Tag: "preemption"

Posted November 26, 2012 by christopher

A recent article and video from Government Technology highlights the ambitious plans of Raleigh to harness the Internet to improve its attractiveness to forward-looking companies.

Unfortunately, Time Warner Cable convinced North Carolina's legislature that communities could not be trusted with the decision over whether it was a wise decision to invest in telecommunications networks.

So despite Raleigh's smart plans to build a fiber optic infrastructure that could be used to connect local businesses and spur new enterprises, it is prohibited from doing so. It can still offer services for free, which is why it can and does offer free Wi-Fi in some areas of town, but it cannot offer the services that would be most beneficial to the kind of companies that are most drawn to the Research Triangle Park area.

We look forward to a North Carolina that recognizes these decisions should be made at the local level, not by lobbyists working the state or federal capitals. But until then, we'll have to celebrate the jobs created by municipal networks in other states, where communities have the power to determine their own digital futures.

Posted November 6, 2012 by lgonzalez

You may recall that we reported on Johnston's last book, The Fine Print: How big companies use plain english to rob you blind. In this short interview from On the Media called "America's Lagging Internet," Johnston and Gladstone touch on how gigantic corporate interests and their political affiliates try to put a stop to municipal networks.

The two also discuss successes in municipal networks, proposed policy changes, and how we need to recognize that access to broadband is a key to our future economic health. Johnston stresses once again how our refusal to accept the value of broadband infrastructure contributes to our slow networks, our low adoption rates, and the lack of competition.

Worth listening to!

Posted November 1, 2012 by lgonzalez

The Borough of Kutztown, Pennsylvania, with a year-round population around 5,500 that is swelled by Kutztown University, has been on the community broadband map for 10 years. In this informative Gigabit Nation interview, Craig Settles visits with Frank Caruso, IT Director for the Borough of Kutztown.

The interview is embedded below and runs approximately one hour and is sandwiched between a one hour interview with Chattanooga about smart grid economics and an hour interview with Todd Marriot about UTOPIA -- so if you want to hear the portion on Kutztown, skip 60 minutes into the show.

Kutztown award news article

In the interview, Craig and Frank discuss how the municipal network, Home Net, started out of necessity. The community wanted to link their utilities with a telecommunications network and government facilities needed a cohesive option. FTTH became part of the equation later, but was not the main impetus. Kutztown issued RFPs for a new network, but the response was silence. The community investigated the next option - building it themselves.

After several conflicting feasibility studies, the Borough decided to go ahead and build the network with the hope that "if we build it, they (ISPs) will come." Kutztown issued taxable bonds and built their own fiber network. The goal was to provide the infrastructure for government purposes and in the future create real choice for consumers. Again, no ISPs answered the call.

According to Caruso, large providers were not able to accept a business model which created a "middle man" between them and their customers. The only interest from the private market was from a small local telecommunications company that eventually leased a line from the city to expand their footprint for telephone service.

Caruso goes on to describe how, even though no companies were interested in an RFP bid, curiosity grew as the launch date approached. The Public Utilities Commission and the FCC met with Kutztown leaders to inquire but expressed no objections. Large telcos came to meetings and even spoke up about the design of the network, but none signed on to offer...

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Posted October 27, 2012 by lgonzalez

"I think the rural electric associations, the municipalities, and the investor-owned utilities, are all positioned to make a real contribution in this telecommunications area, and I do think it is important that we make sure we have got the right language to accomplish what we wish to accomplish here." - Fmr. Sen. Trent Lott (R-Mississippi)

Former Senate Majority Leader, now affiliated with DC powerhouse lobbying firm Patton Boggs, spoke those words in 1994. At the time, he particiapted in Senate hearings on S. 1822, known as the Communications Act of 1994 (Mr. Lott's comments are at pg. 370). Clearly former Majority Leader Lott had an early grasp on how important community and municipal networks would be to the future of telecommunications. 

As reported from the Sunlight foundation, and covered in numerous publications, Lott has since lobbied on behalf of AT&T and others, spending $150,000 alone in the first quarter of 2010. 

