Tag: "preemption"

Posted May 18, 2020 by christopher

BroadbandNow.com ⁠— a company that mostly focuses on crunching different data sets to provide information on where broadband is available ⁠— has released its second report on municipal broadband barriers.

Their first one had some basic factual failings, and we were concerned that it would mislead people. The new report has corrected some of those errors, but it makes new ones that again lead us to caution against making decisions based on claims within it.

To be clear, we believe ⁠— after careful consultation with others that have long worked in this space ⁠— that the proper number of states to be considered preempting municipal broadband is 19.

Errors and Mischaracterizations

Again, we want to reiterate that we value BroadbandNow's contribution to information about where broadband is available based on crunching different databases. That is something they seem to have done better than most that have tried. However, their efforts to analyze the law and reality around barriers to municipal networks have too many simple errors that we find frustrating.

The single most egregious error is removing Arkansas from the list of states with barriers. Arkansas has taken limited steps to lessen preemption, but it continues to have more restrictions on municipal broadband than many of the states listed as more significant in the report.

legislators

Arkansas has long prohibited local governments that do not operate municipal electricity systems from building their own networks. Cities with public power have more freedom to do so. Arkansas is now allowing cities without electric departments to apply for broadband grants (the goal was to bring more federal dollars to Arkansas), but these cities can only build a municipal network if they receive a grant. BroadbandNow has misinterpreted that to mean there are no barriers. It is not easy to get a federal grant and...

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Posted April 14, 2020 by Katie Kienbaum

The Covid-19 pandemic is affecting communities across the country in different ways. Recently, Christopher called up Scott Mooneyham, Director of Political Communications and Coordination for the North Carolina League of Municipalities, to find out how towns and cities in the Tar Heel State are faring.

Christopher and Scott discuss how the spread of the novel coronavirus has changed life in the state's communities and how local governments are responding to new needs while continuing to provide essential services. Scott shares stories from towns that are now struggling with broadband access, despite their proximity to major metros, creating public safety concerns.

The pair reflected on WRAL's recently released documentary "Disconnected," which compared connectivity in two North Carolina communities, Enfield and Wilson, and explored how the different levels of broadband access affected residents. They talk about how municipalities like Enfield would be able to partner with local companies to improve Internet access if the legislature removed the restrictive prohibitions currently in state law. Scott explains how the current Covid-19 shutdown has elevated the issues raised in the documentary while also piling many other priorities onto state legislators' desks.

This show is 22 minutes long and can be played on this page or via iTunes or the tool of your choice using this feed. You can listen to the interview on this page or visit the...

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Posted March 30, 2020 by Jess Del Fiacco

We talked to residents of Mount Olive, North Carolina, about their struggle to get better Internet access and the importance of connectivity for their community. Listen to our conversations above, or read a summary below.

 

North Carolinians are fed up with slow, expensive, and unreliable Internet access. Communities across the state are seeking solutions, but are running into barriers, especially in rural areas.

The town of Mount Olive, home to about forty-six hundred people, is one such example. Only recently, after working with local Internet service provider Open Broadband, are they getting decent Internet access for residents and local businesses. 

Charles Brown, Town Manager of Mount Olive, told us about the challenges the community faced before Open Broadband came to town. Getting high quality Internet access to a regional airport located just outside of town was a priority for local leaders — it generates around $21.1 million in local economic impact — but after going to every big Internet provider in the area and reaching out to their congressional representatives, they couldn’t make it happen.  

It wasn’t until Brown and other town officials reached out to local Internet provider Open Broadband that they found a path forward. 

OpenBroadband was able to install towers on the town’s water tanks and connect the airport. They also worked with the town to set up free public broadband access in downtown Mount Olive — something that’s especially popular during the North Carolina Pickle Festival, which draws more than 30,000 people to the area each year.

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Brown said:

Well, I think everybody is delighted with Main Street. We have the North Carolina Pickle Festival we hold the last weekend in April every year. So now we have the capability of having an app to show people where the pickle eating contest is or the pickle packing contest, or whatever events that are going on. They can pull up on their phone now on Main Street and know where those things are going on.

It’s not just the airport and the Pickle Festival that have benefited. Just outside Mount Olive is a local company focused on crop insurance. Owner Van Alphin Jr. described the frustration of...

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Posted March 23, 2020 by Katie Kienbaum

Marketplace Tech’s Molly Wood interviewed Christopher Mitchell, the director of the Community Broadband Networks Initiative, this morning on national radio. The pair discussed how broadband providers are responding to increased demand during the Covid-19 outbreak and what barriers there are to expanding Internet access to families sheltering-in-place.

Christopher has been a guest on Marketplace Tech before, providing his perspective on issues including security concerns around Chinese-made network equipment and the effects of ending network neutrality on municipal networks.

Connecting New Subscribers

Schools and businesses have closed across the country, but many students and employees are still expected to complete work from home. This is leading households to subscribe to broadband at record levels in some areas.

