Tag: "preemption"

Posted March 6, 2012 by christopher

We have heard rumors that the Minnesota Cable Communications Association (MCCA) has ramped up its lobbying efforts in the capitol over the past few weeks and now we know why -- Representative Runbeck is today introducing MN HF 2695, a bill undoubtedly written by the cable companies.

Update: Apparently MCCA is denying they are behind this bill. Given how blunt the bill is, I'm inclined to take them at their word. I would expect a bill by MCCA to be more strategic, refusing to admit they wanted to revoke all authority outright. Nonetheless, this bill is still a giant gift to the incumbent cable operators in the state.

Much of Minnesota lacks access to next generation broadband networks -- the kind of networks needed for economic development and maintaining a high quality of life. Minnesota law already discourages communities from building their own next-generation networks but they still have the authority to choose.

This bill would deny them a choice. If passed, MN HF 2695 would be a power grab by the state on behalf of big cable companies to prevent any threat of broadband competition, denying communities local self-determination on matters of essential infrastructure.

MCCA has been trying to kill a broadband stimulus project on the North Shore that would connect thousands of people who have no access to modern broadband because it overlaps in places with Mediacom turf. Mediacom recognizes that if it can kill the network owned by Lake County, it will have no competition to worry about for the foreseeable future.

Private telecom companies are not about to go overbuild rural areas or pick a fight with Mediacom. The only legitimate hope for a real choice in broadband in Minnesota is in areas where communities choose to do it themselves.

We believe communities should be free to make that choice. The cable companies, and a number of elected officials in Minnesota, believe that communities should not be trusted with that decision.

Posted March 6, 2012 by christopher

After AT&T began pushing a bill in Georgia to revoke local authority to decide to build a publicly owned broadband network, the Georgia Municipal Assocation (GMA) and the SouthEast Assocation of Telecommunications Officers and Advisors began reaching out to Georgia's legislators to explain how the private sector has left serious gaps in broadband coverage, which stopped the bill. Below are two flyers they report being particularly helpful.

GMA, SEATOA, and the Institute for Local Self-Reliance are among the vast majority that believe communities should decide locally if a community network makes sense to bring next-generation connections to local businesses and residents.

Georgia is a conservative state and AT&T had enlisted the support of the Senate Majority Leader in pushing their anti-competition broadband bill. Unfortunately for AT&T, their CEO was too candid on calls with Wall Street, contradicting AT&T's lobbyist talking points in Georgia.

Georgia Flyer1

Note, that AT&T was originally trying to define broadband at the absurd 200kbps level but a substitute bill would have bumped it up to a still-too-low 768kbps, which is referenced above.

The other flyer that apparently made a difference with legislators is here:

Georgia Flyer2

Rememeber that elected officials often think of broadband in binary terms. You have it or you don't. In their mind, if you have options aside from dial-up, the problem is solved. These are people that often do not know what is needed to attract economic development, work efficiently from home, or successfully compete remote education courses.

Graphics that explain why we need next-generation networks rather than simply...

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Posted March 5, 2012 by christopher

We are hearing that SB 313 in Georgia, AT&T's bill to overrule local authority, will be turned into a study bill. Despite the strong support of the Senate Majority Leader, the bill lost support after we and others exposed the frank admission of AT&T's CEO that they had no plans to expand broadband in rural areas.

Given the strength of AT&T's lobbying and the support of the Senate Majority Leader, this is a tremendous victory. Congratulations to the communities in Georgia that successfully organized and defended their authority to decide locally if a network is a wise choice for them.

We do not consider these issues resolved until the ink is dried, but it does look like AT&T lost this round -- which means thousands of local businesses and millions of people won. They can still hope for next-generation networks and a real choice in providers.

Note: the South Carolina bill remains in play and will be discussed on Wednesday by a Senate Judiciary Subcommittee.

We have been collecting some of the news coverage of this broadband debate in Georgia, but have neglected posting until now. Here is a run-down of some of the coverage.

In the beginning of February, the AP covered an SB 313 hearing featuring testimony from rural communities:

Leaders from cities including Elberton, Hogansville, Thomasville, Monroe and Toccoa lined up to tell senators that broadband is necessary infrastructure for the 21st century economic development they hope to attract — and that they are doing what they must to keep their communities competitive.

"We cannot wait for the private sector to ride to our rescue," said Tim Martin, executive director of the Toccoa-Stephens County Development Authority.

Thomasville Mayor Max Beverly said the city's broadband network supports major employers there.

"If we have to cut them off, there's no telling what that's going to do...

