Tag: "state laws"

Posted May 9, 2018 by lgonzalez

Approximately 20 U.S. states have some form of legal restriction that creates barriers when local communities want to develop publicly owned Internet infrastructure. In North Carolina, where the state experiences a severe rural/urban digital divide, people are fed up with poor service from influential telephone and cable companies. Folks like Ned Barnett, Opinion Editor from the News & Observer, are calling on elected officials to remove the state’s restriction so local governments can do all they can for better connectivity.

Things Must Change

Barnett’s recent editorial begins out of frustration as he describes how unreliable Internet access forced him to take pen to paper. His own connection prevented him from tending to emails, doing online research, and his phone service also suffered due to momentary loss of connectivity at his office. He goes on to consider how the annoying but temporary inconvenience to him is a way of life for many in rural areas of his state.

While North Carolina has many of the same challenges as other states in getting rural folks online — lack of interest from national ISPs, challenging geography that complicates deployment — Barnett correctly zeroes in on the state’s restrictive HB 129. The law prevents communities with existing broadband infrastructure from expanding to neighboring communities and puts requirements in place that are so onerous, they make it all but impossible for communities considering similar investments to move forward.

Barnett rightly points out that the true purpose of the law was to protect national ISPs from competition, securing their position as monopolies and duopolies. He describes the problems with the state's approach and what North Carolinians have faced in the aftermath:

For one, Internet access isn't a consumer product. It's as basic as access to a phone, electricity or indoor plumbing. Secondly, there isn't any real competition involved. Rural areas often are limited to one provider offering slow access.

The Problem is Real

People familiar with the situation in North Carolina typically know the story of Wilson and Pinetops. When the FCC preempted HB 129 in 2015, Wilson expanded its municipal fiber optic...

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Posted April 24, 2018 by lgonzalez

We’re a little off kilter these days when it comes to state legislation. Typically, we spend our efforts helping local communities stave off bills to steal, limit, or hamstring local telecommunications authority. This year it’s different so Christopher and Lisa sat down to have a brief chat about some of the notable state actions that have been taken up at state Capitols.

We decided to cover a few proposals that we feel degrade the progress some states have made, bills that include positive and negative provisions, and legislation that we think will do nothing but good. Our analysis covers the map from the states in New England to states in the Northwest. 

In addition to small changes that we think will have big impact - like the definition of “broadband” - we discuss the way tones are shifting. In a few places, like Colorado, state leaders are fed up with inaction or obstruction from the big ISPs that use the law to solidify their monopoly power rather than bring high-quality connectivity to citizens. Other states, like New Hampshire and Washington, recognize that local communities have the ability to improve their situation and are taking measured steps to reduce barriers to broadband deployment.

While they still maintain significant power in many places, national corporate ISPs may slowly be losing their grip over state legislators. We talk about that, too.

For more on these and other bills, check out our recent stories on state and federal legislation.

This show is 24 minutes long and can be played on this page or via iTunes or the tool of your choice using this feed.

Read the transcript for this show here.

You can download this mp3 file directly from here. Listen to other episodes here or view all episodes ...

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Posted April 16, 2018 by lgonzalez

The Broadband Deployment Advisory Council (BDAC), established by the FCC in January 2017, has caused concern among groups interested in protecting local authority. On April 12th, the Coalition for Local Internet Choice (CLIC) voiced those concerns in a precisely worded letter to Ajit Pai’s FCC that spelled out the way the BDAC is running roughshod over local rights.

Read the letter here.

Leaving Out The Locals

As CLIC states in the beginning of their letter, the lack of local representation on the BDAC indicates that the FCC has little interest in hearing from cities, towns, and other local government. There’s plenty of representation on the Council, however, from corporations and private carriers. 

From CLIC’s letter:

The audacity and impropriety of the process is clear from the fact that this entity, comprised primarily of corporate and carrier interests, is empowered by the Commission to develop model codes that could potentially impact every locality and state in the United States without any serious input from the communities it will most affect.

