Tag: "preemption"

Posted June 9, 2021 by Sean Gonsalves

The Ohio State Senate is set to vote today on the state budget bill that includes an amendment which, if signed into law, would be a major setback for municipal broadband projects in the Buckeye State and protect the big incumbent Internet Service Providers from competition. 

If passed and signed into law it would make Ohio the first state in a decade to erect barriers to the establishment and expansion of municipal broadband networks. This is a surprising and disappointing move, especially for families who have spent the last year experiencing firsthand the poor Internet connectivity that comes with a broadband market dominated by monopoly providers with no incentive to put the interests of the public ahead of shareholder returns.

Erecting Barriers

When the Senate version of the state budget bill was unveiled earlier this week, it included an amendement with an array of conditions designed to prevent, stifle, and discourage cities from following through with any plan for a city-run network to meet the connectivity challenges of its residents.

The first is a provision that would only allow for municipal broadband networks to be built in “unserved” areas of the state, defined as geographic regions where residents do not have access to “broadband service capable of speeds of at least 25 Mbps downstream and at least 3 Mbps upstream.”

But a recent Ohio Broadband Strategy report released in 2019 under the direction of Ohio Lt. Gov. Jon Husted pegged the number of Ohioans without access to broadband at just around 1 million. According to the independent broadband tracking firm BroadbandNow, which ranks Ohio 24th in the nation on the broadband access scale, as of June 2021 there were 618,000 Ohio residents who did not have access to broadband with speeds of 25/3 or faster, which means that approximately 94 percent of Ohioans have access to wired broadband with speeds of 25/3 or faster. Restricting municipal networks to only those households with no service whatsoever would effectively preclude new networks in large parts of the state.

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Posted June 7, 2021 by Jericho Casper

Snapshot

Michigan broadband package repeals law prohibiting state grants from going to government entities

Montana Legislature duplicates federal limitations against schools and librarie self-constructing networks

U.S. House Republicans bill would give USDA authority over rural broadband, in place of FCC 

The State Scene 

Michigan

Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer issued an executive directive on Wednesday establishing the Michigan High-Speed Internet (MIHI) Office, a new state office tasked with developing a strategy to make high-speed Internet more accessible to Michiganders. 

Gov. Whitmer has argued that more than $2.5 billion in potential economic benefit is left unrealized each year due to a lack of Internet access across the state. MIHI will be housed inside the state’s Department of Labor and Economic Opportunity (LEO). Speaking of the new office, LEO Acting Director Susan Corbin said, “We need to make major investments to support digital inclusion and this office will be focused on leveraging every dollar available through the American Recovery Plan and other federal programs,” reports WILX.

Michigan lawmakers are moving to answer Corbin’s call and recently proposed a $400 million one-time allocation of incoming federal relief funds to the newly created MIHI to work toward expanding access to broadband. With the funds, LEO would be tasked with maintaining a statewide broadband grant program, the Connecting Michigan Communities Broadband Grant. 

The legislative package [pdf] would allow the state to “award grant money to a governmental entity or educational institution or an affiliate or a public/private partnership, to own, purchase, construct, operate, or maintain a communications network.” The legislation calls for prioritizing projects that will provide discounted Internet service to low-income households and projects that “demonstrate collaboration to achieve community investment and...

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Posted June 4, 2021 by Jericho Casper

Since it was first introduced in Congress in March, the Community Broadband Act of 2021 has gained widespread support from over 45 organizations representing local governments, public utilities, racial equity groups, private industry, and citizen advocates. 

The legislation -- introduced by U.S. Representatives Anna Eshoo, Jared Golden, and U.S. Senator Cory Booker -- would authorize local communities to build and maintain their own Internet infrastructure by prohibiting laws in 17 states that ban or limit the ability of state, regional, and local governments to build broadband networks and provide Internet services. 

The Act also overturns state laws that restrict electric cooperatives' ability to provide Internet services, as well as laws that restrain public agencies from entering into public-private partnerships.

States have started to remove some long-standing barriers to public broadband on their own. In the last year, state lawmakers in both Arkansas and Washington removed significant barriers to municipal broadband networks, as high-quality Internet with upload speeds sufficient for remote work, distance learning, telehealth, and other online civic and cultural engagement has become essential. 

Community broadband networks offer a path to connect the unconnected to next-generation networks. State barriers have contributed to the lack of competition in the broadband market and most communities will not soon gain access without public investments or, at the very least, the plausible threat of community broadband.

The Many Benefits of Publicly-Owned Networks

Despite the tangle of financial restrictions and legislative limitations public entities face, over 600 communities across the United States have deployed public broadband networks. (See a summary of municipal network success stories...

