Tag: "preemption"

Posted July 12, 2012 by lgonzalez

Last week, South Carolina's General Assembly passed H3508, the ALEC and AT&T bill we previously warned you about. AT&T, ALEC, and cable companies pushed this bill to limit broadband competition and revoke local authority to decide if public investments in broadband infrastructure are wise.

H3508 is one of the worst pieces of legislation we have seen. States usually incorporate language that "grandfathers in" existing projects as a way to avoid legal challenge and federal scrutiny of their anti-competition legislation. In South Carolina, however, crafty drafting puts one county BTOP project in the cross hairs while permitting two other projects to continue.

Below is a roundup of media coverage of the bill. We will soon release our analysis of the supposed "exemptions" to this bill but in the meantime, this coverage explains several of the problems with South Carolina's latest Monopoly Protection Act.

Ars Technica's Cyrus Farivar contacted Jim Baller, a preeminent telecom attorney and expert in broadband issues:

"States have different ways to achieve the same end—discourage, delay, or derail public broadband initiatives," wrote Jim Baller, a telecom lawyer based in Washington, DC, in an e-mail to Ars on Thursday. He noted that similar bills were introduced in Minnesota and Georgia this year, the former of which has led to a "study bill," while the latter did not make it out of committee.

"In some ways, the South Carolina bill is worst of all because it does not grandfather existing projects and would retroactively undermine federal stimulus grants that Orangeburg and Oconee Counties have received,"  he added.

Ars Technica Logo

Farivar also looked into the chief author and found:

Public records show that in 2011, AT&T, itself an ALEC member, contributed $1,000 to the coffers of...

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Posted June 6, 2012 by lgonzalez

Yesterday the South Carolina Senate voted in a second reading of H 3508, a bill that has been debated in the State Legislature since it was introduced in January of 2011. The bill, pushed by AT&T and ALEC, has been on our radar for quite some time.

We have watched this piece of legislation because it will have immediate and unfortunate negative implications for the people of South Carolina. Right now, the state has a miserable adoption rate with an average of 53 out of 100 households connected. Like many other states in the South, poverty, geography, and lack of interest from the major carriers have left South Carolina behind the rest of the country.

The bill will revoke local authority to pick up the slack where the private industry has failed. If this bill passes, South Carolina will entrust its future to AT&T, which has admitted it has no solution for rural broadband. And in the meantime, it is ripping off our schools and libraries, as revealed in a recent ProPublica article examining E-rate Program.

If you live in South Carolina, call your elected officials and let them know you are a constituent and you believe communities should make these decisions locally.

Find your legislator here. Tell them to oppose H.3508 and any efforts to limit local authority to make decisions about broadband.

Posted May 26, 2012 by christopher

Free Press caught and isolated an excellent question from Senator Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ) to FCC Chairman Genachowski during recent hearings. The Senator notes that many Americans do not have sufficient access to broadband but 19 states have enacted barriers to make it harder for communities to build their own.

FCC Chairman said he thinks innovative municipal solutions should be encouraged and that he looks forward to working with the Committee to address the obstacles. 

Posted April 25, 2012 by christopher

Community Broadband networks are increasingly getting the attention they deserve as an option for communities that want better, more accountable connections to the Internet.

We have long been warning about an AT&T-pushed bill in South Carolina to make it even harder for communities in that state to build the infrastructure AT&T has long neglected. But now The New Republic has also noticed -- in "Why are Telecom Companies Blocking rural America from Getting High-Speed Internet?"

The story starts by discussing rural and impoverished Orangeburg County, which received a stimulus award to help build the telecom infrastructure they need to succeed in the modern economy.

In an effort to improve the area’s economic prospects, county officials have worked in recent years to secure funding to refurbish roadways and sewer systems—but they also know that, in a globalized marketplace, old-school infrastructure is not nearly enough. That’s why, in 2009, Orangeburg County applied for, and received, $18.65 million in stimulus money to finally give the area access to high-speed broadband internet. County Administrator Bill Clark and his colleagues envisioned a municipal, or muni, network that could reach roughly a quarter of Orangeburg’s rural population, including just over three thousand households and one hundred businesses.

...

But the titans of telecom aren’t operating on quite the same wavelength. Since last January, AT&T, CenturyLink, and Time Warner have contributed just over $146,000 to politicians in South Carolina who back legislation that would cripple networks like Orangeburg’s. It’s only one example of a broader campaign by telecom companies to protect their cartel at all costs—even at the expense of keeping the country’s poorest on the wrong side of the digital divide for many years to come.

Same story, different state. We've seen the same efforts across the U.S., which is why nineteen states have created barriers to community broadband.

Meanwhile, the source of a lot of those barriers -- the American Legislative Exchange Council -- or ALEC has been getting attention for the many bad bills...

