Tag: "preemption"

Posted December 12, 2011 by Christopher Mitchell

Brendan Greeley and Alison Fitzgerald have authored an in-depth exposé of the role the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) played in passing a law in Louisiana designed to cripple community-owned networks ... while falsely claiming the bill was about creating a "level playing field."

This article may not have been possible without the work done by the ALEC Exposed folks at the Center for Media and Democracy.

The aptly-titled "Pssst ... Wanna Buy a Law?" article starts with the background of one of our favorite community broadband champions: Joey Durel, the Republican City-Parish President of Lafayette, Louisiana.

In April of 2004, Lafayette announced their intention to do a market survey to get a sense of whether the community would be interested in a publicly owned FTTH network run by the public utility. By that point, it was not possible to introduce new bills at the Louisiana Legislature. Or at least, that is a technicality when it comes to the lobbying prowess of big cable and telephone companies (mainly Cox and BellSouth - one of the major companies that later became AT&T).

Worried about losing their de facto monopolies, they tapped State Senator Winnsboro to take an existing bill, delete all the words from it and then append their anti-community broadband (anti-competitive) language.

The lobbyist brought back to Lafayette a copy of what would become Senate Bill 877. It named telecommunications as a permitted city utility, then hamstrung municipalities with a list of conditions. It demanded that new projects show positive revenue within the first year. It required a city to calculate and charge itself taxes, as if it were a private company. Cities could not borrow startup costs or secure bonds from any other sources of income. The bill demanded unrealistic accounting arrangements, and it suggested a referendum that would have to pass with an absolute majority. It also, almost word for word, matched a piece of legislation kept in the library of the American Legislative Exchange Council. The council’s bill reads, “The people of the State of _______ do enact as follows … ”

According to Ellington, he substituted the bill after a lobbyist for several of the state’s cable companies approached him, concerned about Lafayette’s project....

Read more
Posted December 1, 2011 by Christopher Mitchell

Wally Bowen, of North Carolina's Mountain Area Information Network, recently gave an excellent presentation that explained the importance of broadband and media infrastructure that puts community needs before the profit motive.

In 1889, Statesville, N.C., opted for self-reliance by building its own municipal power system after failing to attract an investor-owned utility. Half a century later, said Bowen, most American farms still lacked electricity, so Congress passed the Rural Electrification Act of 1936 to help finance nonprofit rural electric cooperatives.

In the 1980s, Morganton, N.C. opted for self-reliance by expanding its municipal power system to offer cable TV, after years of complaints – including the 1982 blackout of the UNC-Georgetown national championship game – about its commercial cable provider.

Bowen cautioned that corporate interests often oppose local communities which “self provision” critical infrastructure. Morganton’s commercial cable-TV provider sued the city to block its cable venture. Only in 1993, after a decade-long legal battle, did Morganton win the right to self-provision cable TV. Today, Morganton’s municipal cable system offers broadband Internet access at competitive rates and with no contract.

Unfortunately, the North Carolina Legislature has made it much harder for local governments to build the necessary networks (as a favor to Time Warner Cable, which just happened to have given massively to many of the candidates). But Wally has an answer -- nonprofit approaches that have been inspired by rural electric cooperatives.

MAIN is making important investments in western North Carolina and should be recognized as making a difference in a region the private sector has largely abandoned.

Posted November 21, 2011 by Christopher Mitchell

In a nod to Thanksgiving, Government Technology has collected 11 "Tech Turkeys - "Half-baked lowlights from the year gone by" (2011).

North Carolina made the list at Number 9 after its Time Warner Cable-sponsored Legislature decided to effectively outlaw community fiber networks. This might not have been as big a deal if those communities were not the only entities in the state actually investing in next-generation broadband. Time Warner Cable and CenturyLink prefer to "save the best for last" when it comes to investing in the state.

The stated reason for revoking local decision-making power from communities? It wasn't fair for Time Warner Cable to compete against cities like Salisbury. We looked deeper into that claim and found it wanting, as illustrated below in an infographic and video:

600-TWC-Salisbury-infographic3.png

Posted November 9, 2011 by Christopher Mitchell

Minnesota's Governor Dayton has already done more for expanding broadband access in Minnesota than predecessor Pawlenty who took the "stay quiet and hope for the best" approach to expanding access in our state.

After being prodded by the legislature (including now-Lieutenant Governor Prettner-Solon) Governor Pawlenty appointed an industry-heavy "Ultra High Speed" Broadband Task Force that exceeded the expectations of many, including myself, with its report [pdf]. I give a lot of credit to a few members, especially "Mikey" and Chairman Rick King of Thomsen Reuters, for that report given the constraints of the environment in which it existed.

Minnesota's Legislature and Governor Pawlenty then created some goals for 2015 and generally ceased any work on ensuring Minnesota could meet the goals. However, some departments (like the Department of Commerce) are using that language to prod broadband providers to consider what steps they can take to get us closer. Despite my frustration, I want to recognize those who are doing all they can to expand access to this essential infrastructure.

