Tag: "state laws"

Posted January 20, 2017 by lgonzalez

Conflicts of interest have been front and center in federal politics this election cycle, but there is another place where we see a grey cloud of impropriety: the Virginia General Assembly. More specifically, above the head of Republican Delegate Kathy Byron, who last week introduced HB 2108, the “Broadband Deployment Act.” 

Policy Payola?

We noticed Byron is inclined to accept sizable campaign donations from big cable and DSL corporate friends, but Phil Dampier’s excellent article on Stop the Cap! took a deeper look at her dubious connections. Tracing campaign dollars from state legislators who sponsor these bills back to companies like Verizon ($36,100 for Byron), Comcast ($3,000), AT&T ($9,250), and CenturyLink ($3,500) is no surprise. Finding similar connections to their state lobbying groups such as the Virginia Cable Telecommunications Association is also typical (a generous $15,000). For people like Dampier and us, it's kind of par for the course.

Campaign contributions call into question a legislators motivations but Byron has other connections that her constituents, colleagues in the General Assembly, and other Virginians need to examine as they consider HB 2108 and her role as a policy maker in state government:

From Stop the Cap!:

Since 2008, Stop the Cap! has reviewed industry-sponsored municipal broadband ban bills, and none to date have illustrated the level of conflict of interest we see here. We call on Virginian officials to carefully investigate the ties Ms. Byron has to cable and phone companies and the ethical concerns raised from her involvement in key state bodies that can make or break rural broadband in Virginia. Byron increasingly exposes an agenda favoring incumbent phone and cable companies that just happen to contribute to her campaign — companies she seems willing to protect at any cost.

The section of her bill detailing requirements for community providers seeking to expand requires them to ask permission from an entity known as the Virginia Broadband Advisory Council, which Byron disturbingly chairs. If the... Read more

Posted January 20, 2017 by htrostle

Last week, Virginia State Delegate Kathy Byron introduced a bill that, if passed, will cripple attempts for municipalities to improve local connectivity. HB 2108, the “Virginia Broadband Deployment Act, imposes specific requirements on municipal networks that would greatly limit whether communities could offer Internet access or work with private sector partners.

The City of Roanoke and Franklin County wasted no time in unanimously passing resolutions to oppose the Virginia bill.

Franklin County Formally Opposes HB 2108

The Franklin County Board of Supervisors swiftly drafted their resolution in order to take it to the press conference in Richmond the next day. Reprinted below is the text of the Franklin County Resolution: 

WHEREAS, broadband access and reliability are essential to citizens, businesses, and non-profits in Franklin County; and

WHEREAS, citizens, businesses, and non-profits desire faster and more reliable broadband speeds; and

WHEREAS, areas of Franklin County lack broadband access; and

WHEREAS, we seek to maximize County policy and funding options to improve broadband access and reliability; and

WHEREAS, Franklin County seeks to protect the proprietary information of local businesses;

NOW BE IT THEREFORE RESOLVED, we the Franklin County Board of Supervisors do hereby formally oppose House Bill 2108, the Virginia Broadband Deployment Act.

City of Roanoke: "We Say No Way"

The City of Roanoke Council unanimously passed a similar resolution condemning the bill. Several council members specifically discussed the impact of such legislation on the new Roanoke Valley Network and on their community’s Internet access.

The Roanoke Times covered the discussion in detail.... Read more

Posted January 19, 2017 by lgonzalez

When Delegate Kathy Byron introduced HB 2108, cheekily titled the “Broadband Deployment Act,” she might have not have expected so much attention from local and national reporters. Local media outlets, especially in areas directly threatened by the bill, are alerting constituents about threats to improve local connectivity. National news is also covering the story, describing how Virginia communities that can't get high-quality connectivity from national providers could fall victim to big cable and DSL lobbyists if HB 2108 passes. Constituents are taking notice, but the legislative session is just getting started in Virginia.

