a vacation gold standard, a number of visitors have told Peck they will vacation elsewhere until the island can get its connectivity up to speed. In addition to professionals who need to remain in touch electronically, children and grandchildren still want to stream Netflix or play games online while on vacation.

We saw similar problems in Cook County, Minnesota, where the community is engaged in a BTOP funded fiber deployment. The tourist industry in the woods also needed access to high-speed Internet to remain viable.

Even though the FCC recently struck down North Carolina laws that prevent municipalities from investing in broadband networks (or engaging in certain types of partnerships), leaders in Bald Head Island choose to move forward carefully. They know that the state challenge to the FCC's Order could restore the state restrictions based on judicial interpretation. The original bill was pushed through by then Speaker of the House Thom Tillis (now in the U.S. Senate), who is hostile to municipal networks.

Peck and village officials in Bald Head Island expect Tillis to strongly defend his bill at the federal level. They also don't know if the state general assembly will simply pass another law that could create another barrier. As a result, says Peck, they are approaching the project from a "worst case scenario" perspective. 

They hope that by the time they are operating, there will be no question, allowing them to move forward without the onerous state law requirements that stifle broadband development.

It is unfortunate that industry dollars so control North Carolina leadership that a place like Bald Head Island, with less than 200 full time residents, must develop a contingency plan to protect itself from its own state government. If the Village of Bald Head Island is willing to take on the task themselves for its own future and its right to do so has been recognized at the federal level, state decision makers should step aside and let the community proceed.

Responses to the RFP are due by June 20, 2015. View a PDF of the entire document at the Village website.

Community Broadband Media Roundup - May 22

North Carolina sues FCC over Wilson community broadband decision by Rick Smith, WRAL TechWire

"Attorney General Cooper must not realize the irony of using state taxpayer dollars to ensure less money is invested in rural broadband, but we certainly do," said Christopher Mitchell, the directory of Community Broadband Networks at the Minnesota-based Institute for Local Self-Reliance. "State leaders should stand up for their citizens' interests and demand good broadband for them, rather than fighting alongside paid lobbyists to take away those opportunities."

The group accuses telecommunications and Internet provides in North Carolina of not providing wide-spread high-speed access in the state.

"Rural areas in North Carolina already suffer from some of the slowest speeds in the nation because the big telecom giants see no financial reason to connect them," the Institute said. "The FCC ruling will help communities that will never be covered by these corporations to finally have Internet access beyond dial-up service."

North Carolina sues FCC for right to block municipal broadband by Jon Brodkin, Ars Technica

Residents stuck with slow Internet while state fights on behalf of private ISPs.

North Carolina Sues FCC To Keep Limits On Municipal Broadband by Chris Morran, The Consumerist

North Carolina's Broadband Policy: Wasting Tax Dollars Pretending To Care About Wasting Tax Dollars from the dynamic-duopoly-defenders dept by Karl Bode, TechDirt

Not too surprisingly, politicians loyal to incumbent ISPs cried foul, and immediately started working on drumming up partisan division. It's not working: most municipal broadband networks see broad, bi-partisan community support -- and most municipal networks have been built with Conservative approval in more Conservative-leaning cities and states (whether that's Lafayette, Louisiana, or Chattanooga, Tennessee).

North Carolina sues FCC over municipal broadband by Jeffrey Billman, Indy Week

If [FCC Commissioner Ajit Pai’s] position prevails, [Chris] Mitchell points out, it will effectively put residents of North Carolina's smaller cities and rural towns at the mercy of the big telecoms' business interests, even as the Triangle positions itself as a high-tech hub.

"That's stunning," Mitchell says.

North Carolina Sues Over Its Right to Block Community Broadband by Karl Bode, DSLReports

NC Attorney General appeals FCC municipal broadband ruling, WBJJ-TV

Media Roundup: State-by-State

Colorado

Town [Estes Park] has lots of options: Consultant outlines ways in which residents can get high-speed connection by David Persons, The Trail-Gazette

New York

Special Series: Who Gets The Internet? 3-Part Series by Tyler Head, wwnytv

South Carolina

Hartsville to take second look at broadband by Jim Faile, The Hartsville Messenger 

Earlier this year, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) voted to override state laws blocking city-owned broadband companies from expanding and competing with commercial internet providers. Pennington said that decision puts the city in a more advantageous position to pursue a broadband network.

