Tag: "preemption"

Posted June 8, 2011 by christopher

Tony Evers, the Wisconsin State Superintendent, has voiced concerns about a provision in Wisconsin' budget bill that we discussed yesterday. It would force Wisconsin to return tens of millions in broadband stimulus awards intended to connect schools and libraries in a few communities while also raising prices for most local governments, libraries, and schools around the country by killing the coop that connects the communities. Evers wrote the following letter on June 7 in response.

I am extremely concerned and alarmed by the telecommunications provisions which passed the Joint Finance Committee Friday night and their impact on Wisconsin’s public libraries, public and private schools, the university system, technical colleges, and WiscNet. These provisions will have a devastating impact on the University of Wisconsin System campuses and our schools and public libraries. This language was introduced very late in the legislative process and there was no time for any public review, comments or feedback from those impacted by these provisions.

From the UW perspective, this will require it to return the $39 million in broadband grants to the federal government. In addition, it will prohibit any UW campus from participating in advanced research networks linking research institutions worldwide. You cannot have a renowned research institution, like the UW-Madison, without having access to such networks.

From the public and private school and library perspective, seventy-five percent of our public schools and ninety-five percent of our public libraries get Internet access via WiscNet - a not-for-profit network service under the auspices of the UW-Madison. The provision in this legislation will very likely make it impossible for WiscNet to continue offering Internet access. If our schools and libraries must use other Internet providers most will pay at least 2-3 times more than what WiscNet now charges. Furthermore, other Internet providers base their charges on how much bandwidth a school or library has - the higher the bandwidth, the higher the Internet costs. WiscNet’s funding formula is not based on bandwidth. Thus as schools and libraries continue to increase their bandwidth, their WiscNet costs remain the same. With our schools and libraries facing substantial budget reductions, how can anyone justify making them pay more...

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Posted June 7, 2011 by christopher

For the rest of the summer, Wisconsin could be the new battleground in the ongoing effort for big companies like AT&T and Time Warner Cable to secure their de facto monopoly positions.

In North Carolina, Time Warner Cable passed a bill effectively preventing communities from building next-generation networks offering services far superior to what TWC offered. Now AT&T and its allies in Wisconsin are trying to stop local governments, universities, libraries, and schools from using a buying coop -- called WiscNet -- to procure better connections than AT&T will provide, at lower prices than AT&T would charge. Why compete when you can outlaw the competition?

WiscNet is essentially a buying coop -- a public/private partnership connecting, among others, University of Wisconsin schools, local governments, libraries, and local public schools. As Barry Orton, Professor of Telecommunications at UW-Madison reminded me, buying coops are "great for buyers, not so great for the sellers."

In this case, sellers like AT&T want to kill the coop so local governments, schools, and libraries, are forced to buy the connections they need from AT&T or other incumbents. This will mean more tax dollars going to AT&T rather than educating students, connecting police stations, and generally allowing public sector institutions to function. From the Wisconsin State Journal:

The motion prohibits the UW System from taking part in WiscNet, the network provider for 450 organizations, including K-12 schools, libraries, cities and county governments.

No one has any doubts that AT&T and its allies are squarely behind this measure.

To be clear, this has nothing to do with last-mile connections. WiscNet is not providing connections to residents. This is a question of whether local governments can use a network they build and operate collaboratively with other public institutions like UW or whether they have to take whatever AT&T is selling (many small towns only have a single incumbent offering these dedicated access connections).

Last year, we wrote about Republican opposition to a broadband...

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Posted June 6, 2011 by christopher

Information Week has alerted Chief Information Officers (CIOs) that they need to pay attention to community broadband networks. Jonathan Feldman's column explains "What North Carolina's Broadband Battlefield Means to You."

The lessons have little to do with North Carolina and everything to do with the future of broadband Internet access. Community networks offer higher speed, more reliable, and more affordable connections to businesses and other entities than incumbent operators.

Feldman opens with a North Carolina business owner emailing him about wanting to duplicate Chattanooga's amazing broadband options and futuristic smart grid. Too bad North Carolina's Legislature just passed a bill to effectively prohibit NC towns from doing that.

MuniNetworks.org frequently decries the lack of choices among service providers, so it is gratifying to see Feldman make the same point:

Those of us who approve telecom budgets, whether in North Carolina or other states, know there really isn't a broadband marketplace. In contrast, we can choose among 50 providers of Web hosting services, and they're all trying to differentiate themselves based on quality and features. THAT'S a marketplace. What exists today in broadband telecom is essentially a choice between the telco and the region's cable operator.