Local Media Reaching Local Constituents

The Roanoke Valley is especially vulnerable to the perils of HB 2108. After a contentious process, the Roanoke Valley Broadband Authority (RVBA) completed an open access fiber-optic network to meet the needs of local businesses, schools and libraries, and other facilities. Byron’s bill would make it practically impossible for the RVBA to expand to nearby counties by preventing them from obtaining high-quality connectivity and the benefits that accompany it. Without the ability to serve more customers, the RVBA faces a tenuous future. Smith told WSLS TV 10:

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“It hurts the area. It hurts us as the Roanoke Valley Broadband Authority, but more importantly it hurts across the Commonwealth of Virginia, its ability to be able to serve and use technology to serve economic development,” said Frank Smith.

The Roanoke Times quickly reported on the bill when Byron introduced it, noting that it would stifle the RVBA’s attempts to encourage competition, an economic development driver:

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“It may serve the incumbent [providers] to reduce competition,... Read more

Posted January 19, 2017 by htrostle

We have already seen Virginia and Missouri take up legislation to preempt local control and deter municipal networks. Although bearing innocuous names such as the “Virginia Broadband Deployment Act,” these bills stifle competition instead of empowering communities. 

Local governments, however, have often stepped forward to champion municipal networks and push back against state preemption bills. We’ve collected several over the years. Let these excerpts of resolutions from years past inspire you throughout the rest of 2017:

2011 - Chapel Hill, North Carolina: “WHEREAS, historically it was government that funded much of the current corporate telecommunications infrastructure in the United States and government paid for and developed the Internet on which these providers depend for their profit…” (Read more here.)

2013 - Alpharetta, Georgia: “WHEREAS, House Bill 282 would tie the hands of municipal officials in their efforts to build digital networks they need to attract economic development and create a high quality of life for their citizens...” (Read more here.

2014 - The Louisiana Municipal Association: “WHEREAS, local governments, being closest to the people are the most accountable level of government and will be held responsible for any decisions they make...” (Read more here.)

Many other cities have also passed resolutions opposing state legislation and encouraging local control, including:

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Posted January 18, 2017 by lgonzalez

Proponents of better connectivity in Virginia are setting off alarms about HB 2108, a bill that will effectively bar municipal networks and prevent local communities from working with private sector partners. In order to educate the public about the miseries this bill will present, Friends of Municipal Broadband developed a press kit with materials to help spread the word.

At a January 18th morning press conference, the grassroots group consisting of local community leaders, citizens who want to control their own broadband decisions, and members of the private sector who are concerned about partnering with local communities, handed out the information.

The kit contains:

  • A thorough bill commentary, describing each section and how it may impact local efforts. The memorandum provides detailed analysis and citations.
  • A quick reference “Fast Facts” sheet that describes how big cable and DSL companies have tightened their grip on telecommunications in Virginia. This two-pager describes how the anti-competitive environment is negatively affecting people and businesses and how HB 2108 is designed to crush one of the last saving graces of rural Virginia - municipal Internet infrastructure.
  • Bill supporters list
  • Speaker quotes and contacts list
  • Maps of satisfactory and unsatisfactory service in the state
  • Image quotes for social media and resources you share, like the one on this page

A press kit like this one is a quick and effective way to have information ready to share with others interested in learning more. Easily accessible resources like these can travel... Read more

Posted January 17, 2017 by lgonzalez

Folks in rural Virginia who dream about better connectivity woke up this legislative session to a pending Internet access nightmare - and they’re not going to just lie there and take it. 

Delegate Kathy Byron (R-Campbell County) and her bill HB 2108 are the cause of consternation among people in Virginia who support the municipal network option. As we reported last week, the bill would have serious impact on the ability for local governments to pick up the slack left by national Internet Service Providers. Passage would make it all nearly impossible for local governments to provide better connectivity to their communities.

