Tag: "state laws"

Posted September 25, 2020 by Ry Marcattilio-...

Last December we wrote about Connecticut’s long-awaited victory by court affirmation in the fight to let its cities attach to utility poles at no cost in pursuit of spurring municipal broadband efforts. A similar effort seems to have stalled in its neighbor to the north, with HD 4492 languishing in the Massachusetts Legislature’s Telecommunications, Utilities and Energy Committee. 

The bill, “An Act To Establish Municipal Access To Utility Poles Located In Municipal Rights-Of-Way,” is simple. It modifies Chapter 166, Section 22a of the state’s General Laws to eliminate pole attachment fees for cities working to build broadband networks to reach “unserved or underserved areas” (as defined by the Massachusetts Broadband Institute (MBI)), shifting the expense instead to the current pole owner(s). John Barrett introduced the bill and two dozen fellow legislators co-signed it. It calls for: 

Notwithstanding any provision of law to the contrary, for the purpose of safeguarding access to infrastructure essential to public health, safety and welfare, an owner of a shared-use pole and each entity attaching to that pole is responsible for that owner's or entity's own expenses for make-ready work to accommodate a municipality's attaching its facilities to that shared-use pole: a) For a governmental purpose consistent with the police power of the municipality; or b) For the purpose of providing broadband service to an unserved or underserved area.

Up in the Air

For parts of the country where aerial fiber sits at the core of network builds as a result of challenges posed by underlying geology (bedrock), overlying geography (topography), or other concerns that preempt underground construction, utility poles are the answer. Massachusetts has more than a million of them, and for projects just navigating the franchise areas of electric utility pole owners [pds] alone could be a daunting task. Getting timely, affordable access for make-ready work is an obstacle which can easily stall and kill a broadband project even when the...

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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 August 6, 2020 by Ry Marcattilio-...

Cooperatives have been doing a lot over the last few months to advance connectivity efforts around the country. That trend is continuing in Virginia, where Prince George Electric Cooperative (PGEC) and Northern Neck Electric Cooperative (NNEC) have announced partnerships with utility provider Dominion Energy to expand broadband access to thousands living and working in rural areas in the state. 

The two projects represent over nearly $32 million in total investment, with money coming from the counties, the electric cooperatives, the investor-owned utility, and the state. 

Innovative Partnerships 

The first-of-its-kind agreement between PGEC and Dominion Energy was originally announced last February, and aimed at a combined 6,700 residents in Surry County. Dominion will serve as the middle-mile provider, and is already installing fiber as part of upgrades to its grid management. It will lease that fiber to RURALBAND, PGEC’s broadband subsidiary, which will then be responsible for building last-mile connections to homes and businesses and acting as the retail service provider. 2,200 of those receiving Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) connections will be existing customers of PGEC, with the other 4,500 customers of Dominion. In total, the project is projected to cost between $16 and $18 million. 

“This partnership brings rural Surry County into the modern communications age, bridging a vital utility gap through reliable high-speed broadband services to residents and businesses, essential to Surry’s social and economic prosperity,” said Surry’s Acting County Administrator Melissa Rollins in a press release.

The second project, announced at the end of July, will take place in the Northern Neck region and include King George, Northumberland, Richmond, and Westmoreland counties. Currently, those living on the southern shore of the peninsula are worst off,...

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Posted August 3, 2020 by Ry Marcattilio-...

Granite Staters with poor Internet access in rural areas should soon realize the benefit of HB 1111, which just passed the state legislature and was signed into law by the governor. The measure provides for the establishment of communications districts to pursue Internet infrastructure projects in New Hampshire. In addition, the law makes it easier for municipalities to determine which areas under their purview are unserved in order to target broadband expansion efforts and expand access to all. 

Removing Barriers, Providing New Tools 

Two years ago SB 170 passed the legislature, allowing communities in the state to bond to develop publicly owned Internet infrastructure for the first time. The bill, however, made such moves contingent upon proving that the proposed areas were “unserved” by a connection of 25/3 megabits per second (Mbps). To do so local governments were required to issue an RFI to the existing Internet Service Provider (ISP). At the time we anticipated trouble with existing providers who had a history of claiming service to large areas when the reality was that many were unserved, and it turns out that worry was well-founded: communities reported that ISPs were ignoring requests for information, making it difficult for them to make progress. 

HB 1111 changes that. If an RFI to a provider goes unanswered for 60 days, it is assumed the latter is unable to deliver broadband. Municipalities can then come together and form communications districts which have the authority to use general obligation bonds to fund an overbuild of the area and seek out public-private partnerships to provide new service.

“Access to consistent broadband and high-speed internet was a problem long before this crisis and the remote learning, work, and health care environment has only exacerbated those inequities,” State Senator Jay Kahn told news outlets. “As we prepare for the possibility of a second wave, we must take steps that efficiently use public funds to leverage private investment to deliver high-...

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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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