Tag: "state laws"

Posted February 21, 2017 by lgonzalez

While Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam’s “Tennessee Broadband Accessibility Ace” has been in the news, several other Legislators have introduced companion bills earlier this month that deserve attention.

A Few Gems

SB 1058 and HB 0970, from Senator Janice Bowling and Representative Dan Howell, would allow municipal electric utilities, such as Chattanooga’s EPB, Tullahoma Utilities Board, or Jackson Energy Authority to expand beyond their electric service area. SB 1045 and HB 1410 reclaims local authority for municipalities that want to offer telecommunications service either alone or with a partner.

HB 0970 has been assigned to the House Business and Utilities Committee; SB 1058 was referred to the Senate Commerce and Labor Committee.

Bowling has also introduced SB 1045, a bill that allows municipal electric utilities and electric cooperatives the ability to offer telecommunications services either on their own or with private sector partners. SB 1045 and it’s companion, HB 1410, sponsored by Terri Lynn Weaver in the House, specifies that there are to be no geographic limits to the service area. SB 1045 and HB 1410 are also in the same committees as SB 1058 and HB 0970.

Correcting Existing Problems

The EPB challenged restrictive state law in 2015; the FCC determined that the law was inconsistent with federal goals. The agency preempted both Tennessee and North Carolina's laws that inhibit municipal electric utilities from expanding. When Tennessee and North Carolina appealed the FCC decision, however, the appellate court determined that that states had the right to impose those laws on local communities and reversed the preemption.

Tennessee's current state law prevents municipal electric utilities that offer Internet access and/or video within their electric service area to expand beyond those geographical limits. These new bills propose removing the restrictions; they also contain a clause... Read more

Posted February 20, 2017 by lgonzalez

In January, Governor Bill Haslam announced that he and Senator Mark Norris would introduce legislation to provide grant funding and tax credits to private companies in order to expand rural connectivity in Tennessee. In a recent Knoxville News Sentinel, Christopher took another look at more subsidies to large private providers and how that strategy has worked out so far.

We've reprinted the op-ed here:

Christopher Mitchell: State needs better broadband, not subsidies

If you were tasked with improving the internet access across Tennessee, a good first start would be to examine what is working and what’s not. But when the General Assembly debates broadband, it frequently focuses on what AT&T and Comcast want rather than what is working.

Broadband expansion has turned into a perennial fight between Tennessee’s municipal broadband networks and advocates of better connectivity on one side and AT&T and Comcast on the other. On one side is a taxpayer-subsidized model, while the other depends solely on the revenues of those who choose to subscribe. But which is which?

AT&T has received billions of taxpayer dollars to build its networks, whereas Chattanooga, Tullahoma and Morristown, for example, financed their fiber-optic networks by selling revenue bonds to private investors and repaying them with revenues from their services. The big telephone companies are massively subsidized, whereas municipal networks have generally not used taxpayer dollars.

It is true that after it began building, Chattanooga received a Department of Energy one-time stimulus grant for $111 million, but that was actually less than AT&T is getting from just one federal program in Tennessee alone – over $125 million from the Connect America Fund. And most of the money to Chattanooga went into devices for its smart grid that have since led to massive job gains.

These community networks offer modern connectivity. Chattanooga offers 10,000 Mbps to anyone in its territory. AT&T is getting enormous checks from Uncle Sam to deliver 10 Mbps. Comcast will soon offer 1,000 Mbps, but only for downloads. If you are a small business trying to upload lots of data, Comcast won’t get you there.

According to a 2016 Consumer Reports study, Comcast and AT&T were among the most hated companies across the board. Chattanooga’s Electric... Read more

Posted February 13, 2017 by lgonzalez

Virginia publication, Bacon’s Rebellion, recently published an opinion piece written by Christopher on HB 2108, a bill introduced by Del. Kathy Byron. If passed, the bill will make it even more difficult for local communities to take control of their own connectivity. We’ve reproduced the op-ed here:

Virginia Is for Lovers, Not Lobbyists

Pop quiz: Should the state create or remove barriers to broadband investment in rural Virginia? Trick question. The answer depends very much on who you are – an incumbent telephone company or someone living every day with poor connectivity.

If you happen to be a big telephone company like CenturyLink or Frontier, you have already taken action. You wrote a bill to effectively prevent competition, laundered it through the state telephone lobbying trade organization, and had it sponsored by Del. Byron, R-Forest, in the General Assembly. That was after securing tens of millions of dollars from the federal government to offer an Internet service so slow it isn’t even considered broadband anymore. Government is working pretty well for you.

If you are a business or resident in the year 2017 without high quality Internet access, you should be banging someone’s door down – maybe an elected official, telephone/electric co-op, or your neighbor to organize a solution. You need more investment, not more barriers. Government isn’t working quite as well for you.

Rural Virginia is not alone. Small towns and farming communities across America are recognizing that they have to take action. The big cable and telephone companies are not going to build the networks rural America needs to retain and attract businesses. The federal government was essential in bringing electricity and basic phone service to everyone. But when it came to broadband, the big telephone companies had a plan to obstruct and prevent and plenty of influence in D.C.

