Tag: "state laws"

Posted July 4, 2017 by htrostle

On the border of Tennessee and Kentucky, an electric cooperative looks to a more connected future. The Tri-County Electric Cooperative that operates across state lines is preparing to build a state-of-the-art network for high-speed Internet service throughout Trousdale County, Tennessee. This will be the first year of construction for the cooperative after several years of planning.

Tri-County Electric plans to soon begin services to Trousdale County, the smallest county in Tennessee. Many of the county's 8,000 residents' choice is limited to Comcast and AT&T, and Tri-County Electric's Vice-President and General Manager Paul Thompson noted that people in the county often only subscribe to about 6 Mbps download and 1 Mbps upload. With a steady membership base of 50,000 spread across two states and a close relationship with the county, the electric co-op is in a good position to move forward with the Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) project. The cooperative intends to offer an affordable base package that provides faster, more reliable connectivity than what the incumbents are willing to offer the rural communities.

Funding From The Feds

Since 2014, Tri-County Electric Cooperative has actively pursued financing for a FTTH network in the county. The co-op applied for a grant through the Rural Broadband Experiments program managed by the Federal Communications Commission. They did not receive any funding, but the process resulted in a tangible plan.

The process of applying for the grant built up community support for the project and enabled the co-op to identify key assets. As part of the grant application, they noted which census blocks they expected to connect and what community anchor institutions, such as schools, libraries, and government buildings, could be included. The Trousdale County government even passed a resolution giving explicit permission for Tri-County Electric to build and operate a FTTH network. 

Although Tri-County Electric Cooperative did not receive that grant, the co-op continued to pursue different avenues for funding. This year, the co-op received a... Read more

Posted June 30, 2017 by lgonzalez

It’s been a long road for Pinetops, North Carolina, as they’ve sought better connectivity in their rural community. After dramatic ups and downs, the community seems to have finally found a tepid resolution. Greenlight can, for now, continue to serve Pinetops.

With Conditions

On June 28th, the General Assembly passed HB 396, which allows Wilson’s municipal network, Greenlight, to continue to provide gigabit connectivity to the town and to Vick Family Farms but establishes conditions. If or when another provider brings Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) service to Pinetops, Wilson has 30 days to end service as customers transition to the new provider. Until a different provider comes to Pinetops, Greenlight will continue to offer its gigabit connectivity to the approximately 600 households and premises in the community of about 1,300 people.

In addition to premises in the town of Pinetops, Greenlight is serving Vick Family Farm, a local potato manufacturer. When the business obtained access to high-quality Internet access, they were able to expand their business internationally; they invested in a high tech distribution facility. The facility requires the kind of capacity they can only get from Greenlight.

Community leaders in Pinetops are relieved they don’t have to give up fiber connectivity, but they’re happy with the service they get with Greenlight and would rather stick with the muni.

“Although not the solution we expected, we are pleased this bill allows us to continue to leverage Greenlight’s next generation infrastructure as we focus on growing our community,” said [Town Commissioner Suzanne] Coker-Craig. “Hopefully, no other provider will exercise the option to build redundant infrastructure that our community neither wants nor needs. Pinetops has made it clear that we want the quality and speed of service that only Greenlight can provide.”

Read the text of the bill here.

What A Long, Strange Trip It’s Been... Read more

Posted May 8, 2017 by lgonzalez

Seattle is the latest local government taking steps to protect citizens’ data. As of May 24th, companies with franchise agreements allowing them to operate in the city must obtain customer permission to sell personal data or browsing histories.

The three companies operating in Seattle are Comcast, CenturyLink and Wave Broadband.

Opting In vs. Opting Out

In Seattle, the rule will require customers to opt-in to allow companies to collect and sell their data, unlike the usual situation - opting out to refrain. 

“We felt that an opt-out process was insufficient,” said Michael Mattmiller, the city’s chief technology officer. “Consumers are too busy to somehow learn through the fine print that your web usage is being mined or sold.”

To remain in compliance with the new rule, companies must submit semi-annual reports. 

State Efforts Uncertain

The state is still considering passing a similar bill but Seattle isn’t waiting for Olympia to act first. Minnesota’s privacy protection amendment was removed from the omnibus jobs bill in conference committee and faces an uncertain future; acting at the municipal level appears to be most likely to stick.

Tacoma's City Council passed a resolution in April to heighten personal data privacy on the publicly owned Click! network.

Read Seattle's new rule for Internet service providers here.

Posted April 25, 2017 by lgonzalez

Maine is the latest battleground for local telecommunications authority. A bill in the state’s House of Representatives threatens to halt investment in “The Pine Tree State” at a time when local communities are taking steps to improve their own connectivity.

"I Do Not Think It Means What You Think It Means"

Rep. Nathan Wadsworth (R-Hiram) introduced HP 1040; it has yet to be assigned to a committee. Like most other bills we’ve seen that intend to protect the interests of the big national incumbent providers, this one also has a misleading title: “An Act To Encourage Broadband Development through Private Investment.” Realistically, the bill would result in less investment by discouraging a whole sector - local communities - from making Internet infrastructure investment. 