And further on, a strong endorsement for communities that have made public broadband investments:

Unless you're a telecom carrier, you should be interested in doing business in a region where the government is building out next-generation broadband infrastructure. Whether you work for a large business that requires fiber optic capabilities (or "lambdas," which are virtual fiber pipes), or whether you simply need IP service, the lower price/performance levels of such regions are highly attractive.

Be aware of the telecom regulatory environment in any state your company is expanding into, especially as other states follow North Carolina's example. It may not be a make or break consideration, but it's one that you should bring up with your board when discussing site selection.

Feldman notes that these networks are not easy to build (a point that resonates with us - communities build these networks because they have to, not because they want to).

...

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Posted June 3, 2011 by christopher

Though the North Carolina fight is over, I wanted to include these two videos in our archive in case they are useful to those in the future who will undoubtedly cover the same ground.

One is the excellent local news video asking about the role of lobbyists and political contributions on the laws that get passed and the other captures an important moment from debates in the Legislature - thanks to NC Policy Watch for posting.

The first video is no longer available.

Posted June 2, 2011 by christopher

On June 1, the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation held an oxford-style debate over the proposition: "Governments should neither subsidize nor operate broadband networks to compete with commercial ones."  

Jim Baller and I spoke against the proposition while Rob Atkinson and Jeff Eisenach defended it during the 2 hour, 15 minute session.  I was unable to be in DC and thus participated by the magic of modern telecommunications.  

This is a long but valuable and unique discussion.  We left talking points behind, actually responded to the points raised by the other side, and presented both sides of this debate in a reasonable manner.  In short, this is exactly the kind of discussion we would elected officials to consider before legislating on the matter.  But it very rarely happens -- nothing even remotely close to it occured in North Carolina when Time Warner Cable pushed its bill through the Legislature to enact a de facto ban on muni networks in the state.

You can watch it here.

 

Posted May 29, 2011 by christopher

Government Technology has run an excellent article discussing the passage of Time Warner Cable's bill in North Carolina. We couldn't pass up reposting some of the quotes used in "Municipal Broadband Networks Slammed in North Carolina."

“Essentially this bill is a cable monopoly protection bill,” said Doug Paris, assistant city manager of Salisbury, N.C., another city with its own broadband service. “It protects Time Warner Cable and ensures they will continue to do what they’ve been doing for decades, which is serving where they want to serve and not serving where they don’t want to serve.”

And though it may be tacky to quote myself, I do quite like the quote…

Christopher Mitchell, director of the Telecommunications as Commons Initiative for the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, a nonprofit economic and community development consulting group, agreed and said that there is “almost no chance” another community in North Carolina will be able to build a new broadband network under the law.

“The Legislature, in passing laws like this, shows just how out of touch they are,” Mitchell said.


 
“It’s very clear to me that North Carolina’s legislators don’t understand the difference between a slow DSL connection and a modern, reliable fiber-optic connection. They don’t understand that what Time Warner [Cable] and CenturyLink are selling isn’t helping communities be competitive in the modern era.”

I hope communities and activists around the country have taken note of the power incumbents wield and are starting to talk to elected officials to educate them and build the relationships necessary to counteract all the money in politics.

Posted May 24, 2011 by christopher

New Hampshire law makes it more difficult for communities to build broadband networks by only allowing bonds to finance broadband networks in "areas not served by an existing broadband carrier or provider." (See Title III, Chapter 33 of NH law.)

Such a requirement means that local governments could only build networks in areas with absolutely no service providers. Seeing as how most communities have at least one pocket with access to the Internet one way or another, communities are prevented from bonding for the essential infrastructure they need.

The only areas totally without a single service provider could probably only be served by a network that also serves an area where some service providers already operate, as those are the areas capable of generating enough revenue to balance rural areas with less revenue potential.

Because this law significantly retards the ability of communities to encourage economic development, we have seen previous attempts to update it (one of which we covered last year). This year, HB 389 offered a compromise to existing service providers. Nonetheless, it was also killed.

HB 389 would have allowed local governments to bond for broadband infrastructure but not allowed municipalities to provide retail services. Communities would be able to build open access networks but not allowed to offer services directly to subscribers.

Though we ardently defend the right of communities to build the networks they need using the business model they choose, this bill would have been an improvement for communities in New Hampshire.

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One organization that certainly would have benefited from this law's passage would have been FastRoads, an open access network that has moved forward with federal broadband stimulus funding.

The network is currently being designed and will start connecting communities next year.

The...