When the Federal Communications Commission set up the Connect America Fund, they began giving billions of dollars to the big telephone companies in return for practically nothing. By 2020, these companies have to deliver a connection doesn’t even qualify as broadband. CenturyLink advertises 1000/1000 Mbps in many urban areas but gets big subsidies to deliver 10/1 Mbps in rural areas. Rural America has been sold out.

If you are a big cable or telephone company, you have a lot of influence in the federal and state capitals. But at the... Read more

Posted February 11, 2017 by lgonzalez

Rights-of-Way rules vary from state to state and local policies can also influence how the publicly owned spaces are managed. Throw utility poles into the mix and the situation is even more complex. In order to help local communities get started on investigating pole attachment requirements in their states, Next Century Cities has published a Guide to Pole Attachments.

From the guide:

Utility poles have become one of the great battlegrounds in the effort to expand next-generation Internet network infrastructure deployment. Pole access determines whether a new provider is able to easily and cost effectively bring broadband infrastructure to a community. This in turn plays a significant role in the level of competition, and the services available to local businesses and residents. However, gaining access to these poles is often a long, difficult, and expensive process, making the barrier to entry incredibly high.

In addition to offering basics organized by state, the guide supplies information on One Touch Make Ready (OTMR) and FCC regulations. There are links to authorities you can use as starting points in your research, including FCC Report and Orders, state statutes, and policy papers. If you find yourself searching out pole attachment information on a regular basis, the guide is worth a bookmark. 

Posted February 4, 2017 by htrostle

The Colorado Senate Business, Labor, & Technology Committee will soon consider the proposed repeal of the state’s restriction on municipal networks. Under current state law, known as SB 152, local governments are not permitted to pursue a municipal network without first holding a referendum.

The Senate Business, Labor, & Technology committee will hold a hearing on the bill on February 13, 2017 at 2 p.m. The full text of the proposed repeal can be found on the Colorado General Assembly’s website.

Accepting Remote Testimony

Folks around Colorado can make their opinion heard without having to trek to the capitol. The committee will accept remote testimony on the issue. Those who wish to speak must register online in advance and choose from specific locations that have reliable connectivity. All of the remote testimony locations are colleges: Adams State, Mesa State, Fort Lewis College, Otero Junior College, and Trinidad State.  

Save Money, Restore Local Control

Senators Kerry Donovan and Lucia Guzman proposed SB 42 to repeal the onerous requirements of SB 152 and to restore local control to the city and county governments. Several communities that Senator Donovan represents have already held expensive referenda on the issue, and all have reclaimed local authority.

At this point, more than a third of all counties in the state have “opted out” of SB 152. To learn more about the state restriction and how almost one hundred communities have restored local authority, listen to the the Building Local Power podcast Episode 5

Posted February 1, 2017 by lgonzalez

Friends of Municipal Broadband are asking citizens who want the state to improve connectivity in Virginia to attend a hearing of the House Commerce and Labor Committee tomorrow, Feb. 2nd. They want Virginians to speak out against HB 2108, affectionately known as “Byron’s Bad Broadband Bill.”

As we reported last week, Governor Terry McAuliffe recognized the failings of the bill that would effectively put an end to local control of high-quality Internet access options. He threatened to veto it in its original form, so its sponsor and telecom industry darling Del. Kathy Byron revised the bill and removed it from the Jan. 26th agenda. She requested the committee take up the revision at tomorrow’s hearing, scheduled for 30 minutes after the close of Session.

Meeting Prep

Friends of Municipal Broadband has kept a close eye on the bill and its movement through the legislature. They’ve prepared a press packet, made available a detailed legal analysis, and arranged a press conference so local officials and representatives from potential private sector partners could comment.

They’ve prepared some talking points on the revised edition:

The new version of HB 2108 removes ALL FOIA exemptions related to municipal broadband. It also includes a number of duplicative line items to address issues that are already covered in existing code. 

This means that:

  • We won’t be able to protect our customers proprietary information, security protocols, and expansion plans
  • Competitors in the private sector will have access to every operating detail, strategy, and growth plan for our municipal networks
  • Standard Industry Contracts will no longer be able to be negotiated on a case by case basis.... Read more
Posted January 30, 2017 by lgonzalez

Even after constituent calls and emails, and a threat from Governor McAuliffe to veto her bad broadband bill, Del. Kathy Byron is trying to shove through her anti-competitive HB 2108. The legislation will prove fatal for local telecommunications authority if it passes. The revised bill is up for a vote in the House Labor and Commerce Committee on Thursday, February 2nd; Byron is Vice-Chair of the Committee.

Here's The New Bill; Same As The Old Bill

If you’re curious to see the text of the new draft, it is now available on Virginia’s Legislative Information System (LIS). If you’re expecting something better than the original text, you will be disappointed. This version holds on to provisions that Byron’s influential friends in the telecommunications industry need to intimidate and lock out competition.

The revised bill still dictates rules on pricing for municipal networks and imposes heavy-handed transparency rules that put any proposal at a disadvantage. The aim is to discourage potential private sector partners who may wish to work with local governments. The new draft maintains broad enforcement provisions, which large, anti-competitive providers exploit as a delay tactic to bury a publicly owned project before it even starts.