“Broadband is the way it’s going,” Councilman Johnny Andrews said.

Tennessee

Chattanooga Charts Killer Gigabit Apps by Mari Silbey, Light Reading

Virginia

Albemarle Supervisors Host Community Meeting on Broadband Internet WVIR-TV 

Washington

How Digital Equity is a driving force for some gigabit cities by Michael Grass, Route Fifty

Other Broadband News

How the cable industry became a monopoly by Richard Greenfield, Fortune

Right Now In The People’s Republic Of Comcast: Fun With The Comcast Shareholders Meeting! by Philebrity.com

“Comcast has used its lobbying power to fight expanded paid sick days – but also to avoid paying property taxes in its hometown, to attempt to kill Net Neutrality, to fight municipal broadband and other competition and to try to merge with Time Warner,” said Hannah Sassaman of Media Mobilizing Project, which is coordinating the CAP Comcast Campaign; bringing dozens of organizations and thousands of people together to demand accountability from Comcast. “This shareholder resolution goes right to the heart of Comcast’s power – spending their huge profits on political influence, rather than resources for our cities and affordable, reliable communications service. Instead of pushing losing policies, Comcast should expand affordable services, stop blocking competition, and pay its fair share to Philadelphia.”

We need a new economic system: Politics as usual can’t solve massive inequality or climate catastrophe by Gar Alperovitz, Aljazeera America 

At the local level in the “laboratories of democracy,” this kind of shift —toward models for economic development that prioritize democratic cooperative and community ownership — is already well under way and picking up steam. In Mayor Bill de Blasio’s New York City, the formation of worker cooperatives in economically marginalized communities is now a funded component of his administration’s business-development strategy.  Following the example of Cleveland, cities such as New Orleans, Rochester, New York, and Jacksonville, Florida, are pushing to develop community-owned cooperative businesses as part of municipal efforts to use the procurement of large non-profits to anchor inclusive local economic planning.

CNBC Runs Op/Ed From iTOK Supporting Local Authority, Munis

Editorials and opinion pieces in favor of local telecommunications authority have been popping up more frequently in recent months. The benefits of increased competition due to the presence of municipal networks has become hard to ignore. Recently, we noticed a commentary published on CNBC from Seth Bailey, chief strategist at iTOK. Bailey supports the February FCC decision that peeled back restrictions in Tennessee and North Carolina. 

Bailey describes the role of munis:

In a fight against this Internet injustice, more than 450 communities have created publicly-owned high-speed fiber-optic networks. Known as municipal broadband, these providers offer Internet services to their areas which are roughly 50 to 100 times faster than the offered cable or DSL connections. In short, municipal broadband allows those in rural areas to have high-speed access similar to that offered to residents of urban areas. Which means the quality of their technological lives do not suffer due to their addresses.

iTOK, a company that focuses on technology support, consumer service, and small business tech assistance, wants to see more restrictions struck down:

To that end, we call on the FCC and state legislators to challenge these laws on a more frequent basis and accelerate the competition among Internet providers. The reality is that if the U.S. wants to stay on the cutting edge of technology and continue to lead global markets in the technological revolution, we cannot allow large corporate ISPs to put restrictions on the type and quality of Internet connection speeds. The government should enact legislation immediately to require ISPs to provide the highest possible speeds to the largest group of people and let whoever can provide the best service win. If that's a large ISP or a municipal ISP it shouldn't matter. Fast, stable and affordable internet is something that everyone should have access to regardless of where they live.

Graphic: LD 1185 Proposes Planning Grants for Munis in Maine

In late April, LD 1185 and several other broadband bills came before the Maine House Energy, Utilities, and Technology Committee. We have seen a flurry of activity in Maine this year as local communities deploy networks, develop plans, or begin feasibility studies. Likewise, the state legislature has been active as House and Senate members try to defibrillate the barely beating heart of the state listed as 49th for broadband availability.