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Posted May 25, 2021 by Jericho Casper

Snapshot

North Carolina Governor budgets $1.2 billion of Rescue Plan funds towards closing the digital divide

Vermont Senate includes private ISPs in what was a community-based solution to universal access

Alabama Governor approves $17 million in broadband grants, some to Comcast and Charter Spectrum

The State Scene

North Carolina 

North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper released a budget proposal last Wednesday that anticipates using $1.2 billion of incoming federal COVID-19 relief funds towards broadband infrastructure, affordability initiatives, and expanding digital literacy. With North Carolina set to receive a total of $5.7 billion in federal American Rescue Plan funds, Gov. Cooper is dedicating nearly one-fifth of the incoming relief to closing the digital divide. 

Next, the State House, Senate, and the North Carolina General Assembly will create their proposals for how to spend the relief funding. Then, they'll have to rectify any differences. Each chamber's plans could look similar to the governor's or vastly different. 

Gov. Cooper’s proposal specifically allocates [pdf]:

  • $600 million towards expanding broadband infrastructure, including: $350 million for the state’s existing last-mile grant program (GREAT grants), $150 million for competitive bidding which will allow county governments to leverage the funds for public-private partnerships, and $100 million towards stop gap solutions “to address local infrastructure needs and connect underserved households not likely to get fiber for three to four years.”

  • $420 million towards affordability initiatives which will subsidize low-income service plans.

  • $165 million for digital literacy, including: $40 million towards device support to provide computers to 96,000 households which currently lack them; $30 million towards break/fix services to replace devices for over 275,000 North Carolinians; and $95 million towards community-based digital literacy campaigns.

The plan aims to connect 100 percent of North Carolina households with children to high-speed Internet access by 2025, and anticipates the affordability initiatives in the proposed budget will provide 380,000 individuals with a $50/month subsidy for four years. 

Although some of North Carolina’s...

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Posted May 19, 2021 by Ry Marcattilio-McCracken

Newcomers to Cullen Hoback’s recent HBO blockbuster documentary on the QAnon conspiracy are in for a treat. Four years ago, the filmmaker released a documentary on broadband access in North Carolina, and how huge ISPs have employed lobbyists to ghostwrite state laws to protect their monopoly territory and extract community wealth at the expense of fast, affordable Internet access delivered via publicly owned and operated networks.

Free for the first time on Vimeo, Do Not Pass Go: The Battle for Broadband charts the consequences of this phenomenon - present in 17 states across the country - for one small town called Pinetops (pop. 1,300), situated 50 miles east of Raleigh. 

Hoback’s film shows the consequences of North Carolina’s 2011 state law (HB 129). HB 129 has successfully stymied the formation and expansion of municipally owned broadband networks over the state for the last decade, leaving hundreds of thousands of families stuck living with just one option (and oftentimes a poor one) for their home Internet access. 

This was exactly the reality for Pinetops, until the nearby town of Wilson’s municipal network, Greenlight, brought affordable and future-proof service to the town. That is, before the cable lobby pounced and forced Wilson to stop sell its assets and stop offering service in that community. While Greenlight continues to provide fast, affordable service where it is able, but residents in other North Carolina communities aren't so lucky.

Despite these struggles, North Carolina still hasn’t been able to shake the influence of out-of-state firms in preventing local solutions to the broadband gap, even though it ranks 18th for access in the country. No...

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Posted May 14, 2021 by Jericho Casper

Yesterday, following weeks of anticipation, State Gov. Jay Islee signed the Public Broadband Act (H.B. 1336), removing all restrictions on public broadband in the state of Washington, according to the bill’s primary sponsor, State Rep. Drew Hansen, D-23. This critical leap forward in Washington drops the number of states with laws restricting community broadband to 17.  

Rep. Hansen’s tweet announcing the passage of H.B. 1336:

The bill grants public entities previously restricted by statute from offering retail telecommunications services the unrestricted authority to provide Internet services to end-users. This includes Public Utility Districts (PUDs) and district ports, as well as, towns, second-class cities (defined as those with populations of 1500 or more which have not adopted a city charter) and counties, currently not operating under Washington’s Optional Municipal Code. (Washington’s charter counties, first-class cities, and cities operating under the state’s Optional Municipal Code already had the power to construct telecommunications networks and offer Internet access services to their residents, without a third-party business overseeing network management operations.)

Before the Public Broadband Act was signed into law, Gov. Islee partially vetoed a section from an amendment proposed by Sen. Shelly Short, R-7, which added requirements for public entities to comply with Washington’s Growth Management Act (GMA). Under GMA, all Washington cities and counties must “designate natural resource lands (including those related to forestry, agriculture, fisheries, and mining) and identify steps to preserve them,” according to...

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Posted May 11, 2021 by Ry Marcattilio-McCracken

The mayors of nine cities in eastern North Carolina have had enough of Suddenlink's poor service. WRAL reports that they've called on the state legislature to overturn HB 129 and let them build their own networks after years of unreliable connectivity:

“[HB 129] forbade any kind of municipality from establishing broadband as one of their utilities,” Rocky Mount mayor Sandy Roberson said.

Roberson said Internet service in Nash and Edgecombe counties had been a problem for years.

There have been so many complaints against the area’s major provider, Suddenlink, since the COVID-19 pandemic began that the mayor of Tarboro called for the state Attorney General to investigate the company in January.

