Tag: "state laws"

Posted August 8, 2019 by Katie Kienbaum

Municipal broadband networks already serve more than 500 communities across the country, but some states are trying to keep that number from growing. Nineteen states have established legal barriers or even outright bans on publicly owned networks, according to well-respected communications law firm Baller Stokes & Lide.

These state laws, often enacted at the behest of large telecom monopolies, slow the development of community owned connectivity in various ways. From Alabama to Wisconsin, states have implemented everything from direct prohibitions on municipal networks to oppressive restrictions and requirements that limit competition.

The outlook for municipal connectivity may be starting to improve though, despite incorrect reports that state-level broadband preemption increased over the past year. Baller Stoke & Lide’s list of states with restrictions on municipal broadband investment actually shrunk this year from 20 states to 19 — a result of downgrading Colorado’s SB 152 from bonafide barrier to mere annoyance. Still, barriers to community networks remain in more than a third of all states, leaving millions of Americans unconnected and tens of millions more without local Internet choice.

Bans, Blocks, and Burdens

Common approaches to preempting municipal broadband networks range from straightforward bans to confusing financial restrictions and complicated legal requirements. While some states have established one main barrier to community broadband, many more have adopted a bird’s nest of regulations that kill any possibility of municipal connectivity, if only because of the legal uncertainty created by complex and vague laws.

Out of the 19 states with restrictions on municipal networks, a few explicitly ban local governments from providing communications services to their citizens. In Nevada, only municipalities with less than 25,000 people and counties with less than 55,000 people can offer telecommunications services. Both Arkansas and Tennessee bar municipalities without electric utilities from providing Internet access in most situations. Yet other states restrict where government utilities can deploy broadband or what types of services they can offer...

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Posted August 6, 2019 by lgonzalez

An increasing number of local communities are investigating ways to improve connectivity through municipal networks. Some of these communities must find a way to overcome state laws that preclude them from investing in broadband infrastructure, or have established requirements that make doing so prohibitive. Recently, we’ve seen reports on state laws that inflate the number of states with these types of preemptive barriers in place. It's important that folks researching options for their communities get accurate information, so we decided it was time to address the confusion and recent state changes.

This week, Christopher and our Communications Specialist Jess Del Fiacco critique a list of states with preemptive barriers created by BroadbandNow. While we consider BroadbandNow a great resource, their definition of what makes a barrier goes a little farther than what is generally accepted among municipal network policy advocates. Christopher and Jess explain our definition and discusses the more general criteria BroadbandNow has adopted. 

Jess and Christopher also discuss why we decided to remove a couple of states from our list, reducing it from 21 to 19. They offer recent examples of state legislation that rolled back tight restrictions and the reasoning behind those changes. Finally, Christopher and Jess talk about ongoing efforts, places where there is still significant risk of increased restrictions, and possible outcomes for state or federal preemptions that may reduce state barriers.

For details on the specific state laws that limit local authority, be sure to check out the most recent version of...

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Posted July 19, 2019 by lgonzalez

When utilities, including broadband providers, need to cross railroad rights-of-way to serve customers, some railroad operators have been known to press their advantage. Several states have addressed utility complaints by establishing standardized rates and setting up processes to create a more reasonable and predictable system. Eliminating this obstacle to deployment is another step in bringing broadband to the communities that need it the most.

Party Concerns

Often railroads obtained title to real property during 19th century acquisitions as the infrastructure was being built. They want to preserve as much of their authority and title rights as possible and to ensure that they can receive the maximum value for their interest in the land.

For utilities, cost of deployment is a primary concern. When railroads demand unreasonable fees at crossings or drag out negotiations as a delay tactic, they also impinge on a utility’s ability to meet operational deadlines. Safety and engineering integrity can be negatively impacted by difficult negotiations, unreasonable demands, or exorbitant costs.

Different States, Different Stories

Few states have addressed the problem with statutes establishing standard utility fees for railroad right-of-way crossings. David L. Thomas, Managing Member of the strategic utility planning firm Eagle 1 Resources (E1R) has worked with telecommunications companies and other utilities to negotiate railroad crossing arrangements. He's seen that standard crossing fees set down in statute benefit deployment by ending delay and reducing costs and would like to see the trend pass to every state.

seal-wisconsin.png In South Dakota and Iowa, the fee had been established at $750. Wisconsin allows railroads to charge $500 [PDF see page 12] and state law in Illinois, where railroads have a strong presence in metro areas,...

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Posted May 9, 2019 by lgonzalez

During this legislative session, state lawmakers in several states passed bills that allocated funds to broadband deployment and planning programs. In many states, elected officials are listening to constituents and experts who tell them that they need fast, affordable, reliable connectivity to keep their communities from dwindling. States that refuse funding to public entities, however, block out some of the best opportunities to connect people and businesses in rural areas. In places such as Michigan, Tennessee, and Virginia, states need to trust their own people to develop necessary broadband networks.