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Posted April 9, 2012 by christopher

We are thrilled to finally unveil our latest white paper: Broadband At the Speed of Light: How Three Communities Built Next-Generation Networks. This report was a joint effort of the Institute for Local Self-Reliance and the Benton Foundation.

We have chronicled how Bristol's BVU Authority, Chattanooga's EPB, and Lafayette's LUS built some of the most impressive broadband networks in the nation. The paper presents three case studies and then draws lessons from their common experiences to offer advice to other communities.

Here is the press release:

The fastest networks in the nation are built by local governments, a new report by the Institute for Local Self-Reliance and Benton Foundation reveals

Chattanooga, Tennessee, is well known for being the first community with citywide access to a “gig,” or the fastest residential connections to the Internet available nationally. Less known are Bristol, Virginia, and Lafayette, Louisiana – both of which now also offer a gigabit throughout the community.

A new report just released by the Institute for Local Self-Reliance (ILSR) and the Benton Foundation explains how these communities have built some of the best broadband networks in the nation. Broadband At the Speed of Light: How Three Communities Built Next-Generation Networks is available here.

“It may surprise people that these cities in Virginia, Tennessee, and Louisiana have faster and lower cost access to the Internet than anyone in San Francisco, Seattle, or any other major city,” says Christopher Mitchell, Director of ILSR’s Telecommunications as Commons Initiative. “These publicly owned networks have each created hundreds of jobs and saved millions of dollars.”

“Communities need 21st century telecommunications infrastructure to compete in the global economy,” said Charles Benton, Chairman & CEO of the Benton Foundation. “Hopefully, this report will resonate with local government officials across the country.”

Mitchell is a national expert on community broadband networks and was recently named a “Top 25 Doer, Dreamer, and Driver” by Government Technology. He also regularly authors articles at MuniNetworks.org.

The new report offers in-depth case studies of BVU Authority’s OptiNet in Bristol, Virginia; EPB Fiber in Chattanooga, Tennessee; and LUS Fiber in Lafayette, Louisiana. Each network was...

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Posted March 29, 2012 by lgonzalez

MPR News recently ran two stories on the trials and tribulations of new and prospective broadband networks. Conrad Wilson's story about the continuing Monticello drama and Jennifer Vogel's account of factors affecting the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act (ARRA) projects give us a good idea of the many hurdles in the way of building new fiber-optic networks.

We have reported many times on the drama that has unfolded in Monticello. The municipally owned fiber-optic network has faced some withering challenges and yet perseveres.

Monticello asked for a modern communications network but the existing service providers, the cable and phone companies, insisted the city was "sufficiently wired." Conrad's reporting suggests otherwise:

Bill Tapper, who owns a cabinet company with clients around the world, recalls a time just a few years ago when the Internet was so slow it hurt business.

"The service we had in Monticello was horrible," he said. "My employees would sometimes take the data home where they had a better Internet connection than we did and do their uploads at night."

Tapper said he lost out on business, but at the time the established Internet service providers like phone and cable TV companies told Tapper and other frustrated business owners in town that the city was wired sufficiently.

Fibernet Monticello

After the community voted in favor of a publicly owned fiber-optic network, the incumbent provider, TDS, filed a lawsuit. The lawsuit strategically succeeded in stalling the development of the new network but did not destroy the project. Even though the incumbent provider describes pre-network status as "just fine before the city got involved," TDS took advantage of the delay they caused to began building their own fiber network.

Currently, subscribers in Monticello are benefitting from their high-speed fiber in ways beyond expanded and improved access. Because of the threat of competition, Charter is...

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Posted March 28, 2012 by lgonzalez

Here at muninetworks.org, we continually see instances of state government preempting rights of local government to make their own decisions on broadband. It was no surprise to us to read Josh Goodman’s recent Stateline.org article, GOP Legislatures Try to Limit Local Government’s Power.

Goodman takes a look at a disturbing trend in the relationships between local and state authority; a relationship that has local government walking on eggshells. More and more local governments are now contending with their own state legislatures stripping them of specific decision-making authority. Some decisions are better made at the state level, but the concept of a micromanaging, conservative GOP legislature seems contradictory. Any fan of state floor debate, has listened to countless hours of republican legislators berating democrats for trying to overstep into local concerns. Could it be a change of heart or perhaps a very targeted way to ensure local compliance with a party agenda?

Many of these state lawmakers have accused the federal government of adopting an imperious, one-size-fits-all mentality and of subverting the rightful powers of states. At the same time, many high-profile debates in the Tennessee Capitol over the last two years — on topics such as local wage rules and local non-discrimination rules, among others — have centered on the state trying to limit the power of localities to make decisions for themselves.

Rather than take a diplomatic and collaborative approach, these lawmakers prefer to nullify local authority rather than risk a community decision with which they would disagree. 

While Goodman’s article discussed a variety of legislative hijackings of local authority - local wage rules, zoning, sprinkler systems, his observations parallel our findings on community owned networks. We have reported on many examples of preemption as it relates to the establishment and development of municipal broadband. Recently we have examined state legislative initiatives in North Carolina, Kentucky,...