Fast forward to this week, when Governor Dayton announced a new Task Force that is supposed to really do things (as opposed to the more common Task Force approach of creating the appearance of doing things).

I am heartened by many of the appointees. There are some terrific people, especially some terrific women who are too often under-represented in technology) that will work very hard to bring real broadband to the Minnesotans that either need their first option or a better option.

And they have their work cut out for them. The state has few options to compel investment from a private sector that sees little reason to invest in an industry with so little competition (St Paul has one high-speed provider: Comcast, and one slower, cheaper alternative - CenturyLink).

For instance, rural Kanabec County took the Ultra High Speed Task Force's recommendation and asked its incumbent to partner in providing better broadband. That went over about the...

Read more
Posted November 3, 2011 by Christopher Mitchell

Update: A contact at Google cast doubt on whether the call below was made -- but also reiterated that Google is on the record opposing state laws like that in Colorado that take authority away from communities.  

We have learned that Google called Longmont Power to congratulate them on regaining their authority via the successful referendum.  Apparently, Longmont was a top contender for the Google Gigabit project but Google was unable to determine whether Longmont had the authority to work with them due to the anti-competitive 2005 Qwest law.  

Presumably this places Longmont back on the list of places Google may try to build a network depending on the outcome in Kansas City.  

This is yet another example of why state restrictions on local broadband authority is entirely counter-productive to spurring broadband investment.  We previously speculated that Texas law prevented Austin from being Google's partner.

States: STOP taking broadband authority away from communities. Local authority is essential for investment in next-generation networks.  Communities: make sure you are making smart partnerships!  Don't just jump at anyone pretending to offer a free lunch.  

Posted September 29, 2011 by Christopher Mitchell

As we previously noted, the city of Longmont, Colorado, is preparing for a referendum to allow the City to offer telecommunications services to local businesses and residents using a fiber ring it built long ago. This is due to a 2005 law (the "Qwest" law) that was pushed through the Colorado Legislature by incumbents seeking to prevent competition.

That law has succeeded -- most Colorado communities can only choose between slow DSL from the incumbent telephone company and comparatively faster services from the incumbent cable company. And when Longmont last attempted to pass a referendum to share its fiber infrastructure with local businesses, Comcast and Qwest swamped the town with unprecedented sums to confuse residents -- leading to the referendum failure with 44% voting yes.

But after the referendum passed and people had time to better understand the issue, many who voted against it realized they had been duped. We have seen the same dynamic elsewhere -- in Windom, MN, for example, where the second referendum succeeded. WindomNet has since saved a number of jobs and is expanding to eight other underserved rural communities around it.

Longmont built its fiber ring in the late 90's but it still has a lot of unused capacity that could be used to attract economic development if the publicly owned power utility were authorized to offer services to businesses. Without this authority, the community has a valuable asset that they are forced to leave unused -- even as local businesses could benefit greatly from it.

The Longmont Times-Call outlined the situation in July:

Without that vote, the city can't let homes or businesses use that fiber without a vote, thanks to a 2005 state law. It's a fight the city's lost once before in 2009, when opponents -- including the Colorado Cable Telecommunications Association -- spent $245,513 to urge the measure's defeat.

This time out, there's a different tack. The city has been underlining in discussions that the measure would "restore its rights" to provide telecommunications service. And it's stressing that no high-dollar project is on the table -- the first words of the ballot measure now read "...

Read more
Posted August 29, 2011 by Christopher Mitchell

The Salisbury Post discusses MCNC's new middle-mile networks that are being built with stimulus funds. MCNC, an independent nonprofit so old that few remember what it stands for (Microelectronics Center of North Carolina), already runs the North Carolina Research and Education Network connecting libraries and schools across the state.

MCNC is a private, nonprofit organization that runs the North Carolina Research and Education Network. The organization secured two grants through the U.S. Department of Commerce’s Broadband Technology Opportunities Program (BTOP) to fund the infrastructure. Broadband Technology Opportunities Program funds make up $75.75 million of the funding for this phase; MCNC raised $28.25 million privately, including $24 million from Golden LEAF Foundation.

The total project includes more than 2,000 miles of broadband infrastructure to be outfitted through 69 counties in North Carolina.

“The great work being done here … is going to be able to be shared over the world,” said Freddoso [CEO of MCNC].

Freddoso said MCNC has had conversations with the city of Salisbury, distributor of Fibrant cable and Internet service. While the new fiber optic infrastructure will not provide service directly to customers, MCNC will offer wholesale broadband to companies like Time Warner Cable and municipalities that run their own services, like Salisbury.