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Posted February 19, 2012 by christopher

We are running a guest commentary today. Eric Null is a third-year law student at Cardozo Law School in New York City. He is passionate about corporate and intellectual property law, as well as technology and telecommunications policy. Follow him @ericnull or check out his papers. While researching a paper about municipal broadband networks, I was struck by the tremendous benefits that municipal networks can provide. It can be the first high-speed Internet link for an area without broadband, or it can provide some much-needed competition in areas that currently have access to broadband, but for some reason that existing access is unsatisfactory (e.g. price, service). Municipalities, in theory, can run the network for the benefit of the public rather than with a vicious profit maximization motive. Indeed, municipal networks bring many benefits. But first, a little history. In the United States, cable providers have set up regional monopolies for themselves, and “competitors” such as DSL and satellite are characterized by slower connection speeds and it is arguable that they are actual substitutes to cable access. Certainly within the cable industry, any “competitive” cable company attempting to compete with incumbents is met with high costs of building new infrastructure and lack of customer base. Municipalities can pick up where smaller, private entities cannot succeed. Municipalities have had a long history of investing in critical infrastructure, and they have the mentality for long-term planning that private companies simply cannot enjoy. A large company like Verizon likely has to justify any expansion of its network to its investors and ensure them that the venture will return a profit relatively quickly. Not so with municipalities; a city network allows its citizens to benefit indirectly (and directly) over the long-term. Thus, city governments can be a formidable competitor in the telecom and cable industries. Some states, regrettably, have banned or restricted the practice. In Nixon v. Missouri Municipal League, the Supreme Court interpreted so-called vague language in the Telecom Act of 1996...

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Posted February 17, 2012 by christopher

On Wednesday, Tech News Today on the This Week in Tech (TWiT) network had Christopher Mitchell on to discuss pending legislation in Georgia that would essentially outlaw publicly owned networks in the state.

I come on about 25 minutes, 45 seconds in to the show. Skip ahead below or watch on YouTube.

Posted February 16, 2012 by christopher

The Heartland Institute is one of those organizations that will say anything its massive corporate funders want it to. It is embroiled in a scandal from the release of internal documents due to its work challenging the science behind climate change.

In the telecom space, Heartland's employees have encouraged laws to take decision-making authority away from communities in order to benefit the massive cable and DSL companies (like Heartland-funder AT&T).

They advocate for efforts like Georgia's SB 313 and South Carolina's H3508, saying:

  1. Muni networks are doomed to failure because of the general incompetence of government
  2. Muni networks will drive private sector providers out of the market because governments are too all powerful and have too many advantages in competition

This is why we see bills that are supposed to "level the playing field" pushed by big companies like Time Warner Cable in North Carolina last year.

If you take a gander at Heartland's telecom work, you have to wonder why the playing field needs to be leveled if they believe what they have written:

A municipal government cannot possibly hope to compete with well-capitalized broadband providers in a highly competitive market.

For those unfamiliar with Heartland, they don't use the same definitions for common words like "competitive" as the rest of us do. In Heartland's world, "competitive" means a market in which one of our funders operates regardless of how much competition exists in it.

So why do we need new legislation to make it even harder for communities to build the networks that the cable and DSL companies won't build?

Posted February 14, 2012 by christopher

Many complain about gridlock in Washington, DC, but I sometimes subscribe to the cynical counter-reaction that gridlock is great. It is when the Democrats and Republicans agree that Americans should beware.

Though this may or may not be true about politics, it is certainly true when applied to two of the most hated industries in America: cable television companies and DSL companies like AT&T. When they come to agreement, you can bet that prices are going up for the rest of us.

In our coverage of AT&T's bid to limit broadband competition in South Carolina by revoking local authority to build networks for economic development, we have thus far ignored the position of the cable companies.

We took a tour through the newsletters of the South Carolina Cable Television Association over the course of 2011, which is when AT&T introduced its H.3508 bill.

Unsurprisingly, the cable companies are thrilled at the prospect of limiting competition in communities by cutting off the ability of a community to build a network when the private sector is failing to meet their needs. From the 1st Quarter newsletter [pdf]:

The SCCTA has been actively following the AT&T-backed legislation that would amend the Government-Owned Telecommunications Service Providers Act. House Bill 3508 would impose the same requirements on government-owned broadband operations that are currently imposed on telecommunications operations.

Of course, H.3508 goes far beyond applying the "same requirements." It enacts a host of requirements that only apply to public providers, which are already disadvantaged by being much smaller than companies like Time Warner Cable and AT&T. We have long ago debunked the myth of public sector advantages over the private sector.

The second quarter newsletter [pdf] identifies this bill as the highest priority of the cable association:

H3508, the AT&T backed legislation, has been our dominate piece of legislation in 2011.

Even after the bill was shelved...