While Mr. Lott now works to influence his former colleagues on behalf of the gigantic telcos, we want to remind him and thank him for previously taking a stand for local authority because these decisions should be made at the local level.

Posted October 26, 2012 by lgonzalez

Forbes' CIO Network carried this article co-authored by our own Christopher Mitchell and Todd O’Boyle, the Program Director for the Media and Democracy Reform Initiative at Common Cause. The same article also ran on the CommonBlog under the title "Debunking ALEC, Broadband Edition."

Why Communities Should Decide What Telecom Networks They Have

Not long ago, the United States led the world in broadband connectivity. Now we are in 16th place, trailing most developed nations. We need broadband policies that connect our homes, schools, and business to the 21st century economy, but we’re pursuing public policies that are putting us in a hole, helping private telecommunications providers and harming the public interest. As the old adage goes, when in a hole, stop digging.

Why is this happening? One reason is that across much of the nation, commercial broadband companies are using their political and economic clout to stifle competition, particularly from municipalities. Individually and through trade groups and the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), the industry is bent on shutting down existing publicly-owned broadband systems and blocking the development of new ones.

ALEC’s argument, detailed in a recent Daily Caller op-ed by John Stephenson, director of its communications and technology task force, is based on distorted and inaccurate claims that would be laughable if they weren’t part of a coordinated strategy to radically transform policy state-by-state.

Stephenson suggests that Chattanooga, one of several cities cited in his piece, made a poor decision in building the nation’s most advanced citywide broadband network – one that has helped companies create literally thousands of new jobs in recent years. In fact, contrary to Stephenson’s claims that municipal broadband hurt municipal credit ratings,...

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Posted October 25, 2012 by christopher

I think the rural electric associations, the municipalities, and the investor-owned utilities, are all positioned to make a real contribution in this telecommunications area, and I do think it is important that we make sure we have got the right language to accomplish what we wish to accomplish here.

Posted October 1, 2012 by lgonzalez

The National Association of Counties (NACo) gave us permission to reprint an article they recently wrote in their County News publication. NACo advocates for county governments on federal policy that impacts local decsion and local control. NACo is based in Washington, D.C.

In the article, author Charles Taylor discusses the perils of Oconee and Orangeburg Counties in South Carolina, both involved in broadband projects supported by stimulus funds. Because of a new law passed this past summer, those projects are in danger and the possibility of future projects is all but extinguished.

Rural counties' broadband projects face uncertainty

The success of two South Carolina counties’ plans to provide broadband access to rural areas could be in jeopardy because of a new state law that severely restricts public broadband projects. It also essentially bans new ones.

Oconee and Orangeburg counties received more than $27 million in federal stimulus funds in 2010 for rural broadband projects.

A South Carolina law, enacted in July, requires local governments that offer broadband Internet services to charge rates similar to those of private companies, even if the government could provide the service at a lower cost and the area is not served by commercial providers.

“It effectively prohibits municipalities from operating their own broadband systems through a series of regulatory and reporting requirements,” said Catharine Rice, president of the SouthEast Association of Telecommunications Officers and Advisors (SEATOA). “These practically guarantee municipalities could never find financing because the requirements would render even a private sector broadband company inoperable.”

SEATOA represents local government broadband planners and community video programmers in Georgia, North Carolina, South Carolina and Tennessee. While the statute won’t kill the projects already underway, it...

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Posted August 3, 2012 by lgonzalez

Just this week, the Office of the Legislative Auditor General of the State of Utah released a report to the Utah Legislature on UTOPIA. The report, titled A Performance Audit of the Utah Telecommunications Open Infrastructure Agency rehashes prior criticisms of UTOPIA and tells the abridged story of the Auditor's understanding of UTOPIA's financial troubles.