This group of individuals has been tasked with developing model codes that may be adopted at the local level; local input is not only necessary to create policies that are consider the needs of local folks, but that will work. To achieve productivity, BDAC needs to understand the environments in which their proposals may be adopted, otherwise their goal to be increasing broadband deployment may be compromised. Omitting a broad local perspective is not only improper it’s counterproductive.

Work Product

logo-fcc.PNG The BDAC has already released a draft model state code, which has stirred up resistance and CLIC explains why. A key problem with the legislation is that it doesn’t appear to be backed up with anything other than philosophies, ideals, or self-interest, writes CLIC. Policy this important should be based on data.

They lay out eight specific and definable reasons why the proposed legislation falls flat for local communities.

1. The...

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Posted April 13, 2018 by lgonzalez

Lawmakers in Ohio are slowly advancing a proposal to help fund rural broadband deployment. HB 378 has similarities to Minnesota’s Border-to-Border Broadband Program and will infuse $100 million in to broadband deployment ecosystem over the next two years. It’s a welcome lift for rural areas struggling to fend off economic dilemmas.

Companions

Last fall, State Senators Cliff Hite and Joe Schiavoni announced their intention to introduce a bill with the same effect. HB 378, however, appeared to pick up steam in March and, after strong bipartisan support in committee and on the floor of the House, the bill went on to the Senate on April 12th.

Back in October, Schiavoni said in a press release:

“This legislation is incredibly important to Ohio’s future. Without access to broadband internet service, businesses can’t reach their customers, students can’t do their homework and workers have difficulty searching for jobs.”

Democrat Ryan Smith and Republican Jack Cera introduced HB 378 with an eye toward economic development in their districts and other rural areas of the state facing the need to diversify their local economies. 

“With this bill, we have the opportunity to level the playing field for rural Ohioans when it comes to vital broadband infrastructure,” said Rep. Smith [in October]. “High speed broadband is the only way we can continue growing our economic base by attracting new commercial development and securing a strong labor force, our most valuable resource.”

Main Points

Like the Minnesota Border-to-Border Broadband Program, which has helped expand high-quality rural connectivity, this proposal doesn’t limit eligibility to private sector entities. Political subdivisions, nonprofits, and cooperatives can also receive awards of up to $5 million or half the cost of the project, whichever is less. This element of the bill is welcome and...

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Posted April 10, 2018 by lgonzalez

In Colorado last week, communities held spring elections if they needed to choose elected officials or ask voters to make decisions on local matters. In six rural communities, voters decided to join the almost 120 municipalities and counties around the state that have already voted to opt out of Colorado’s restrictive state law SB 152. Meanwhile, the General Assembly tried to help bring broadband to the state's most rural areas.

A Resounding Yes

In all six towns, the decision to reclaim local telecommunications authority far outpaced the number of voters who voted “no.” In keeping with similar measures we’ve followed during previous elections on this same question, voters want the opportunity to use their own infrastructure to improve connectivity either directly to the public or with a private sector partner. Most communities that put this issue to the voters don’t have a solid plan in place at the time it’s on the ballot, but they understand that opting out of the 2005 law is a necessary step, should they decide in the future to move ahead with a muni or public-private partnership.

The measure always passes and voters usually approve the opt out provision by a wide margin, as was the case on April 3rd. Here’s the tally:

Firestone : Yes 1568 - No 347

Frisco : Yes 634 - No 69

Lake City : Yes 222 - No 18

Limon : Yes 347 - No 92

Lyons : Yes 526 - No 139

Severence : Yes 621 - No 118

Colorado has been abuzz with activity in recent years as local communities reclaim their right to decide how they handle connectivity improvements. The developments have run into resistance from Comcast and other big national ISPs that feel their monopoly threatened. Last fall, Comcast spent close to a million dollars in a failed attempt to defeat a measure in Fort Collins as the city amended its charter to allow it to invest in a municipal network. Before it could take that step, however, the city held a referendum in the fall of 2015 to opt out of SB 152.

In addition to Fort Collins, several other communities that have opted out in recent years are moving forward....

