Tag: "state laws"

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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Posted March 19, 2019 by lgonzalez

Governor Jay Inslee started to promote his bill for better broadband earlier this year and, with any luck, Washington will have a solid foundation to expand broadband before the end of this year’s legislative session. SB 5511, a measure backed by the Governor, has sailed through the Senate, and has now appeared in the House. The bill establishes a State Broadband Office and earmarks funding for local broadband initiatives.

The bill is on the agenda for today's House Innovation, Technology & Economic Development Committee meeting at 10 a.m. PDT.

Difficult But Doable

In order to bring high-quality Internet access to all of Washington, millions and possibly billions of dollars of infrastructure investment are required. No one is certain how much completing the task will cost, and obtaining a better estimate will be one of the tasks of the State Broadband Office (SBO), which will be created by SB 5511. The bill allocates $1.2 million for the SBO.

Rural communities, economic development organizations, and tribes have all supported a measure to establish state investment in broadband infrastructure deployment across Washington. In January, Inslee met with leaders from communities across the state, including Colville Business Council member Susie Allen representing the Colville Tribes, to discuss the need for state funding:

“I have been working on broadband initiatives on our reservation for many years, but unfortunately, substantially, we still remain under-served and unserved, without broadband services,” said Allen. “The Colville Tribes have invested several millions of dollars to begin to meet this need, but we require assistance from the state and federal agencies to complete this work… The lack of broadband service creates not just an inconvenience, but poses real safety concerns throughout the reservation.”

The Colville Tribe has invested $6 million in order to connect the tribal government and under the terms of SB 5511, they would qualify to receive more funding in grants and low-interest loans.

The Tribe...

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Posted March 7, 2019 by lgonzalez

Senator Janice Bowling has become a broadband hero in rural Tennessee and on the pages of MuniNetworks.org. Year after year, she introduces legislation aimed at expanding local authority to allow communities the ability to improve connectivity. She’s back this year with several bills aimed at expanding fiber in rural areas. 

Seeking Better Connectivity…That’s All

Like Bowling’s past legislation, related bills SB 489, SB 490, and SB 494 grant municipal electric utilities the authority “to provide telecommunications service, including broadband service” and specifies that they can do so beyond their electric service area. This change in the current law would allow places like her own community of Tullahoma to expand to serve neighboring towns. There is no fiscal impact from the Senator’s bills.

Bowling has seen firsthand how access to fiber optic infrastructure, such as Tullahoma’s LightTUBe, lifts economic development, improves educational opportunities, and helps a local community reduce costs. The city has thrived since investing in the network in 2009, while many of the communities that have had to rely on subpar service from the larger incumbents have limped along. 

SB 489 also extends authority for municipalities to collaboration for telecommunications and broadband service, to ease any uncertainty about public-private partnerships.

janice-bowling.jpg In her broadband bills, Senator Bowling defines “broadband” as 25 Megabits per second (Mbps) symmetrical, a move that illustrates the value of upload speeds in today’s economy. Rather than considering subscribers as consumers of Internet access, the Senator...

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