Months later, area leaders have started to take matters into their own hands, with the mayors of nine cities across Eastern North Carolina petitioning the state legislature to allow them to set up their own fiber networks.

The call to action comes on the heels of the mayors of Tarboro, Rocky Mount, New Bern and Washington calling on the state Attorney General to investigate the company.

Head over to WRAL to read the whole story.

Posted May 11, 2021 by Jericho Casper

Snapshot

Florida Legislature rewrites utility pole bill to include language backed by municipal electric utilities

North Carolina’s County Broadband Authority Act includes clause drawing criticism from electric co-ops

Oklahoma Governor signs mapping bill, vetoes measure adding Tribal representation to state broadband council

The State Scene

Florida

A Florida bill, which included provisions that would have forced Florida’s municipal electric utilities and their ratepayers to pay private Internet Service Providers’ utility pole make-ready costs, was significantly revised before passing the State House by a unanimous vote of 115-0 on April 28.

H.B. 1239, which no longer includes the make-ready costs provisions, initially read like a regulatory wishlist for incumbent cable monopolies until it was redrafted to become a legislative package aimed at improving broadband deployment across the state. The revised bill now heads to the State Gov. Ron DeSantis for approval.

The final version of the bill establishes additional duties for Florida’s Office of Broadband, creates a state broadband grant program, and requires the Office to conduct mapping of unserved and underserved areas of the state -- a significant deviation from the version that was first introduced in February.

The initial version was sponsored by the Florida Internet and Television Association, of which Charter and Comcast are members, capitol insiders noted. Proponents of the initial language argued that lowering the costs municipal electric utilities charge private ISPs for attaching to their utility poles was a necessary prerequisite to attract private investment in rural communities, and would have required electric utilities statewide to provide private ISPs with access to their poles at a capped rate. The stripped-out portion of the bill had also included tax exemptions on the majority of equipment private ISPs purchased.

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Posted May 4, 2021 by Jericho Casper

Snapshot

Nebraska Senate rejects amendment supporting municipal broadband in spending plan

Michigan Governor vetoes bill granting private ISPs property tax exemptions

Montana, Iowa and Maine channel Rescue Plan funds towards new broadband grant initiatives

 

The State Scene

Nebraska

The Nebraska Senate approved a plan to spend $40 million over the next two years on expanding rural access to high-speed Internet by a unanimous vote on Tuesday, but only after an amendment to L.B. 388 that would have allowed municipalities to offer retail broadband services was rejected.

State Sen. Justin Wayne introduced the amendment, saying that “broadband should be considered a critical infrastructure need and that private telecommunications companies have not stepped up to serve the whole state,” the Lincoln Journal Star reports.

Wayne urged Nebraska Senators “to look to Nebraska's history of public power as a model, as well as to the example of other states that are allowing cities to offer broadband.” The amendment ultimately failed by a vote of 20-24. Wayne assured fellow Senators that he will reintroduce the amendment in the future. 

The bill marked the first time the Nebraska Legislature has suggested using state tax dollars to fund broadband deployment. As it was submitted to Gov. Pete Ricketts for his signature, the bill would annually allocate, until funds run out, $20 million in grants to projects that increase access to high-speed broadband in unserved regions of Nebraska. It would prioritize projects in regions which lack access to Internet service with speeds of at least 25 Megabits per second (Mbps) download/3 Mbps upload. Grant recipients would be required to deploy networks capable of providing service of at least 100/100 Mbps within 18 months. 

 

Michigan

Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer vetoed H.B. 4210 on April 14, a bill which would have granted...

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Posted April 28, 2021 by Ry Marcattilio-McCracken

Cortez is the latest community in the state of Colorado to decide whether to opt out of SB 152, which has since passage in 2005 has preempted local authority and prevented communities from building publicly owned telecommunications infrastructure and offering retail service.

The community (pop. 8,500) is located in Montezuma County in the southwest part of the state, just north of Mesa Verde National Park. As first reported in The Journal at the end of January and subsequently approved unanimously by the City Council in the middle of February, a ballot measure later this spring will give city residents the option to restore the municipality’s ability to offer retail Internet service to business and households themselves.

From the ballot flyer provided to residents by the city:

A voter-approved exemption from SB 152 would restore local independence and ability to evaluate all possibilities for next generation broadband services in the City of Cortez and our communities. An exemption supports local choice and options, allowing citizens to make the best decisions based on the needs of our own individual communities, without raising taxes.

It further explains the realities of the limitations imposed by SB 152:

Without such approval, the law limits the ability of Colorado local governments to provide a wide spectrum of services, including: free Internet service in city libraries, parks and community centers; leveraging government infrastructure and partnering with private businesses to provide affordable and high-speed Internet service throughout the entire community; [and] direct provision of broadband services by municipal governments where needed.

A Chance to Build on Past Success

Currently, the city operates the Cortez Community Network, an open access fiber network which started as an I-Net before transitioning to connect businesses with triple...

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