The national providers in Maine - Time Warner Cable and FairPoint have little interest or capacity to invest in high quality services in Maine. Time Warner Cable is more focused on major metros and being acquired. FairPoint is laying off workers and also, positioning itself to be acquired. Fortunately, these big companies aren't the only option for improving Internet connectivity in Maine.

LD 1185, presented by Representative Norm Higgins, seeks to establish $6 million this year in funds for local communities that wish to deploy municipal networks. Maine already has the middle mile Three Ring Binder in place; the focus of this proposal is to help communities get the infrastructure they need to connect to it. In an effort to get the word out about the bill and grow support, Higgins and his team created this graphic explaining the proposal (a 2-page printable edition of the graphic is available for download from the link below):

LD 1185 Graphic

LD 1185 Graphic

According to a recent Legislative Bulletin from the Maine Municipal Association, LD 1185 and LD 1063, which redirects ConnectME towards issuing planning grants, appear to have the most traction of all the Maine bills. Testifying in support of both bills were the Maine Office of the Public Advocate, the ConnectME Authority, the University of Maine, Great Works Internet, Maine Fiber Company, the AARP, and the Coastal and Island Institutes. The Mayors' Coalition, and community officials from Rockport, Isleboro, South Portland, and Orono also testified in favor of the bills.

From the Office of the Public Advocate's Testimony on LD 1185:

The bill proposes to provide municipalities with matching grants to fund broadband planning efforts, and provide technical support to those communities. Providing this kind of assistance to communities is important to ensuring that those communities make informed decisions regarding use of public funds for broadband investment. The bill offers several novel and useful concepts not seen in other legislation that are particularly promising.

As can be expected, Verizon, Fairpoint, Time Warner Cable, and the Telecommunications Association of Maine testified in opposition.

Morristown FiberNET in the Spotlight

In a recent report, WBIR Knoxville shined the spotlight on Morristown. The article and video discuss how FiberNET has improved its telecommunications landscape by inspiring competition, offered better connectivity to the region, and how state law prevents other towns from reaping similar benefits. We encourage you to watch both of the videos below.

Morristown's utility head describes how it considers high-speed Internet access to be a necessary utility:

"You had railroads, you had interstates, and this is the new infrastructure cities need to have," said Jody Wigington, CEO of Morristown Utility Systems (MUS). "To us, this really is as essential to economic development as having electricity or water."

Morristown began offering gigabit service via its FTTH network in 2012. It began serving residents and businesses in 2006 because the community was fed up with poor service from incumbents. Since then, FiberNET has stimulated economic development, saved public dollars, and boosted competition from private providers. 

Prices for Internet access are considerably lower in Morristown than similar communities. From the article:

Morristown's Internet service is more expensive than Chattanooga, but much faster than the rest of the region at a comparable price. A 100 Mbps synchronous connection is $75 per month. Advertised rates for Comcast in Knoxville show a price of almost $80 per month for a 50 Mbps connection with much slower upload speeds. A 50 Mbps connection in Morristown costs $40 per month. The cable Internet option in Morristown is Charter, with an advertised price of 35 Mbps for $40 a month.

As we have seen time and again, the presence of a municipal network (nay, just the rumor of one!) inspires private providers to improve their services. AT&T offers gigabit service in Morristown and Comcast has announced it plans on offering 2 gigabit service in Chattanooga.

"Without a major disruptor like we've seen in Chattanooga and in Morristown, there's really no reason for these guys [private companies] to go out of their way to make a big spend to make bandwidth faster. It just simply doesn't make good business sense," said [Dan] Thompson, [senior analyst for Claris Networks].

Thompson said he does not believe there should be any concern that municipal Internet would result in a monopoly akin to other utilities.

"If you go to Chattanooga, Comcast advertises like crazy on billboards down there. You don't see that here [in Knoxville] at all. Comcast is still there. AT&T is still there. They're still viable options."

Beyond offering better service to residents, FiberNET also attracts more employers. In 2013, we reported on 228 new jobs in the community, attracted here in part because of FiberNET's reliability. Most recently:

"There is a new call center that is looking at relocating to Morristown. They told us the local provider can get them fiber in the building for around $1,000. The guy from our utility company told him we've already got fiber to your front door and we'll put it in the building for free because you're going to be helping our economy and jobs. Their jaws drop. Businesses really are shocked by what we have here," said [President of the Morristown Chamber of Commerce Marshall] Ramsey. "They looked at Blount County and looked at Knoxville, but the confidence in the networks just isn't there right now."