While one can accept the report as truthful, it certainly is not comprehensive. Jesse Harris, of FreeUTOPIA notes that leaving out certain pieces of information taint the presumed impartiality of the report. From Jesse:

The Legislative Auditor General has published an audit of UTOPIA, and, as expected, it drags a fair amount of ancient history back into the spotlight.  The report concludes that additional accountability will alleviate the problems that UTOPIA has experienced, but it missed the mark on a number of points.

The Audit Scope and Objectives are spelled out in the beginning as:

Members of the Utah Legislature asked for an audit of UTOPIA so residents of UTOPIA member cities might know how the organization has used its funds. Legislators also asked for a review the organization’s general management practices. To address their concerns, we developed an audit plan to review the following areas:

  • The size and use of UTOPIA’s debt financing
  • The causes leading to UTOPIA’s current financial 
condition
  • UTOPIA’s management and board governance practices

While there are many bar graphs, pie charts, and dollar signs in the report and it seems to meet the scope and objectives, financial information alone does not explain UTOPIA's troubles. The first place to look is close to home.

From the beginning, UTOPIA has had to overcome difficult odds in a hostile legislative environment. As we note on our Community Broadband Map, the State of Utah effectively requires that community networks function as wholesale-only. The mandate puts them at a significant financial disadvantage from the beginning, severely limiting the amount of revenue they can collect...

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Posted July 26, 2012 by lgonzalez

Orangeburg County, South Carolina, received $18.65 million in broadband stimulus funds for high-speed broadband (which we previously noted). Unfortunately, AT&T and its friends at ALEC have since pushed through a state law to limit local authority in building networks.

According to the Broadband Adoption Map from the Investigative Reporting Workshop of the American University School of Communication, Orangeburg County has a broadband adoption rate of 20-40% as compared to the national rate of 60%.

Not only has AT&T refused to invest in modern networks in much of South Carolina, it is not even bothering to accept a federal subsidy that would underwrite some of that cost. Which is actually good for the rest of us, because subsidizing any AT&T activities is a very poor use of taxpayer dollars.

But Orangeburg is moving forward on its own. The Orangeburg County Council approved a $2.4 million contract with Edwards Telecommunications to complete the third phase of their project. This phase alone will use 171 miles of fiber and add 902 households to the network. Two more phases are scheduled before the entire project is complete.

According to a Gene Zaleski Times and Democrat article:

Seventy-five percent of the project will be paid for with a U.S. Department of Agriculture Rural Utilities Service grant and the remaining 25 percent will be paid for with proceeds from the Orangeburg County capital project sales tax.

In 2010, after receiving the award, the County expressed their optimism in a Phil Sarta article in the Times Democrat:

[County Administrator Bill] Clark said broadband capability will be extended to 3,700-3,800 households and roughly 90 businesses. The project area includes...

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Posted July 16, 2012 by lgonzalez

South Carolina's H3508 has passed the legislature, been signed by Governor Nikki R. Haley, and has revoked local authority to build the broadband networks they need to create new jobs. Last week, we noted some of the coverage about the bill.

After reviewing the language of the bill, we are astonished at how far the Governor and the South Carolina Legislature have gone to protect AT&T's monopoly, to the detriment of the many businesses and citizens who desperately need better access to the Internet -- whether to be more productive, competitive, or just take advantage of educational opportunities.

South Carolina is near the bottom of adoption rate in the U.S. and has a higher than average number of residents living below the poverty line. Communities with fast, affordable, and reliable access to the Internet are seeing new jobs. Those stuck on slow DSL are watching jobs wither away.

We continue to be amazed at state legislatures that are prioritizing laws to make it harder to expand broadband rather than easier. The only explanation is the vast amounts of money big companies like AT&T and Time Warner Cable spend in campaign contributions.

This bill is designed to prevent local governments from building next-generation networks, even when the private sector has refused to invest. It may also put an end to projects already in the works (even those that have received BTOP or BIP funding).

H3508 is not an outright ban against municipal networks, but it might as well be. South Carolina had already discouraged community broadband networks in Article 23, Chapter 9, Title 58 of its 1976 Code. This bill ramps up the unfavorable...

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