Christoper explained:

There’s a lot of people who are signing up for service who didn’t have it before, or maybe they’re going to a better provider. We’re seeing in areas that have one or more cases of the virus that some of the [internet service providers] are seeing record sign-ups, in some cases twice the previous record of a daily number of new customers.

The surge in demand is creating a challenge for providers still figuring out how to safely connect new users. A number of companies have temporarily halted home installations, while others are instituting policies to protect their employees and household members. “We will need to find a way in which we can do new connections,” Christopher said on Marketplace, “because I think this connectivity is just going to become more and more important”

States Stopping Local Solutions

The novel coronavirus isn’t the only issue providers and communities are grappling with as they try to...

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Posted March 20, 2020 by Katie Kienbaum

“While most of us take a high-speed Internet connection for granted, many living in rural areas feel disconnected,” states North Carolina television station WRAL’s new documentary, “Disconnected,” which first aired on March 19.

The documentary features local officials, healthcare professionals, small business owners, and families from across the state discussing the importance of high-quality broadband access and the struggle to connect rural areas. Though “Disconnected” was recorded before the Covid-19 outbreak forced schools and businesses to close nationally, the ongoing crisis further emphasizes the necessity of getting all North Carolinians connected to affordable, reliable Internet access.

“Disconnected” was created with help from the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, the North Carolina League of Municipalities, and Google Fiber. Watch the documentary below or on the WRAL website.

A Tale of Two Cities

To illustrate the importance of connectivity for everything from education to healthcare, “Disconnected” takes viewers to two small North Carolina towns — one with high-speed Internet access and one without.

Enfield NC

In Enfield, home to 2,300 people, businesses and residents alike struggle to get connected, and town officials face difficulties attracting new employers to the area. Enfield Middle S.T.E.A.M. Academy reports that about 60 percent of students don’t have Internet access at home. WRAL interviews one student’s family, which only has unreliable satellite connectivity. “It’s a lot of running around,” says Lashawnda Silver, the student’s mother. “If I don’t provide it for her, she’s going to lose out.”

Similarly, an Enfield health clinic says that most patients aren’t able to connect at home and even 40 percent of staff lack home broadband access. “It’s a barrier for their healthcare,” explains Mary Downey, Family Nurse Practitioner.

The city of Wilson is less than an hour south of Enfield, but it’s a world apart in terms of connectivity. Wilson's 49,000 residents have access to gigabit speeds over the city's reliable fiber network, Greenlight. We’ve...

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Posted January 2, 2020 by lgonzalez

We're starting off the new year with episode four of the new podcast project we're working on with nonprofit NC Broadband Matters. The organization focuses on finding ways to bringing ubiquitous broadband coverage to local communities to residents and businesses in North Carolina. The podcast series, titled "Why NC Broadband Matters," explores broadband and related issues in North Carolina.

As we look forward to a new year, we're also looking back with this week's guest, Jane Smith Patterson, a Partner with Broadband Catalysts. Jane has a deep love for North Carolina and a deep interest in science and technology. Throughout her life, she has put those two interests together to help North Carolinians advance human and civil rights, education and learning, and to advance the presence of high speed connectivity across the state. 

logo-nc-hearts-gigabit.pngJane's decades of experience at the federal, state, and local levels make her the go-to person to provide content for this episode, "North Carolina's unique broadband history and lessons for moving forward." She and Christopher discuss how the state has become a leader in science and technology, including the state's restrictive law limiting local authority. Lastly, Jane makes recommendations for ways to bring high-quality Internet access to the rural areas where people are still struggling to connect. The conversation offers insight into North Carolina's triumphs and challenges in the effort to lift up its citizens.

We want your feedback and suggestions for the show-please ...

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Posted November 1, 2019 by Sayidali Moalim

An increasing number of local governments around the country have started taking steps to improve broadband adoption and accessibility in their communities. A recent Brookings Institution article discusses the role of states in broadband deployment and adoption and how lawmakers are making efforts, but still have room for improvment.

Special Interest Lobbying Leaves an Imprint

A few states have explicitly banned municipal government from telecommunication services while others have confusing and hard-to-understand laws and regulations. Local governments have stepped up in the best interest of their residents but the imposed barriers have created tension between the local and state governments. Huge players influencing state legislation affecting broadband are the telecom lobbying interest groups. Due to their efforts, 19 states face barriers ranging from blocks to outright bans.

Brookings writes that states are a key factor in expanding high-quality Internet access to citizens and calls for a state-centered approach to improve the situation:

Instead of waiting for the stars to align in Washington, we should focus on states as an important middle ground. States have access to a range of tools and resources—independent of federal action—to promote broadband availability and adoption within their borders. The question is whether they will actually use them.

Specifically, Brookings recommends that states allow local communities to function with local telecommunications authority:

However, there is still more that states can do. Many should reconsider laws that block local efforts to expand broadband access, which limit opportunities to service populations that privately owned broadband networks will not.