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Posted February 8, 2012 by christopher

AT&T lobbyists in Georgia and South Carolina are arguing that local governments should not be allowed to build the networks that communities need, suggesting that the private sector is primed to make the necessary connections. But AT&T's CEO had a different message for investors a few weeks ago, in an earnings call on January 26:

The other is rural access lines; we have been apprehensive on moving, doing anything on rural access lines because the issue here is, do you have a broadband product for rural America?

We’ve all been trying to find a broadband solution that was economically viable to get out to rural America, and we’re not finding one to be quite candid. The best opportunity we have is LTE.

Whoa! LTE is what you more commonly hear called 4G in mobile phone commercials. The best they can do is eventually build a wireless network that allows a user to transfer just 2GB/month. That is fine for hand-held devices but it does nothing to encourage economic development or allow residents to take advantage of remote education opportunities.

But even the CEO admits they are not bullish on LTE as the solution:

[W]e’re looking at rural America and asking, what’s the broadband solution? We don’t have one right now.

Some may be wondering about "U-Verse" -- AT&T's super DSL that competes with cable in the wealthy neighborhoods of bigger cities. U-Verse cannot match the capacity or quality of modern cable networks but is better than older DSL technologies. But U-Verse is not coming to a rural community near you.

For those who missed the fanfare last year, AT&T's U-Verse build is done. AT&T's lobbyists have probably forgotten to tell Georgia and South Carolina Legislators that the over 20 million AT&T customers without access to U-Verse are not going to get it. But CEO Stephenson made sure investors weren't...

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Posted February 3, 2012 by christopher

With AT&T continuing to push H.3508, a bill to further erode local authority over broadband and ensure AT&T faces no competition in areas of the state, a number of corporations have signed a letter asking the South Carolina Legislature not to chase jobs out of the state. Though the bill has not yet had a hearing this year, we have seen hearings scheduled and know that the bill is being actively considered behind the scenes.

Dear Senator McConnell and Members of the Senate Judiciary Committee:

We, the private-sector companies and trade associations listed below, urge you to oppose H.3508 because these bills, on top of South Carolina’s existing barrier to public communications initiatives, codified in SC Code §§ 58-9-2600 et seq., will harm both the public and private sectors, stifle economic growth, prevent the creation or retention of thousands of jobs, hamper work force development and diminish the quality of life in South Carolina. In particular, these bills will hurt the private sector in several ways: by curtailing public-private partnerships, stifling private companies that sell equipment and services to public broadband providers, and impairing educational and occupational opportunities that contribute to a skilled workforce from which businesses across the state will benefit.

The United States continues to suffer through difficult economic times. The private sector alone cannot lift the United States out of this crisis. As a result, federal and state efforts are taking place across the Nation to deploy both private and public broadband infrastructure to stimulate and support economic development and jobs, especially in economically distressed areas. For example, in South Carolina, Orangeburg and Oconee Countieshave received broadband stimulus awards to bring much-needed broadband services and capabilities to communities that the private sector has chosen not to serve adequately. H.3508, together with SC Code §§ 58-9-2600 et seq., would impose burdensome financial and regulatory requirements that will prevent public broadband providers from building the sorely needed advanced broadband infrastructure that will stimulate local businesses development, foster work force retraining, and boost...

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Posted January 31, 2012 by christopher

As Georgia's Senate considers revoking local authority over whether or not to build a community network, the National Association of Telecommunications Officers and Advisers has written to the Committee, opposing SB 313 [pdf]:

Dear Senator Rogers:

The National Association of Telecommunications Officers and Advisors (NATOA) joins the growing chorus of business, consumer, and government groups and associations, such as the Georgia Municipal Association, in opposing the Broadband Investment Equity Act (S. 313). This bill will harm the state’s economic growth and do little if anything to promote competition or to bring advanced communications services to the citizens of Georgia.

NATOA has long supported community broadband networks because they offer the promise of increased economic development and jobs, enhanced market competition, and accelerated and affordable Internet access for all. Communities across America are ready and eager to bring the economic and social benefits of broadband access to their citizens. But private providers alone will not bring these advanced services to all parts of our country, especially to those communities that do not fit into the companies’ business plans.

As a result, hundreds of cities have launched community broadband initiatives, either with private partners or on their own, and many more are now in the planning stages. Communities should be encouraged to step forward to do their part to ensure the rapid deployment of broadband to all Americans, and they should have the freedom to choose what makes the most sense for their citizens. S. 313 will do nothing to encourage robust competition in the communications marketplace in Georgia.

Rather, S. 313 will tie the hands of local governments and hinder the deployment of advanced services to un- and underserved parts of the state, denying those communities the economic and social benefits that broadband services can provide. Rather than encouraging economic growth, S. 313 will simply drive more private investment capital – and good jobs – from Georgia to neighboring states, such as Tennessee.

Rather than erecting further barriers to entry, Georgia should be encouraging community leaders to develop networks that make sense for their communities,...

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