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Posted April 5, 2018 by lgonzalez

In March, Washington state legislators passed HB 2664 and sent it on to Governor Jay Inslee, who signed the bill on March 22nd. In the Port of Ridgefield, where the community has been developing plans for a dark fiber network, the community had advocated for the change. Now that the law will be changing for the better, they’re ready to pursue the partnerships they need to spur economic development and improve connectivity for residents and businesses.

Not A New Idea In The Port Of Ridgefield

Back in 2016, we reported how town officials from the Port of Ridgefield had already started setting aside funds to invest in a 42-mile dark fiber loop. The quality of residential and business Internet access options in the community depended on where a premise was located. The community’s Vice President of Innovation Nelson Holmberg described connectivity in the Port of Ridgefield as a “mixed bag”.

The port already had some fiber in place, as many do for communications between facilities and other uses, and port officials wanted to integrate those assets into the design of the new infrastructure. At the time, state law would only allow "rural" ports to use their fiber in any partnership agreements designed to offer connectivity to people or entities outside of the port districts. The Port of Ridgefield did not qualify as "rural". After advocacy from officials from the Port of Ridgefield and other ports around the state, legislators passed HB 2664, which amends the law to remove the restriction. All ports will soon be able to enter into wholesale arrangements with ISPs interested in leasing dark fiber to offer telecommunications services to the public.

Big Plans In Ridgefield

logo-port-ridgefield.png Last fall, the community in Clark County received a $50,000 grant from Washington’s Economic Revitalization Board, which they used to complete a feasibility study. There are approximately 7,...

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Posted April 3, 2018 by lgonzalez

The North Carolina League of Municipalities (NCLM) released a report in March with several recommendations designed to help the state boost connectivity for residents, businesses, and organizations. NCLM Legislative Counsel Erin Wynia and CTC Technology and Energy President Joanne Hovis authored the report that offers policy changes to encourage smart partnerships.

Download the report, Leaping theDigital Divide: Encouraging Policies and Partnership to Improve Broadband Access Across North Carolina.

The report dedicates time describing different public-private partnership models and the elements that make them distinct. In recent years, the term has been used to describe a broad spectrum of arrangements. We've highlighted partnerships in places like Westminster, Maryland, and Urbana-Champaign, Illinois, where both partners invest and share in risk and reward.

The North Carolina Situation

Wynia and Hovis spend time on the gap of coverage in rural areas vs coverage in urban areas. They compare data from the North Carolina Broadband Infrastructure Office and the FCC’s form 477. The authors explain why FCC data is so flawed and provide examples of real people who’s lives are impacted due to access to broadband, or lack of it, in their community.

Fiber is the best option for future-proof, fast, affordable, reliable connectivity. Wynia and Hovis compare fiber to other technologies and explain we can’t let hype cloud our long-term thinking. We were happy to supply our map of private ISP fiber availability in North Carolina so readers can see where it’s currently deployed in the state.

2018-03-NCLM-report-small.jpg The report looks at the state’s existing law that limits local authority regarding municipal broadband infrastructure. As the authors point out, state law does not expressly address local communities’ authority as it...

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Posted March 9, 2018 by lgonzalez

Last week we reported about the uncertain position that faced Washington ports might find themselves in, should they decide to bring better connectivity to the areas within and around their service areas. We are pleased to learn that the state legislature saw the light and chose to pass the bill without the proposed harmful Senate amendments. It's good news, but the final bill isn't ideal. 

The Problem; The Proposed Solution

Current law allows ports to develop and use fiber optic infrastructure for its own uses both within and beyond their geographic borders; they can only offer wholesale services to other entities within their borders. HB 2664, as introduced, removed the geographic restriction for wholesale services. Communities like Bellingham want to attract ISPs to their cities to compete with incumbents and encourage better prices and services. With the ability to use fiber from the port and possibly integrate it into an expanded network, a city like Bellingham could save time and considerable expense if they wish to invest in Internet infrastructure throughout the community.