The various barriers set up by the state governments may be hard to find but researchers at Pew Charitable Trusts have created the State Broadband Policy Explorer, a handy tool to make research easier. Using this tool, anyone from lawmakers to concerned citizens can search...

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Posted October 22, 2019 by lgonzalez

On October 21, 2019, The American Conservative published an article by the Institute for Local Self-Reliance's Christopher Mitchell. The article delves into how preemption affected the municipal broadband project in Lafayette, Louisiana. Christopher addresses the fact that many communities that have invested in local Internet networks have done so to fill a void in a manner that is based in self-determination. He also discusses the ways local government strengths lend themselves to the success of municipal networks and how somes states are making changes that may signal a shift in perspective.

We've reproduced the article in full here: 

Fleeced by the Telecoms and Your State is Blessing It

You may live in a place where the monopolies' lobbyists have more authority than your local government.

Joey Durel was not an obvious champion for building a municipal broadband network in his city. He owned multiple private businesses and was the head of the local chamber of commerce prior to becoming mayor of Lafayette, Louisiana, one of the most conservative urban centers in America.

In the early 2000s, like today, the big telephone and cable companies were extremely unpopular. DSL and cable Internet access were growing, but smaller markets like Lafayette always had to wait to get the speed upgrades they saw the larger cities getting. However, Bellsouth (now AT&T) and Cox were not slow to increase prices, which led to obvious customer frustration.

When first presented with the idea of a city-run network, Durel was skeptical but open minded. He looked toward the Lafayette Utility System, which already handled electricity, water, and wastewater for the community—and had a much better reputation than the cable and telephone monopolies—to make an assessment.

Durel soon determined that a city-run broadband network would provide better services at lower prices than Bellsouth or Cox, but he was under no illusion those companies would go quietly into the night. However, he probably didn’t expect such a challenge to his authority—a challenge that went right up to the state legislature to stop him. This was preemption, and Durel was about to get one heck of an education in how monopolies use the levers of government to get what they want.

Preemption is when...

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Posted August 8, 2019 by Katie Kienbaum

Municipal broadband networks already serve more than 500 communities across the country, but some states are trying to keep that number from growing. Nineteen states have established legal barriers or even outright bans on publicly owned networks, according to well-respected communications law firm Baller Stokes & Lide.

These state laws, often enacted at the behest of large telecom monopolies, slow the development of community owned connectivity in various ways. From Alabama to Wisconsin, states have implemented everything from direct prohibitions on municipal networks to oppressive restrictions and requirements that limit competition.

The outlook for municipal connectivity may be starting to improve though, despite incorrect reports that state-level broadband preemption increased over the past year. Baller Stoke & Lide’s list of states with restrictions on municipal broadband investment actually shrunk this year from 20 states to 19 — a result of downgrading Colorado’s SB 152 from bonafide barrier to mere annoyance. Still, barriers to community networks remain in more than a third of all states, leaving millions of Americans unconnected and tens of millions more without local Internet choice.

Bans, Blocks, and Burdens

Common approaches to preempting municipal broadband networks range from straightforward bans to confusing financial restrictions and complicated legal requirements. While some states have established one main barrier to community broadband, many more have adopted a bird’s nest of regulations that kill any possibility of municipal connectivity, if only because of the legal uncertainty created by complex and vague laws.

Out of the 19 states with restrictions on municipal networks, a few explicitly ban local governments from providing communications services to their citizens. In Nevada, only municipalities with less than 25,000 people and counties with less than 55,000 people can offer telecommunications services. Both Arkansas and Tennessee bar municipalities without electric utilities from providing Internet access in most situations. Yet other states restrict where government utilities can deploy broadband or what types of services they can offer...

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Posted August 6, 2019 by lgonzalez

An increasing number of local communities are investigating ways to improve connectivity through municipal networks. Some of these communities must find a way to overcome state laws that preclude them from investing in broadband infrastructure, or have established requirements that make doing so prohibitive. Recently, we’ve seen reports on state laws that inflate the number of states with these types of preemptive barriers in place. It's important that folks researching options for their communities get accurate information, so we decided it was time to address the confusion and recent state changes.

This week, Christopher and our Communications Specialist Jess Del Fiacco critique a list of states with preemptive barriers created by BroadbandNow. While we consider BroadbandNow a great resource, their definition of what makes a barrier goes a little farther than what is generally accepted among municipal network policy advocates. Christopher and Jess explain our definition and discusses the more general criteria BroadbandNow has adopted. 

Jess and Christopher also discuss why we decided to remove a couple of states from our list, reducing it from 21 to 19. They offer recent examples of state legislation that rolled back tight restrictions and the reasoning behind those changes. Finally, Christopher and Jess talk about ongoing efforts, places where there is still significant risk of increased restrictions, and possible outcomes for state or federal preemptions that may reduce state barriers.

For details on the specific state laws that limit local authority, be sure to check out the most recent version of...

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