Tag: "state laws"

Posted September 18, 2020 by Ry Marcattilio-...

Over the summer, Oregon took a second swing at revising its state Universal Service Fund program by passing SB 1603, a bill which will create a larger rural broadband development fund by including retail wireless and VoIP service (in addition to traditional telephone service) in the fees it collects to bring basic connectivity services to unconnected parts of the state. The new law lowers the current tax rate on telecommunications service provider's gross revenue (from 8.5% to 6%) but dramatically broadens the collection base, which will bring in needed dollars to expand broadband access to state residents without it in coming years. The move comes on the heels of the state’s move to establish a Broadband Office in 2018 to “to promote access to broadband services for all Oregonians in order to improve the economy and quality of life.”

Nuts and Bolts

SB 1603, which passed the state legislature on June 26 and was signed into law on July 7, directs the Oregon Business Development Department  (OBDD) to transfer up to $5 million of the funds collected each year to a broadband fund for rural development projects, administered by the OBDD. While the amount that will be collected remains unknown at the moment, it will no doubt represent a significant boost: the current mechanism for funding rural information infrastructure projects — the Rural Broadband Capacity Pilot Program — received 25 applications for almost $5 million in requested funding, but was only able to grant $500,000, or 10%. SB 1603 caps the money to be collected by the Oregon Universal Service Fund at $28 million annually.

As a result of SB1603, Oregonians can expect the average cell phone bill would go up by about $4 a year, and those with landline telephone service will see an annual decrease of $12 a year. Some VoIP providers had contributed willingly prior to the bill — that voluntary opt-in is removed.

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Posted August 20, 2020 by Katie Kienbaum

Less than two years after Mississippi lifted its ban on electric cooperative broadband networks, at least 15 of the 25 co-ops in the state have announced plans to provide Internet access to members, with more on the way.

“I would venture to say that there is a higher percentage of co-ops launching [broadband] projects in Mississippi at one time than anywhere else in the country,” said Randy Klindt, partner at Conexon, a consulting firm that is working with several co-ops in the state.

The months in between were marked by two major changes. First, in January of 2019, the Mississippi legislature passed a law that enabled co-ops to create broadband subsidiaries to connect their members. Then a year later, the pandemic hit, highlighting the urgent need for better connectivity and turning the steady stream of cooperative interest in broadband into a veritable flood.

In response to the global health crisis, the state leveraged federal CARES Act money to establish a grant program to fund electric co-op broadband deployment. Through the program, Mississippi awarded $65 million to 15 electric cooperatives to build high-quality Fiber-to-the-Home networks in some of the state’s most disconnected and rural communities, dramatically ramping up the pace of the co-ops’ broadband projects.

“When we started two years ago, I would’ve guessed that you would have had maybe five systems out of 25 in the state that would be to the level where we are now,” Coast Electric Power Association (EPA) President and CEO Ron Barnes said in an interview. “Most people would tell you they were surprised by the speed,” he added.

Opening the Floodgates

Internet access has been lagging in rural Mississippi for years. The state came in at 42 in BroadbandNow’s most recent connectivity rankings. According to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), at least 35% of rural Mississippians do not have access to the Internet at broadband speeds.

In 2018, the state co-op association, Electric Cooperatives of Mississippi, brought its 25 member organizations together to gauge their interest in changing the state law so the co-ops could address their rural members' inadequate connectivity. At the time, electric co-ops in the state were prohibited from operating for any purpose other than providing...

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Posted August 11, 2020 by Ry Marcattilio-...

HB 13, a law moving through the Ohio state legislature, creates the state’s first-ever residential broadband expansion program in order to address an access gap faced by hundreds of thousands of households across the state. Unfortunately, it bars municipally owned networks and electric cooperatives from participating in the $20 million pot of funds aimed at extending Internet access to areas with significant connectivity challenges. 

How It Would Work

The bill — titled “Establish Residential Broadband Expansion Program” — passed the Ohio House of Representatives on June 11 of this year, and takes aim at addressing last-mile connections and bringing more Ohioans online. If passed, it would create a $20 million fund and effect regulatory changes to provide subsidies for private entities in the state to extend their networks and connect more people. 

HB 13 establishes a number of conditions that have to be cleared for projects to be eligible. First, areas included can’t already include projects that have gotten money from the federal programs like Connect America Fund or the FCC's upcoming Rural Digital Opportunity Fund taking place this fall. 

Second, the bill establishes a score mechanism that privileges areas that are unserved and underserved. Projects addressing unserved areas top the list: it defines the latter as lacking access to download speeds of 10 Megabits per second (Mbps) and upload speeds of 1 Mbps. The bill then favors “Tier 2” projects (which provide a minimum of 25/3 Mbps service) to either unserved areas or to “Tier 1” areas (those where download speeds come in between 10 Mbps and 25 Mbps and upload speeds are between 1 Mbps and 3 Mbps). 