The Great Lakes State: Not Great at Supporting Local Broadband

Michigan’s HB 5670 caught the attention of community broadband advocates when it was introduced by Representative Michele Hoitenga in 2018. The bill was firmly anti-municipal network and after some investigation, it became clear that Hoitenga received guidance from lobbyists from big cable and telephone monopolies. HB 5670, with its sad definition of “broadband” and attempt to fork over state funds to big national ISPs didn’t go anywhere alone after word spread.

seal-michigan.png Folks from the Michigan Broadband Cooperative (MBC) and other constituents in rural Michigan voiced their concern and the bill seemed to disappear. In reality, the House folded the language into SB 601, a large appropriations bill, which has now become law. Section 806 lists the types of entities that are eligible to receive grants from the $20 million set aside for infrastructure -- public entities are specifically eliminated.

In Michigan, places such as Sebewaing, and Marshall have already proven that local residents and businesses need gigabit connectivity and that they trust services from their local municipal utility broadband provider. The language of SB 601 as written will also prevent local governments from obtaining...

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Posted May 6, 2019 by lgonzalez

If you believe that publicly owned Internet networks are one of the tools that can help in efforts to expand fast, affordable, reliable connectivity to people in your state, and you want to share your thoughts with elected officials, use this language to get started. There may not be a project being developed in your area or a specific bill that you support, but you know that you want decision makers to vote favorably on measures that advance policies and financially support local authority and communities’ efforts to improve local connectivity through publicly owned broadband infrastructure. We’ve created a brief constituent letter/email that you can use to get started in drafting correspondence to state and federal lawmakers that convey your support for publicly owned Internet networks and local authority.

Keep It Simple, Keep It Effective

State and federal legislators typically serve on multiple committees and, as a result, their time spent on each issue is often limited. In order to encourage them to digest your full letter, stating your thoughts in a brief letter or email is often the most effective. Being direct, polite, and supportive goes along way with Representatives, Senators, and their staff.

You can include examples from your own state or from other places to help politicians and their staff learn more about the advantages of community broadband networks. Large national Internet access companies spend millions each year to employ lobbyists who spread negative misinformation about publicly owned broadband networks. You can help balance those efforts by sharing some of the positive results. Use our Municipal FTTH Networks page, the Economic Development page, search a specific state on MuniNetworks.org, or click on one of the pins on the Community Network Map to find a sample network.

If you live in one of the 20 states where restrictions are in place that legally discourage or prevent communities from investing in publicly owned infrastructure, you can mention your state’s restriction in your letter and encourage your elected officials to work toward removing it. You can check out our Community Network Map and select the “States with...

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Posted April 23, 2019 by lgonzalez

In recent years, an increasing number of local communities have started looking into the possibilities of developing broadband infrastructure. One of the reasons they often cite for their investigations is the desire to increase competition for broadband services. In California, public interest groups recently put out the alarm about AB 1366, a bill introduced in February that will strengthen the power of monopolies in the state.

Wrong Direction

The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) posted an article about the bill in March, in which they described AB 1366 as a state-level version of “the Federal Communications Commission’s lead to abandon oversight over a highly concentrated, uncompetitive market.”

AB 1366 removes the 2019 sunset from a bill passed last year that prohibits state or local governments from taking any steps to regulate or create standards for VoIP or broadband services (“Internet enabled services”). The ban on state and local “laws, rules, regulations, ordinance, standards, orders or other provisions” will be permanent if AB 1366 passes. California will relinquish oversight of the activities of the major national Internet access companies, such as AT&T and Comcast, putting all trust in these companies and removing local and state authority.

Bad News for New Entrants

If California denies itself and its local governments the ability to make policy changes, it will also prevent cities from taking action to encourage new entrants into the marketplace. Californians will suffer and monopoly providers will gain by removing the power to increase choice.

In San Franciso, the city passed an ordinance that banned a traditional practice in which landlords prevented competitive ISPs from entering their buildings in exchange for kickbacks from one ISP that wanted to serve the entire building. As a result, new entrants, such as fixed wireless Internet access company Monkeybrains, had no access to potential...

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Posted April 17, 2019 by lgonzalez

Local communities in the state of Mississippi have the legal authority to develop publicly owned Internet networks and offer broadband, or any other utility, to the general public. When it comes to bonding in order to financing deployment for broadband infrastructure, however, the law isn’t as cut and dry. In order to stay on the right side of the law, the community of Columbus, Mississippi, decided to obtain permission from the state legislature to issue bonds for a $2.75 million expansion of their existing fiber optic network. Things didn’t work out as well as they had hoped, thanks to powerful lobbying influence in Jackson.

Stuck in Committee

Rep. Jeff Smith is Chair of the House Ways and Means Committee and introduced HB 1741, which would have granted permission for the city of Columbus to issue bonds to fund the infrastructure for better connectivity. Smith, who is also a board attorney for Columbus Light and Water (CLW), filed the bill because past opinions from state Attorneys General conflict on interpretation of the law. Bond attorneys told the utility board that the safest way forward would be to approach the Mississippi State Legislature for permission to bond.