Even though the FCC struck down state restrictions on municipal networks in Tennessee, local communities are not rushing to deploy their own networks. The state is challenging the federal action, and no local community has announced an expansion due to the uncertainty around the appeal. With this appeal, the state of Tennessee is wasting taxpayer dollars to deliberately slow the deployment of essential infrastructure in rural communities.

As Wigington acknowledges in the story, a municipal fiber network is no small endeavor. Nevertheless, only a local community can know if it has the ability, drive, and need to venture into Internet access as a utility.

Wigington said the decision of whether to compete with private industry should ultimately be made by the cities, not made for them by the legislature or the cable companies.

"Cities need to be able to make this decision."

Community Broadband Media Roundup - May 15

Community Broadband Stories, by State:

California

A Disconnected Valley: SCV's high-speed technology crawls by Jana Adkins, Signal Santa Clarita Valley

Why Santa Monica Built its Own Internet Service: It all comes down to how well you connect, and when you do - word travels quickly by Jana Adkins, Signal Santa Clarita Valley

Massachussetts

Hyper-fast Internet coming to parts of Westfield, but it's not from a company you'd guess by Dan Glaun, MassLive.com

Minnesota

How the Legislature is cheating Greater Minnesota on broadband by Brian Lambert, MinnPost

North Carolina

North Carolina sues FCC over Wilson community broadband decision by Rick Smith, WRAL TechWire

"Rural areas in North Carolina already suffer from some of the slowest speeds in the nation because the big telecom giants see no financial reason to connect them," the Institute said. "The FCC ruling will help communities that will never be covered by these corporations to finally have Internet access beyond dial-up service."

NC Attorney General appeals FCC municipal broadband ruling, Associated Press

Washington

Seattle City Council hears case for public Internet by Josh Green, KING-TV

Municipal broadband in Seattle? New group lobbies city for public Internet by Taylor Soper, GeekWire

“The big electric companies had formed into giant monopolies, not unlike the monopolies we deal with today with Internet,” [Christopher] Mitchell said. “They repeatedly claimed that local government could not operate a municipal electric grid and said it would end up in failure and disaster. As you know in Seattle, that’s not true. We’ve seen local government take technology of the day and craft it so everyone benefits from it.”

Broadband access: An essential part of modern lives by Deanne Ly, Seattle Times

It is truly unfortunate that those in lower-class areas such as South Park do not get the same high-quality Internet as those in South Lake Union because they cannot afford the exuberant prices of monopolies like Comcast or Century Link.

Lower-class neighborhoods would benefit greatly from this program and it is imperative that we give equal opportunities to all. It is time for monopolies to stop controlling the lives of many.

Gigabit Cities

How Digital Equity Is a Driving Force for Some Gigabit Cities by Michael Grass, Route Fifty

“We cannot create gated digital communities,” the mayor noted. In fact, Chattanooga is known for its municipally-operated 1-gigabit high-speed fiber-optic network, which connects every home and business over 600 square miles in and around the city. “We want to use our gig network to break down barriers,” Berke said.

Gigabit Cities: I've Seen the Future by Ray Le Maistre, Light Reading

6 Steps Towards a Gigabit City by Mari Silbey, Light Reading

Gigabit Cities Live Hits Atlanta by Alan Breznick, Light Reading

Other Community Broadband News

ALEC-Based Restrictions on City-Run Internet at Risk After FCC Ruling by Allan Holmes, The Center for Public Integrity

Obama's Broadband Legacy by John M. Eger, Huffington Post

It is in the city and region that Obama sees hope for the nation's future, and it's broadband that he sees as a vital first step toward a whole new economy based not on manufacturing or even service provision but on knowledge or, more precisely, creativity and innovation. Now, for the first time in years, the door is open for cities everywhere to take the lead in building a broadband infrastructure that can be one of the fastest, cheapest Internet services imaginable.