Finally, HB 13 provides extra consideration for projects aimed at “distressed areas,” projects that can demonstrate in-kind or other financial contributions that have already been approved, those that utilized public Rights-of-Way, and those that demonstrate advantages in terms of the speed of the buildout or future scalability.

Problem Provisions and Vague Definitions

Bill co-sponsor Rick Carfagna, who worked as Government Relations Manager for Time Warner Cable for 14 years,...

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Posted July 16, 2020 by Ry Marcattilio-...

For the ninth episode of our special podcast series “Why NC Broadband Matters,” Christopher talks with Doug Dawson, President of CCG Consulting. Doug is a veteran advisor to small public and private telecommunications carriers and an experienced, thoughtful voice in the broadband space. During their discussion, Christopher and Doug give the various levels of government across the United States a report card for their connectivity efforts during the pandemic, and talk about how the coronavirus has brought into focus the two digital divides facing our communities today. They consider what the broadband gap looks like between rural and urban areas, and the problem of adoption versus access for North Carolina communities facing obstacles to high quality Internet access.

Christopher and Doug also talk about whether SpaceX or other satellite providers are a solution to North Carolina’s rural broadband challenge, which leads them to reflect on the problem of the FCC’s current minimum broadband speed definition as a baseline for disbursing funds to providers connecting communities over the next ten years.

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We produced this episode and the “Why NC Broadband Matters” series in partnership with NC Broadband Matters, a nonprofit organization advocating for better connectivity across North Carolina.

This show is 37 minutes long and can be played on this page or via iTunes or with the tool of your choice using this feed, at the Community Broadband Bits page, or at the NC Broadband Matters page. We encourage you to check out other "Why NC Broadband Matters" content at the podcast feed so you don't miss future bonus content that may not appear in the Community...

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Posted May 28, 2020 by Katie Kienbaum

For the eighth episode of our special podcast series “Why NC Broadband Matters,” Christopher and his guests, Catharine Rice and Jack Cozort, continue their conversation on HB 129, North Carolina’s restrictive law that prevents local governments from investing in broadband infrastructure. The first half of their discussion focused on the years leading up to the passage of HB 129 in 2011. Today, Christopher, Catharine, and Jack talk about the bill itself, the influence of the telecom industry over the state legislature, and how HB 129 has impacted connectivity in North Carolina.

Catharine and Jack explain that local broadband authority became a partisan issue after the 2010 election, which flipped control of the North Carolina legislature to the Republicans. They share their experiences advocating against HB 129, explaining how legislators restricted public comments on the bill by limiting speaking time and rescheduling hearings and meetings. Jack tells Christopher that there were as many as 25 lobbyists representing telephone and cable companies at the state legislature pushing for HB 129. Catharine relates how corruption and a lack of transparency in government are the reasons why the telecom industry successfully got the bill passed.

Christopher and his guests also run through some of the provisions of HB 129, dissecting the telecom monopolies’ misleading arguments in favor of the bill.

This is the second half of a two part discussion. For part one, listen to...

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Posted May 26, 2020 by Katie Kienbaum

We've written a lot about North Carolina's HB 129, the anti-competition law that prevents communities in the state from investing in broadband infrastructure. This week on the Community Broadband Bits podcast, Christopher dives deeper into the history of HB 129 with guests Catharine Rice, co-founder of NC Broadband Matters and project manager at the Coalition for Local Internet Choice, and Jack Cozort, a government relations consultant who has worked with the City of Wilson. In this first half of a two part conversation, Christopher and his guests discuss the years leading up to HB 129, which was passed in 2011, speaking frankly about the sway telecom lobbyists held over state legislators.

To start, Jack describes how Wilson decided to invest in its own broadband network Greenlight, after incumbent providers refused to partner with the city to upgrade the community. He goes on to explain how Wilson's decision led the regional broadband monopolies Time Warner Cable (now Charter Spectrum) and AT&T to advocate for legal restrictions on municipal broadband at the state legislature.

Catharine and Jack review some of the early bills ⁠— written by telecom companies and handed off to state legislators ⁠— that the monopoly providers introduced in an attempt to stop broadband competition. They share their involvement in those legislative fights and explain how difficult it was to counter the influence that the telecom industry had over politicians in both major parties. However, Catharine points out that there were also Democratic legislators during this time who defended local broadband authority and kept anti-...

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Posted May 22, 2020 by Katie Kienbaum

A bill close to being passed by the Louisiana State Legislature would allow electric cooperatives to expand Internet access but only in parts of the state without broadband currently. This limitation in the bill, SB 406, will keep Internet choice out of reach for many rural Lousianans and could even hamstring co-ops’ efforts to expand broadband to unserved areas.

“The language would restrict us from competing with others in the broadband market but would not stop them from cherry picking (customers) from cooperatives who choose to get in the broadband market,” Jeff Arnold, CEO of the Association of Louisiana Electric Cooperatives, explained to the Advocate.