While we are always happy to see libraries and schools getting access to the connections they need at affordable prices, we believe some of these state-wide educational networks can be counter-productive. Schools and libraries should be anchor tenants on networks owned by the local community (ownership options include coop, nonprofit, or muni ownership). When schools and libraries are served instead by statewide "silo" networks that do not connect residents and businesses, it becomes harder for local communities to finance the networks that will actually connect everyone.

However, as this middle mile is open to others on fair terms (as required by the stimulus broadband programs), we hope it will help communities to build the networks they need once North Carolina comes to its senses and removes...

Read more
Posted August 11, 2011 by Christopher Mitchell

Update: As we were publishing this, NCSL barred debate on the resolution. As Tim Judson, put it: Apparently it's ok for states to preempt communities but not for feds to preempt states.

The National Conference of State Legislatures is currently meeting and today will vote on a resolution relating to community broadband networks. The resolution calls for NCSL to fight any federal effort to implement the National Broadband Plan recommendation that all communities be empowered to decide locally if they should build a network.

Fabiola Carrion of Progressive States Network is there and put together a community broadband factsheet [pdf] and a call to action for people to oppose this wording.

Tomorrow, August 11th, the members of the National Caucus of State Legislatures will cast a final vote on a resolution entitled Twenty-First Century Communications, which threatens the existence of municipal broadband networks. The vote could have a serious impact in your local communities, increasing prices and diminishing broadband service. We need your support to defeat this troubling resolution.

I've included a fact sheet below, highlighting the importance of municipal networks in making broadband more accessible, affordable and efficient for everyone.  Please share this with your colleagues and support our efforts to defeat this damaging resolution. 

NCSL should recognize that communities need all the tools available to make sure their businesses and residents have access to fast, affordable, and reliable Internet connections.

AT&T's reaction to the fact sheet suggests that they may have been a driving force encouraging NCSL to fight for AT&T's right to buy legislation that prevents the most likely source of competition to AT&T's wireline services.

Posted August 2, 2011 by Christopher Mitchell

Hats off to a column published by CED Magazine this week, written by Editor-in-Chief Brian Santo. The discussion centers on proper government role in broadband:

These disagreements are hopelessly tangled in another argument entirely: What role should the government have in any market, let alone the broadband market? North Carolina’s state legislature just passed a law prohibiting municipal broadband services.

But in the communications industry, many free-market and anti-regulatory arguments would be mooted if the market provided what is being asked for – affordable and universal access to broadband. Now, not later.

Communities are not building their own networks on a lark - they do it because they have to in order to ensure their future vitality.

Just last week, we also answered the same question of the role of government in broadband when revisiting an excellent commentary published years ago about the proper role of government in matters of infrastructure.

We will all benefit the most when we all have access to fast, affordable, and reliable access to the Internet. But blindly relying on a few massive companies to get us there is lunacy. They simply do not have the motivation or capacity to sufficiently invest or to run the networks in such a way that all have access -- as private companies, they are supposed to maximize profit. Maximizing profit is incompatible with managing infrastructure -- pricing access to infrastructure too high results in losses for everyone, including the vast majority of the private sector.

At the very least, all communities must maintain the freedom to choose locally if building a network is the right decision for them.

Posted July 25, 2011 by Christopher Mitchell

This article from Craig Aaron is a good introduction to some of the key concepts in community broadband, including understanding the difference between wireless and wired approaches.

One tech writer dismissed municipal wireless as “the monorail of the decade.”

But all the obituaries are premature. A closer look at what’s happening at projects across the country—public and private, wired and wireless, big and small—suggests that it’s far too early to start the funeral arrangements. Much of the media are confusing the collapse of one company—or one model of broadband deployment—with the failure of the entire idea of municipalities providing high-speed Internet services.

“It’s like someone striking out in a boat in 1490, it sinking, and people saying, ‘You know what? This whole ocean travel thing isn’t going to work out,’ ” says Christopher Mitchell of the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, a Minneapolis-based research group that tracks municipal projects.

And on the matter of what we could do...

Policymakers could create incentives for local communities to build telecom networks, spurring new competition and growing the new market for entrepreneurs and innovators, especially in areas bypassed or underserved by the big phone and cable companies. Better yet, says Asheville’s Bowen, these incentives could mandate that systems be locally controlled and nonprofit, ensuring that the investment stays in the community.

Yet, fourteen states currently have laws on the books—drafted by phone and cable company lobbyists—restricting municipalities from erecting their own broadband systems. The Community Broadband Act, bipartisan legislation that already passed the Senate Commerce Committee, would tear down the roadblocks. “The first thing we have to do,” Mitchell says, “is make sure that communities that want to solve their own problems, that want to build the network they need, can do that.”

Congress and the Federal Communications Commission also could improve municipal wireless by setting aside a greater portion of the airwaves for public use. Wi-Fi systems operate on narrow “junk bands” already cluttered with cordless phones, baby monitors, and the like, requiring more transmitters and higher costs to set up a network.

Pages

Subscribe to preemption