Large national companies have thus far chosen not to invest in many Maine communities because, especially in the rural areas, they just aren’t densely populated. In places like Islesboro and Rockport, where residents and businesses needed better connectivity to participate in the 21st century economy, locals realized waiting for the big incumbents was too big a gamble. They exercised local authority and invested in the infrastructure to attract other providers for a boost to economic development, education, and quality of life.

Not The Way To Do This

If HP 1040 passes, the community will first have to meet a laundry list of requirements before they can exercise their right to invest in broadband infrastructure.

HP 1040 contains many of the same components we see in similar bills. Municipalities are only given permission to offer telecommunications services if they meet those strict requirements: geographic restrictions on service areas, strict requirements on multiple public hearings including when they will be held and what will be discussed, the content and timelines of feasibility studies, and there must be a referendum.

The bill also dictates financial requirements regarding bonding, pricing, and rate changes. Municipalities cannot receive distributions under Maine’s universal service fund.

As one of the remaining states... Read more

Posted April 19, 2017 by christopher

As we continue to cover the growing movement of rural electric cooperatives to bring high quality Internet networks to their members, we wanted to bring Alyssa Clemsen-Roberts back on the show. Alyssa was last on the show for episode 109 and has since moved from the Utilities Telecom Council to Pedernales Electric Co-op in Texas.

Though Pedernales is not considering a major broadband investment, Alyssa's insights from her years working with many electric utilities are valuable in understanding what electric co-ops have to consider before making a network investment. 

We start off by discussing the recent legislation in Tennessee that finally allows electric co-ops to offer Internet access before we move on to the real considerations a general manager has to examine before getting into telecom. We also talk quite a bit about the interplay between rural electric co-ops and telecommunications companies.

Read the transcript of the show.

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Thanks to Break the Bans for the music. The song is Escape and is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution (3.0) license.

Posted April 7, 2017 by htrostle

This spring, two more communities in Colorado reclaimed the authority to build municipal networks. Colorado Springs and Central City voted to opt out of SB 152, a state law that removed local telecommunications authority in 2005.

Voters overwhelmingly chose to restore local authority to make decisions for themselves. Now the cities can discuss if a community network is right for them.

Quick Count

The Denver Business Journal covered the outcome of these April votes - noting the strong showing in rural Central City. The referendum to “opt out” of SB 152 easily passed in the small community; of the 182 ballots, 162 folks voted yes for local control [pdf]. That means 89 percent of the voters were in favor of the measure. 

In the much larger, urban community of Colorado Springs, the Colorado Springs Independent described a much tigher vote: 61 percent to 39 percent in favor of local authority. That’s about 50,000 yes votes to 32,000 no votes. Voters also decided another related ballot initiative concerning the sale of city infrastructure. Assets related to city utilities, such as water, electricity or telecom, now cannot be sold without the approval of a supermajority of 60 percent of votes cast in a referendum. 

Nearly 100 Communities Say YES

These two communities join the nearly 100 communities that have already restored local authority. Last November, 26 other communities also voted to opt out of the law. More communities may join this growing movement this fall. 

 

Posted April 6, 2017 by lgonzalez

When Alabama State Sen. Tom Whatley from Auburn spoke with OANow in late March, he described his bill, SB 228, as a “go-to-war bill.” The bill would have allowed Opelika Power Services (OPS) to expand its Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) services to his community. On Wednesday, April 5th, his colleagues in the Senate Transportation and Energy Committee decided to end the conflict in favor of AT&T and its army of lobbyists.

The final vote, according to the committee legislative assistant, was 7 - 6 against the bill. She described the vote as bipartisan, although the roll call isn’t posted yet, so we have not been able to confirm.

According to Whatley:

“AT&T has hired 26 lobbyists to work against me on that bill. It really aggravates me because I have boiled one bill down to where it only allows Opelika to go into Lee County. It cuts out the other counties.”

Whatley has introduced several bills this session and in previous legislative sessions to allow OPS to expand beyond the state imposed barriers to offer services in Lee County. Alabama law doesn’t allow OPS, or any other municipal provider, to offer advanced telecommunications services outside city limits. SB 228 would allow Opelika and others (described as a “Class 6 municipalities”) to offer services throughout the counties in which they reside. A companion bill in the House, HB 375, is sitting in the House Commerce and Small Business Committee.

Rep. Joe Lovvorn, who introduced HB 375 agrees with Whatley:

“If it doesn't make sense for a large corporation to go there, that's OK that's their choice,” he said. “But they don't have the right to tell, in my opinion with my bill, the city of Opelika they can't serve them either.”