Local advocate Jon Humphrey, who has been following this bill and others in his area, noted that the bill had much to do with population density. There had been a change to the original language of bill — the “rural” port requirement, which effectively protected national ISPs from any competition. Humphrey wrote, “This is where the modification of the bill should have ended.”

To The Senate

The bill had no problem passing the House, but when the Senate took it up, they added several amendments that distressed Humphrey and others watching the bill and rooting for it to pass.

We were also concerned about the amendments, including a change that required projects to prioritize unserved and underserved areas. Serving such areas is certainly critical, but this type of language in legislation serves to protect incumbent ISPs from competition rather than to bring high-quality Internet access to areas ignored by those same incumbents. Allowing some level of competition in more densely populated areas helps support projects that reach into less populated unserved and underserved areas.

Humphrey expressed concern...

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Posted March 6, 2018 by lgonzalez

Senator Janice Bowling has long been a champion for rural broadband in Tennessee. On March 6th, her bill SB 1045 came before the Tennessee Senate Commerce and Labor Committee and the members chose not to advance the bill. Once again, big telephone and cable company interests win out over the needs of rural Tennesseans.

Download SB 1045 here.

Information Session 

Sen. Bowling presented information about the bill at a February 27th meeting of the committee. She introduced SB 1045 last year and it was added and removed from committee hearing schedules several times; HB 1410, the companion House bill from Rep. Weaver, encountered similar treatment. SB 1045 would allow municipal networks and cooperatives to provide broadband service beyond their service areas. Communities that don’t have municipal networks, will regain local authority to invest in Internet infrastructure.

Explaining The Need

In her February 27th presentation, Sen. Bowling described how rural areas in the state are crippled in various ways by the lack of high-quality connectivity. She provided a map that visualizes the disparities between rural areas, communities with fiber optic networks, and urban areas.

She described the need for fiber for economic development:

In rural Tennessee, if we have what is called an industrial park, and we have electricity…you have running water, you have some paved roads, but if you do not have access to fiber at this point, what you have is an electrified cow pasture with running water and walking trails. It is not an industrial park.

janice-bowling.jpg Bowling, whose district includes Tullahoma, has been working in this space for a long time and has gained knowledge from technical experts and business leaders. LightTUBe, her community's municipal fiber optic network, has been serving residents, businesses, and municipal facilities since 2009. The network has boosted economic development, improved education, and public savings...

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Posted February 28, 2018 by lgonzalez

PUDs in Washington have been developing fiber optic networks as open access infrastructure for decades. Even though ports have the same authorization to develop broadband infrastructure, their authority is limited. Currently, a port may operate telecommunications facilities for its own uses within and beyond its district, but can only provide wholesale services within the districts. A bill in the legislature would remove the ports' geographic limits and expand their authority, but amendments to the bill might cut into the measure's effectiveness.

Ports Want To Partner

HB 2664, which has worked its way through the state legislature aims to change the current situation by expanding a port’s ability to offer wholesale services outside of its district. The goal is to allow a port to use its infrastructure to partner with a private sector ISP to bring better connectivity to residents, businesses, and other entities in the areas around the port’s district.

HB 2664, which passed the House on February 14th, went on to the Senate and passed there, but was amended to require a project to focus on unserved and underserved areas. In places like Bellingham, where a city has grown up around the port and beyond its boundaries, the community could work with the port to make use of its fiber infrastructure to develop better connectivity for economic development, public savings, and better services for schools and libraries. A restriction forcing the port to prioritize on unserved and underserved communities, however, might thwart a project where DSL or cable now serves the community, even though the service is far below what the FCC considers broadband, expensive, or limited to spotty areas in town.

Putting It All Out There

Another amendment requires that any ports that decide to start using their infrastructure for wholesale service must first establish a business plan and have it reviewed by an independent third party consultant. Recommendations and adjustments associated with the review must all occur transparently. Often private sector partners shy away from working with the public sector when state laws put them in such a potentially vulnerable position.

HB 2664 started off as a promising piece of legislation but amendments may considerably limit its effectiveness.

The Process Continues

Due to the amendments in the Senate, the bill will go back to the House....

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