The bill was directed to the House Local and Private Committee, but never received a hearing before the committee deadline of March 28th. According to Smith, HB 1741 had necessary support in the House, but Senate leadership would not let the bill advance:

"We were told lobbyists from Comcast and the other big cable providers had sat down with (Lt. Governor Tate Reeves) and encouraged him to kill three similar bills," Smith said. "He's the president of the Senate so ... when we heard that we knew it wasn't going to make it." 

seal-mississippi.png When compared to the lobbying forces of Comcast, AT&T, and other national Internet access providers, CLW and the city of Columbus can expect to be outgunned at every turn. Large companies with millions to spend on experts well-versed at convincing state Senators not to take up bills such as HB 1741 have an unfair advantage. With the financing and manpower to...

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Posted April 2, 2019 by lgonzalez

Interest in community broadband and broadband service from cooperatives has grown significantly within the past few years. This legislative session, lawmakers in states such as Vermont, North Carolina, and Arkansas, have decided that they’d like to start contributing to new ways to bring better Internet access to their constituents. This week, Christopher and Jess Del Fiacco, our Communications Specialist, sit down to review some of the most recent state bills that we find promising.

Jess and Christopher talk about H 513 making it’s way through Vermont’s legislature. The bill contains policy changes and financial support designed to invigorate local broadband projects. H 513 was developed after state leaders examined the success of ECFiber, the regional network that brings gigabit connectivity to more than 20 communities in the central part of the state. 

The state of North Carolina’s FIBER NC ACT, which relaxes some of the state’s restrictions on local Internet network infrastructure investment, also comes up in the conversation. Christopher finds the bill a promising start to restoration of local telecommunications authority in North Carolina. State lawmakers are also considering another bill that will assist with pole issues.

Christopher and Jess spend some time examining what’s happening in Tallahassee, Florida, where city leaders have decided that they...

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Posted March 28, 2019 by lgonzalez

Current lawmakers in the Vermont House have rapidly advanced H 513, a bill that addresses both policy and funding hurdles in an attempt to expand broadband throughout the state. After a vote of 139 - 2, the bill went on to the Senate on March 26th.

Looking at Local Models

H 513 recognizes that more than a quarter of the state’s premises don’t have access to broadband speeds as defined by the FCC, 25 Megabits per second (Mbps) download and 3 Mbps upload. The state’s Department of Public Service, which assembled the data, also determines that almost a fifth of premises can’t obtain speeds of 10 Mbps / 1 Mbps. With so many rural communities hurting for access to fast, affordable, reliable connectivity, state lawmakers are anxious to find tools to expand broadband across Vermont.

Legislators note in the language of H 513 that they believe the FCC’s “light-touch” approach toward expansion of broadband:

“…does little, if anything, to overcome the financial challenges of bringing broadband service to hard-to-reach locations with low population density. However, it may result in degraded broadband quality of service.”


H 513 goes on to acknowledge that grassroots approaches that use local knowledge and support will be the most successful in Vermont.

Lawmakers and their staff have lauded ECFiber as one model that works in a place like Vermont, where many smaller communities can pool their resources and work together to develop a regional network. As the Communications Union District has developed over the years and dealt with funding challenges head-on, it has become apparent that access to capital is one of the most difficult hurdles to overcome.

Funding for Innovation

seal-vermont.png In order to help local projects, H 513 will establish the Broadband Innovation Grant Program within the Department of Public Service (DPS) and the Broadband Expansion Loan Program within the Vermont Economic Development Authority (VEDA). 

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Posted March 27, 2019 by lgonzalez

In an evening filled with art and broadband policy, folks gathered in Washington D.C. to attend a screening of the film Do Not Pass Go, a documentary that examines the efforts of Wilson, North Carolina, to expand high-quality connectivity to rural neighbor Pinetops, and how big monopoly providers and the state legislature blocked their attempts.

Next Century Cities, the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, the Coalition for Local Internet Choice, the National Association of Regional Councils, and the National League of Cities hosted the event, which included a panel discussion on relevant state laws, the value of local authority, and possible solutions at the federal and local levels to bring everyone high-quality Internet access. In addition to our own Christopher Mitchell, Terry Huval, Former Director of Lafayette Utilities System and Suzanne Coker Craig, Managing Director of CuriosiTees in Pinetops LLC and former Pinetops Commissioner spoke on the panel moderated by Deb Socia, Executive Director of Next Century Cities.

Attorney Jim Baller, President of Baller Stokes & Lide and President and Co-founder of the Coalition for Local Internet Choice also took some time to discuss specific state barriers that interfere with local authority for Internet network investment.

After the panel discussion, attendees and panelists mingled and enjoyed music supplied by Terry Huval and his fiddle:

 

Host A Screening in Your Community

Holding a screening in...

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