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Posted March 26, 2012 by lgonzalez

A little less than a year ago, the 88th Arkansas General Assembly created HB 2033, later known as Act 1050 [pdf]. The law made a few changes to the Telecommunications Regulatory Reform Act of 1997 and, while “a few changes” may not sound like much, they don’t need to be much in order to have a significant effect on the prospect of municipal broadband in Arkansas. The language gets specific about municipal broadband, related services, and alters the possibilities in Arkansas.

WHO AND WHAT...

Prior law prohibited any government entity from offering, directly or indirectly, basic exchange services. So, an Arkansas town couldn’t create its own telephone company that offered the traditional concept of telephone service, as defined in statute.

Act 1050 expands the prohibition to data, broadband, video, and wireless. With the exception of those owning municipal electric utilities or cable television systems, Arkansas towns are now prohibited from offering broadband services to nonpublic entities.

EVERYBODY EXCEPT…

Prior law allowed an exception for government entities owning municipal electric systems or television signal distribution systems to be able to make telecommunications capacities associated with the facilities available to the public. Offering basic local exchange services was still prohibited.

Act 1050 actually opens up the uses of those networks that may have been created for the use of the electric system or television signal distribution system. The new language adds permission to use those capacities to provide, directly or indirectly, voice, data, broadband, video, and wireless. There is even an insertion that allows for like use in future constructed or acquired facilities. Reasonable public notice and a hearing are required, which is the normal course of action before making new investments.

SOME SPECIAL CONSIDERATIONS…

Prior law allowed exceptions to the restrictions for some government entities’ ability to create their own networks for specific purposes. Emergency,...

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Posted March 20, 2012 by christopher

Less than a year after North Carolina became the 19th state to create barriers to community networks, effectively outlawing them, the non-partisan organization Follow the Money has crunched the numbers and found that private telecommunications interests donated quite heavily to lawmakers that pushed their bill through the Legislature:

According to a report by the National Institute on Money in State Politics, Dialing Up the Dollars: Telecommunication Interests Donated Heavily to NC Lawmakers, Republican lawmakers and those who held key leadership positions, sponsored the bill, and/or who voted in favor of the bill received considerably more campaign contributions from the telecommunication donors than did their colleagues. For example, lawmakers who voted in favor of HB 129 received on average 76 percent more than the average received by those who voted against the bill. The four primary sponsors of the bill received an average of $9,438 each, more than double the $3,658 given on average to lawmakers who did not sponsor the bill.

Recall that Time Warner Cable pushed this bill for years with some help from AT&T, CenturyLink, and others that stood to benefit by limiting broadband competition. But the Legislature wisely refused to enact it... until 2011.

Now we have a better sense of what may have shifted the balance. Consider this:

Thom Tillis

Thom Tillis, who became speaker of the house in 2011, received $37,000 in 2010–2011 (despite running unopposed in 2010), which is more than any other lawmaker and significantly more than the $4,250 he received 2006–2008 combined. AT&T, Time Warner Cable, and Verizon each gave Tillis $1,000 in early-mid January, just before he was sworn in as speaker on January 26. Tillis voted for the bill, and was in a key position to ensure it moved along the legislative pipeline.

Running unopposed for office, he collected more money from the cable and phone companies than any other Representative and almost 10 times as much as in the previous two cycle combined. As Speaker, he set the agenda and...

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Posted March 8, 2012 by christopher

When Monticello, Minnesota, decided to build its community fiber network -- Fibernet Monticello -- it expected the incumbents to lower their prices and fight to keep subscribers. But Monticello had no idea the lengths to which they would go.

The telephone incumbent, TDS, delayed the project for a year with a frivolous lawsuit and then built its own fiber-optic network while dramatically lowering its prices. We have yet to find another community in North America with two citywide FTTH networks going head to head.

Because of the city's network, Monticello's residents and businesses have access to better connections than the biggest cities in Minnesota can get.

Now, Charter has weighed in by cutting its rates to what must be below cost to gain subscribers. It reminded us of a shoot-out, so we created this infographic to explore what is at stake.

The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly in Minnesota

Download a higher resolution PDF here.

Charter has taken a package for which it charges $145/month in Rochester, Duluth, Lakeville, and nearby Buffalo (MN) and is offering it for $60/month - price guaranteed for 2 years. A Monticello resident supplied us with this flyer, which this person had received multiple times at their home over the course of a month. (See below for the full flyer).

Charter's rate sheet

This is either predatory pricing or the cable industry is out of control with its rate increases. If that package costs Charter more than $60/month to supply, then it is engaging in predatory pricing to drive competitors out of the market. Consider that Charter may be taking a loss of $20/month ($240/year) from each household that takes this offer. They can do that by cross-subsidizing from nearby markets where they face...

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