Taking It To Richmond

In order to bring awareness to the potential harm of HB 2108, people negatively impacted if it passes plan to rally in Richmond to make their voices heard. The grassroots group, Friends of Municipal Broadband will livestream the event on their Facebook page. The rally will happen Wednesday, Jan. 18, at 9:30 a.m. EST.

According to the announcement, people are gathering at the House Briefing Room at the Virginia Legislative Office Building, 1000 Bank Street in Richmond. They ask participants to use the entrance on 10th and Bank Streets and give themselves extra time for security checks.

Get Informed

Friends of Municipal Broadband have created a petition and are encouraging Virginians to call Delegate Byron to express their displeasure about HB 2108 at (434) 582-1592. You can also check out the Friends of Municipal Broadband website for more on the event and resources about the bill.

You can also arm yourself with information about munis in Virginia by downloading our fact sheet on the benefits of municipal networks in Virginia. As always, we want you to share the fact sheet far and wide to help others make informed decisions.

Posted January 17, 2017 by lgonzalez

As legislators in Virginia and Missouri consider bills attacking municipal networks, two Colorado legislators have introduced a bill to repeal its restrictive state law.

Take It Away

Democratic Senators Kerry Donovan and Lucia Guzman’s bill, SB 42, calls for “the repeal of existing restrictions on the ability of a local government to provide certain electronic communications services.” The bill is now in the Senate Business, Labor, and Technology Committee.

The bill would eliminate the need for local communities to hold expensive referendums to ask voters to opt out of SB 152, a bill passed in 2005 and lobbied heavily by national providers. When SB 152 passed, it effectively stole local authority from local communities who wanted to decide for themselves whether or not they wanted to invest in local Internet infrastructure. By opting out, communities reclaim local telecommunications authority. 

The Sponsors

Donovan represents several counties that have already opted out of SB 152, such as Pitkin, Gunnison and Eagle, in addition to several others that are still under the control of the law. Guzman is the Senate Minority Leader and represents Denver County, which has not yet addressed the opt out question. Together they represent bother urban and rural regions.

Voters Want Out

Since 2008, ninety-five communities in Colorado have held expensive referendums and all chose to opt out. Opting out of SB 152 does not necessarily mean that a municipality or local government intends to invest in publicly owned Internet infrastructure. A number of communities have expressed that their intention is to simply reclaim a right taken away from the state in 2005 so they can have more flexibility and local control. Other communities, like Rio Blanco County, Estes Park... Read more

Posted January 12, 2017 by lgonzalez

With each new legislative session come the new bills from the incumbents aiming to limit competition. We typically expect at least one and begin looking for them early in January as legislatures begin assembling in state capitols; this year the anti-muni efforts begin in Virginia and Missouri.

"Show-Me" Your Bill

Missouri’s communities have been the object of legislative persecution from big national incumbents and the legislators they back for several years. When we learned that another effort to severely limit the ability for municipalities to bring better connectivity to the community was afoot, we weren’t surprised.

This year, the bill is from Republican Senator Ed Emery, who has recently moved from the House to the Senate. Surprisingly, Emery’s bio reports that he also worked with his father and grandfather in their feed and grain business. As some one with a connection to farmers, one would expect him to understand the importance of high-speed connectivity in today’s agriculture industry. Emery also has a significant history in the utilities industry. He’s received both the Legislator of the Year Award from the Missouri Cable Telecommunications Association and the Leadership Award from the Missouri Telecommunications Industry Association

SB 186 starts out strong by prohibiting local government from offering “competitive service,” which includes both retail or wholesale models. By preventing wholesale models, the bill interferes with a municipality’s ability to work with private sector partners, a major complaint about the bill introduced last year.

The bill states that voters can only choose to allow a municipality to offer any services after the community has engaged in a very thorough feasibility study and the results have been publicized. As with last year’s bill, SB 186 sets up onerous hurdles that threaten to sabotage a network in the early days, discouraging local communities from pursuing a chance to serve residents, businesses, and municipal facilities. The bill also dictates ballot language, establishes geographical limits on any local network, and clearly established that no funds from other municipal services can be directed toward a municipal network. Much of SB 186’s language comes from last year’s bill.