Like it’s predecessor, it’s painfully obvious that this version of HB 2108 is a AT&T sponsored tool to scare off any competition.

Another Bad Review

On Friday, the Virginia Pilot joined a growing number of state media outlets, local governments, companies, and industry associations condemning the bill. Like others across Virginia who want every option to improve connectivity, the Pilot recognizes that municipal networks an important possibility. They also recognize that large corporate providers, such as AT&T, obtain a certain amount of protection from legislators like Byron, which is reflected in the... Read more

Posted January 30, 2017 by lgonzalez

As bills in Virginia and Missouri state legislatures are up for review this year, take a few minutes to listen to Christopher Mitchell and Lisa Gonzalez discuss state preemption, past, present, and future in episode 10 of the Building Local Power podcast

John Farrell from the Institute for Local Self-Reliance talks to them about the power of lobbying at the state level and how large national providers aim to control the market by using state laws. We’ve seen it happen in about 20 states and now local authority advocates are fighting to prevent HB 2108 ("Byron’s Bad Broadband Bill") in Virginia and a repeat of last year’s battle in Missouri with SB 186. If those state restrictions are allowed to become law, better connectivity for rural communities will be even more difficult to achieve because municipal networks will be all but stamped out. 

“These big cable and telephone companies are against competition,” says Chris Mitchell. “For them, they’ve grown up in monopoly environments. They are opposed to private-sector competition and public-sector competition.”

During the interview, Christopher and Lisa share examples of cost savings, economic development, and improved quality of life in communities where the big providers could not justify investment. Learn more about the who, what, and why companies like AT&T, Comcast, and CenturyLink spend millions on lobbying efforts in state capitols.

Building Local Power Podcast

logo-Building-Local-Power-Podcast.png

This is episode 10 of the Building Local Power podcast, a series that shares the work of staff at the Institute and focuses on local initiatives. With the current state of affairs so uncertain at the federal level, taking action in your own community is more important than ever. New episodes air every other week.

Check out... Read more

Posted January 26, 2017 by lgonzalez

Governor Terry McAuliffe is one of a many voices that are speaking out against Del. Kathy Byron’s Bad Broadband Bill, reports the Roanoke Times. According to a spokesman for the Governor, the original text of the bill would have faced certain veto.

The bill was on the January 26th agenda for the House Labor and Commerce Committee, but Del. Byron chose not to present it after all. Instead, it will be on the February 2nd agenda.

The bill was altered before today’s hearing, but the changes still don’t make it worth passing. As it was before, HB 2108 remains the latest big telephone and cable lobbyists' attempt to restrict municipalities from exercising their own local authority. The purpose is to body-block any current or future competition from publicly owned networks and stop public-private partnerships. They want to maintain existing monopolies. 

Governor McAuliffe recognized it and his staffer Brian Coy told the Times via email:

“The Governor is working hard to expand access to broadband Internet across the Commonwealth,” Coy wrote. “That goal requires fostering competition, not stifling it.”

McAuliffe echoed the sentiments of a long list of experts, private companies, and associations who joined together and drafted a letter to the Chair and Members of the Committee. In the letter, they explained why HB 2108 would harm Virginia’s efforts to improve access to fast, affordable, reliable connectivity, especially in the rural areas.

Even those staunch free-market advocates are poo-pooing HB 2108. The Daily Yonder quoted conservative blogger Susan Sili about the bill:

“This is completely frustrating from a local perspective where we have spent years trying to convince citizens in Caroline [County] to vote for less government and free enterprise in a blue county. This kind of U-turn from our creed certainly isn’t helping.”

... Read more
Posted January 25, 2017 by lgonzalez

On January 26th, one half hour after the House adjourns, the Virginia House Commerce and Labor Committee will hear HB 2108, known around our office as “Byron’s Bad Broadband Bill.” We encourage you to contact members of the committee to let them know that the bill is not good for bringing better connectivity to Virginia, especially in rural areas. It’s another piece of legislation written by big cable and telco lobbyists aimed at blocking competition.

If you live in Virginia or one of the Delegates on the Committee represents your district, be sure to mention that you vote. 

Members of the House Commerce and Labor Committee and their contact information are listed on the Committee website. They provide email and phone numbers all in one place.

This Bill...Not Our Kind Of Bill

As we noted when we first reported on the bill, Byron is Vice-Chair of this committee. We’ve also reflected on her position as Chair of the Virginia Broadband Advisory Council and why on earth she would introduce bills that are counter productive to the mission of the Council - to offer advice and solutions aimed at improving broadband access across the state. The chemistry between the citizen members of the Council and the Legislative members assigned to the committee call into question the reasoning behind the content of HB 2108. Phil Dampier recently wrote a compelling article on the situation in Stop the Cap.

Keep It Simple

The bill has been the subject of much derision in the local and national press, but if Virginia House Republicans are determined to test it in Committee, they should be prepared for constituent phone calls and emails. As a reminder, contact with Legislators about their bills are most effective when they focus on the content of the bill and... Read more

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