As introduced, SB 406 explicitly authorized the state’s electric cooperatives to deploy broadband networks to connect their members using their existing electrical systems and easements. But, Senate amendments added to the bill later narrowed electric co-ops’ authority only to unserved areas, which include less than 13 percent of the state’s residents, according to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC). The Louisiana Senate voted unanimously in favor of the bill last week, and it’s currently in the House of Representatives awaiting a final reading and vote.

Louisiana Lawmakers Restrict Co-op Connectivity

While Louisiana state law does not prohibit electric cooperatives from offering Internet access, it is not expressly authorized, and one co-op that attempted to enter the business was held up by the state’s Public Service Commission, reported the Advocate. To fix that, SB 406 would specifically allow electric co-ops and their partners to provide broadband access and would permit them to use existing electrical easements and infrastructure to expand service.

However, new language added to the bill would stifle competition and challenge co-ops’ ability to expand broadband access. In particular, an amendment from the Senate Commerce Committee limits the authority only to areas without any broadband access, as ...

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Posted May 7, 2020 by Katie Kienbaum

The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) has worked for many years to protect privacy and civil liberties online and to support technological innovation and widespread Internet access.

Ernesto Falcon, Senior Legislative Counsel at EFF, speaks with Christopher for this episode of the Community Broadband Bits podcast. After explaining EFF's mission, Ernesto shares his background and how he got involved in the organization, before moving on to describe some of their policy efforts in California. The pair discuss EFF's involvement in repealing California's state law that had restricted municipal broadband networks. Christopher notes how AT&T has historically had a strong hold over Democrats in the state legislature, and Ernesto explains how EFF is working to counter that influence.

Ernesto and Christopher also talk about the California Advanced Services Fund and how State Bill 1130 would improve the program to bring better quality Internet access to more Californians. In particular, Ernesto points to the importance of symmetrical speeds and of designing policies that look to the future of connectivity. This has been highlighted by the Covid-19 public health crisis, and the two explore how the California Public Utilities Commission could help enable distance learning and respond to other urgent connectivity needs.

For more from EFF, listen to episode 145 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast.

This show is 30 minutes long and can be played on this page or ...

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Posted May 6, 2020 by Katie Kienbaum

In response to the increased reliance on connectivity precipitated by the Covid-19 pandemic, the Minnesota Legislature is working on legislation to improve access to broadband, online education, and telehealth services throughout the state.

The Senate passed their version of the bipartisan funding bill, SF 4494, earlier this week, and the House has two similar pieces of legislation, HF 1507 and HF 3029, currently under consideration. If the bills are passed and signed into law, there would be a total of $20 million to $27 million (depending on how the different versions are reconciled) available in grants to support distance learning, telemedicine programs, and broadband deployment. Bill authors designed the legislation to prioritize the use of federal money for the grant programs before pulling from the state’s general fund.

Broadband Bills in House and Senate

The Minnesota Senate passed its version of the legislation, SF 4494, on May 4 in a unanimous vote. Representatives in the House have rolled the grant programs into a larger coronavirus relief package that is under consideration, HF 1507. This is in addition to keeping a separate House bill with the broadband funding provisions, HF 3029, alive in case HF 1507 fails to pass.

The bills direct grant funding to three connectivity issues: connecting students for distance education, expanding access to telemedicine services, and deploying broadband networks in unserved areas. To facilitate online education during the pandemic, the bills would make $8 million (SF 4494 and HF 3029) or $15 million (HF 1507) available in grants to schools through the state Department of Education to fund the distribution of devices like hotspots and to reimburse the cost of...

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Posted March 4, 2020 by lgonzalez

In September 2019, we interviewed Kathryn DeWit from the Broadband Initiative at the Pew Charitable Trusts about their State Broadband Policy Explorer. The tool documents state laws aimed at expanding broadband access. Now, the group has released a reported titled, How States Are Expanding Broadband Access, that examines developments in nine states where broadband availability has improved after implementing state efforts. The report dives into what those states are doing that works and makes recommendations to emulate those policies and repeat that positive trajectory.

Read the full report here.

All Hands on Deck

One of the primary discoveries from the report is that states are using many technologies and funding approaches to bring high-quality Internet access to those who have been left behind. Like other projects that involved multiple stakeholders and public funding, Pew learned that building broadband support and requiring accountability are factors that contribute to success.

Pew examined efforts in California, Colorado, Maine, North Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia, West Virginia, and Wisconsin. They also looked at Minnesota, where the Border to Border Development Grant Broadband Program provides funding for projects in areas where connectivity is slow and unreliable or where people have no service options at all. In Minnesota, notes the report, the state has established measurable and increasing speed goals and allows funding to flow to a broad range of recipients, including local governments, rural cooperatives, tribal governments, and large corporate Internet access providers.

minnesota-loon_2.png Minnesota also provides a challenge process, which has been used by some of the larger ISPs in the past to delay plans for community-centered projects,...

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