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Posted May 23, 2011 by christopher

Last year, we put together a report with graphs showing how superior the community fiber networks are compared to incumbent operators like AT&T and Time Warner Cable. When we released the report, we noted that Time Warner Cable would almost certainly push legislation in 2011 to limit local authority to choose to build locally owned networks.

Sadly, we were right. On Friday, North Carolina's Governor Perdue bowed to the pressure of TWC, CenturyLink and other companies that want to limit competition. She refused to veto a bill written by those companies, for those companies, that will ensure local businesses and residents will have fewer choices and higher bills when they connect to the Internet.

In February, we dug into TWC's H129 to explain how it threatened the future of broadband access in the Tar Heel state. It was the first of more than 30 posts we wrote since, reporting very closely on its path through a legislature effectively controlled by big-money corporations.

North Carolina has become the first state in perhaps 5-6 years to enact new barriers to prevent communities from building their own broadband networks, even when the private sector has refused to invest. Advocates of the bill pretend it exempts rural areas with little broadband access, but that section was carefully amended by lobbyists to effectively apply to no one.

Below, you'll see the video we produced that shows the real threat TWC and CenturyLink were responding to - the embarrassment of offering anemic, overpriced services compared to networks like Salisbury's Fibrant and Wilson's Greenlight.

We hope that voters will remember whether their elected officials, including Governor Perdue, represented the people and small businesses of the state or simply parroted talking points from an industry that has dumped millions of dollars into the Legislature to buy new regulation to kill the only likely source of broadband competition.

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Governor Perdue ignored more than 2,000 phone...

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Posted May 19, 2011 by christopher

As time runs out on the future of affordable, fast, and reliable broadband in North Carolina, more are calling on Governor Perdue to veto H129, the bill pushed by Time Warner Cable to kill local authority to invest in essential infrastructure. If Governor Perdue does nothing, the bill will become law at midnight as Friday, May 20, draws to a close.

Get involved, join the call to action from Free Press or a similar effort from Demand Progress.

In the final hours, more have called on the Governor to veto the Time Warner Monopoly Act (which we have discussed ad nauseum here), including Michael Tiemann, a vice president from Red Hat, one of the most well known Gnu/Linux distributions.

The letter was published on Rootstrikers.org, a community dedicated to fighting all the corruption in politics that allows massive companies like Time Warner Cable to buy legislation.

Dear Governor Perdue,

We are strong supporters of your leadership and your campaign, and we would like to be heard on the important issue of community broadband. I know you are not afraid to use your veto pen, and so I ask you to veto H129, a bill that will take the future away from North Carolina and put it into the pockets of cable company monopolists.

On Sunday May 15th you may have read about our latest investment in North Carolina, Manifold Recording. This was the feature story in the Arts & Living section, and the top right-hand text box on the front page. One of the most difficult and expensive line-items in this multi-million dollar project was securing a broadband link to the site in rural Chatham County. I spent more than two years begging Time Warner to sell me a service that costs 50x more than it should, and that's after I agreed to pay 100% of the installation costs for more than a mile of fiber. As part of a revised Conditional Use Permit (approved last night), I...

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Posted May 17, 2011 by christopher

As readers know, we have devoted a lot of effort to educating everyone about Time Warner Cable's Bill in North Carolina to kill local authority to build broadband networks. As time runs out for NC Governor Perdue to kill this terrible legislation with her veto pen, we have seen many more calls on the Governor to act on behalf of local businesses and residents rather than on behalf of TWC and CenturyLink.

We've written more on this legislation than almost any other topic (all of it available here), so we want to highlight other recent posts.

Some notable recent calls to action come from Larry Lessig's Rootstrikers:

North Carolina has one of the nation's most impressive community broadband movements. Locally owned, state of the art networks are delivering fast, cheap Internet across the state. Big telecom companies--Time Warner Cable in particular--are not happy with their success. They've spent millions on lobbying state lawmakers. Now, the North Carolina legislature has passed a bill that bans competition from community broadband networks. Under this legislation, local communities would be held hostage to the corporate broadband networks that have given America second-rate networks everywhere.

Josh Levy of Free Press wrote the following in Ars Technica:

Predictably, the big cable companies view these municipal upstarts as major threats. Companies like Time Warner Cable and CenturyLink may be unwilling to extend their networks to communities like Cedar Grove, but they don't want anyone else doing it either—such an incursion would pose a threat to North Carolina’s de facto cable duopoly. Ironically, the weapon these traditionally regulation-shy companies have turned to in order to fight the municipal broadband effort is regulation.

Doc Searls also weighed in:

Here’s a simple fact for Governor Perdue to ponder: In the U.S. today, the...

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