The... Read more

Posted December 16, 2016 by lgonzalez

Chairman Tom Wheeler will be stepping down as FCC Chairman as of January 20, 2017; the day President Obama leaves office. The decision is not surprising, as FCC chairmen typically leave their position when a new administration takes the helm, but Wheeler had not yet made it official. His departure emphasizes the apprehensive uncertainty that has troubled advocates of municipal networks, local telecommunications authority, and network neutrality, as well as a long list of other public policy concerns that affect our future through technology.

In a statement released on December 15, Chairman Wheeler wrote:

“Serving as FCC Chairman during this period of historic technological change has been the greatest honor of my professional life. I am deeply grateful to the President for giving me this opportunity. I am especially thankful to the talented Commission staff for their service and sacrifice during my tenure. Their achievements have contributed to a thriving communications sector, where robust investment and world-leading innovation continue to drive our economy and meaningful improvements in the lives of the American people. It has been a privilege to work with my fellow Commissioners to help protect consumers, strengthen public safety and cybersecurity, and ensure fast, fair and open networks for all Americans.”

He Proved Himself

When Tom Wheeler was appointed as 31st Chairman of the FCC in November 2013, we had our concerns. He was following Julius Genachowski, one of the worst FCC Chairs in modern history, who had been appointed in Obama's first term. He had run both cable and wireless industry trade groups, but was strongly defended by Susan Crawford and Gigi Sohn when public interest groups opposed him. He strongly surpassed our hopes for what the FCC could achieve.

Historically, the FCC has been a "captured" regulator, largely operating in favor of the largest telecommunications firms in a revolving door fashion. But Chairman Wheeler and Commissioners Clyburn and Rosenworcel listened to grassroots groups as well as industry, making important decisions to encourage more investment and choices in high quality Internet access. They also made historic decisions on prison phone rates and crafted new rules to make sure everyone could use the Internet, regardless of how able-bodied... Read more

Posted December 14, 2016 by htrostle

This is the transcript for episode 232 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast. In this episode, General Manager Josh Byrnes of Osage Municipal Utilities joins the show to share how fiber connectivity has benefited the Iowa community. Listen to this episode here.

Josh Byrnes: Everything is live about it, you can lock in your commodity prices, all your inputs and all those things can be done. We've got to have connectivity, in rural Iowa.

Lisa Gonzalez: Welcome to episode 232 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast from the Institute For Local Self-Reliance. I'm Lisa Gonzalez. In Osage, Iowa, the community's electric utility has served the town and some of the rural areas around it for about 125 years. Osage Municipal Utilities also offers natural gas services and invested in its own communication system in the early 2000s. They offer telephone, cable TV and Internet connectivity via their cable network. Clearly Osage is one of those rural communities that think about the future. In this interview Christopher speaks with Josh Byrnes, the general manager of Osage municipal utilities, who discusses their long term plans to bring Fiber-to-the-Home to the community. Josh who is also a former state representative spends some time discussing Iowa's approach to rural connectivity and its investment in the Iowa communications network. Now here's Chris talking with Josh Byrnes, general manager of the Osage municipal utilities and a former member of the Iowa House of Representatives.

Chris Mitchell: Welcome to another edition of the Community Broadband Bits podcast. I'm Chris Mitchell and today I'm speaking with Josh Byrnes, the general manager of Osage Municipal Utilities in Iowa. Welcome to the show.

Josh Byrnes: Thanks for having me Chris.

Chris Mitchell: I'm excited to talk to you, as I was saying in our pre-interview I actually have this memory and I'm excited to be reminded of the story that you'll be telling us in a few minutes about these cattle prices and an app, around how it's important to have Internet access out on farms near your community. Let's start with a little bit of background for people who aren't familiar with Osage. Where are you in Iowa? What's the community like?

Josh Byrnes:... Read more

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