AT&T’s lobbyists aren’t the only big... Read more

Posted March 31, 2017 by lgonzalez

After elected officials in Washington, D.C., voted to allow ISPs to invade their customers’ privacy online, leaders in Minnesota took steps to protect constituents. A recent amendment in St. Paul may be setting some new rules for ISPs operating in the Land of 10,000 Lakes.

Taking Action In Minnesota

Both the state House and Senate approved omnibus bill amendments that prevent ISPs from collecting the personal data resulting from customer use of the Internet. The Senate amendment language, introduced by Ron Latz, reads like this:

No telecommunications or internet service provider that has entered into a franchise agreement, right-of-way agreement, or other contract with the state of Minnesota or a political subdivision, or that uses facilities that are subject to such agreements, even if it is not a party to the agreement, may collect personal information from a customer resulting from the customer's use of the telecommunications or internet service provider without express written approval from the customer. No such telecommunication or internet service provider shall refuse to provide its services to a customer on the grounds that the customer has not approved collection of the customer's personal information.

The body voted 66 - 1 to adopt the language into the Senate omnibus jobs bill, SF 1937. In the House, an almost identical amendment was adopted into HF 2209, their economic development omnibus bill. The Senate version added the last sentence, preventing ISPs from denying service unless a customer allows their ISP to collect data.

After the amendment was included in the bill, Sen. Latz commented that the language was, “about standing up and saying that our online privacy rights are critically important.”

Latz's office told us that, since federal law is silent on this particular issue, the state may enact this... Read more

Posted March 29, 2017 by lgonzalez

West Virginia rural communities struggle with access to broadband but a bill in the state legislature is taking some first steps to encourage better connectivity. HB 3093 passed the House with wide support (97 - 2) and has been sent on to the Senate for review. The bill doesn’t appropriate any funding for Internet infrastructure projects around the state, but adopts some policies that may help local communities obtain better connectivity.

Revenue Neutral And Popular

The state is facing a $500 million budget deficit and lawmakers don't have the appetite to appropriate finds for Internet infrastructure projects. As in most states, policy bills do well during times of financial strife. Elected officials still want to do what they can to encourage better broadband so, according to at least one lawmaker, the revenue neutral nature of the bill has contributed to its success in the legislature. Delegate Roger Henshaw, one of the bill's co-sponsors, told Metro News:

“Notice this is a revenue-neutral bill,” Hanshaw said. “That’s in fact one of the reasons we’re rolling it out now. We have other bills here in both the House and Senate that are not revenue-neutral bills that were on the table for consideration.

“But with the clock ticking on us, it became clear that we probably ought to be looking at options to advance service that didn’t even have the possibility of a financial impact. This bill does not.”

Check out the 3-minute interview with Hanshaw on Soundcloud.

The Broadband Enhancement Council

West Virginia’s Broadband Enhancement Council was created in a previous session and receives more authority and responsibility under HB 3093. They are tasked with the authority to, among other things, gather comparative data between actual and advertised speeds around the state, to advise and provide consultation services to project sponsors, and make the public know about facilities that offer community broadband access. 

HB 3093 briefly addresses the creation of the “Broadband Enhancement Fund," and addresses how the funds should be spent. For now, the fund remains dry... Read more

Posted March 20, 2017 by htrostle

This is the transcript for Episode 244 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast. Christopher Mitchell speaks with Tom Stehn of West Plains, Missouri, on how the community is encouraging economic development. Listen to this episode here.

 

Tom Stehn: Businesses look to expand, move to other locations. There's usually five questions they ask, and one of them is always what kind of broadband do you have?

Lisa Gonzalez: This is episode 244 of the Community Broadband Bits Podcast from the Institute for Local Self-Reliance. I'm Lisa Gonzalez. West Plains, Missouri, located in the south central part of the state, is situated in the Ozarks, and known for its beautiful terrain, forests, and vistas. Despite attracting outdoor enthusiasts, the community has suffered some economic losses in recent years and is taking steps to boost economic development. Recently the city began offering high quality connectivity to local businesses. Tom Stehn, City Administrator, talks to Christopher this week about the city's foray into municipal Internet infrastructure. Tom describes how the city's plan to update municipal services led them to discover that local businesses also wanted better connectivity. He describes the city's project, their plan, and how they're starting out slowly to address any challenges they encounter along the way.

Christopher Mitchell: Hey everyone. I just wanted to thank you for listening and helping out to create a stronger Internet ecosystem, making sure everyone has high quality access. Please tell your friends, tell others who might be interested, about this show. If you have a chance to rate us on iTunes, please do. Several people already have. We really appreciate all of the comments, and we really appreciate you taking the time to listen to us.

Lisa Gonzalez: Now here's Tom Stehn, City Administrator, of West Plains, Missouri, talking with Christopher about the community's municipal fiber project.

Christopher Mitchell: Welcome to another edition of the Community Broadband Bits Podcast. I'm Chris Mitchell. Today I'm talking with Tom Stehn, the City Administrator of West Plains in Missouri. Welcome to the show.

Tom Stehn: Thank you, glad to be here... Read more

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