Tag: "state laws"

Posted December 26, 2018 by lgonzalez

We left our crystal ball, tarot cards, and astrology charts at home, but that won’t stop us from trying to predict what will happen in 2019 for this week’s annual predictions podcast. Each year, we reflect on the important events related to publicly owned broadband networks and local connectivity that occurred during the year and share our impressions for what we expect to see in the next twelve months. As usual, the discussion is spirited and revealing.

This year we saw the departures of Research Associate Hannah Trostle and Communications Manager Nick Stumo-Langer as both decided to head off to grad school. This year, you’ll hear our new Communications Specialist Jess Del Fiacco and Research Associate Katie Kienbaum keeping those seats warm. Hannah and Nick take time out of their schedules to offer some predictions of their own at the end of the show.

In addition to recaps of last year's predictions for state legislation, cooperative efforts, and preemption, we get into our expectations for what we expect to see from large, national incumbent ISPs, local private and member owned providers, and governments. We discuss federal funding, local organizing efforts and issues that drive them, concentration of power, our predictions for digital equity, efforts in big cities, open access, rural initiatives, and more. This podcast is packed with good stuff!

We want your feedback and suggestions for the show-please e-mail us or leave a comment below.

This show is 45 minutes long and can be played on this page or via iTunes or the tool of your choice using this feed. You can listen to the interview on this page or visit the...

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Posted December 19, 2018 by lgonzalez

In early December, the city of Cortez, Colorado, released a request for proposals in their search for a private sector partner to help bring last mile fiber connectivity to premises throughout the community. The city is seeking a way to bring high-quality Internet access to the entire community, but will not expand it’s municipal fiber infrastructure. They're looking for ways to overcome some of the same challenges other small communities face as they attempt to improve local connectivity to every premise.

At A Crossroads

Smith told us that the city is at a crossroads and community leaders think that a public-private partnership (P3) might be the quickest way to get the people of Cortez better services they’re looking for at the affordable rates they deserve. The city faces the challenge of funding the expansion. Approximately $1 million from the Colorado Department of Local Affairs (DOLA) funded the Cortez middle mile infrastructure and connections to community anchor institutions (CAIs), including schools, healthcare facilities, and municipal facilities. Cortez is not able to obtain more grant funding from DOLA for last mile expansion.

When we spoke with Smith in June 2018 for episode 310 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast, he described how the city was contemplating a sales tax to fund the expansion, rather than the more common revenue bond funding. Smith explains that, if Cortez decided to go that route, their decision would trigger Colorado’s Taxpayers’ Bill of Rights (TABOR) regulations. Due to the time requirements, any ballot measure on such a funding mechanism could not be voted on before 2020. Once the measure is on the ballot, the city would not be able to promote it in accordance with Colorado law. If Cortez decided to ask local voters to support funding Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) with a sales tax, says Smith, the city would have to wait 4 - 5 years before they could promote the service. A survey in Cortez revealed that 64 percent of respondents supported a sales tax to fund expansion of broadband infrastructure to households and more businesses, but community leaders aren't comfortable waiting so long to bring better connectivity that is so desperately needed...

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Posted October 19, 2018 by lgonzalez

Once again, restrictive state laws designed to help big ISPs maintain their monopolies have helped push a publicly owned network to privatization. Opelika, Alabama, recently announced that they will sell their OPS One fiber optic network to Point Broadband, headquartered in West Point, Georgia. They expect the deal to be finalized in early November.

The Road to Now

The city of Opelika installed the network to overcome poor services from Charter and to improve municipal electric services with smart grid applications. In 2010, Charter’s astroturf campaign to stop the network failed when local voters supported the ballot initiative to build the broadband infrastructure to allow the city to provide services. By 2014, Opelika Power Services (OPS) was making Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) available for residents and businesses; folks in the community were loving the service from Alabama’s “Gig City.”

Nearby communities still stuck with poor Internet access wanted OPS to serve them also and OPS wanted to add more subscribers, but state law prevents Opelika from expanding beyond their current coverage area. As in the case of Bristol, Virginia, when a state prevents a municipal network from growing and increasing revenue, the state makes it difficult for the network to remain sustainable.

Mayor Gary Fuller recently told WLTZ:

“We attempted on three occasions to get the legislature to [allow us to] expand beyond our city limits, into North Auburn and rural Lee County, Beauregard, and we could never do that because we couldn’t get the law changed.”

seal-alabama.png Each attempt to convince lawmakers that Opelika’s neighbors deserve more options than what the incumbents offer have evoked attacks from misinformation groups,...

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Posted October 2, 2018 by lgonzalez

While major media outlets cover news about California Governor Jerry Brown’s decision to sign the state’s network neutrality bill, we’re high-fiving his signature on AB 1999. On September 30th, Gov. Brown approved the bill that removes state restrictions limiting publicly owned options for rural Internet access. The change signifies what we hope to see more of - state action empowering local communities set on improving local connectivity.

We’ve been following the development of the bill, introduced by Assembly Member Ed Chau, since early this year when it began to make its way through committee. Christopher went to California in May to testify in support of the bill at a hearing of the Assembly Communications and Conveyance Committee.

Easing the Way for Rural Communities

AB 1999 focuses on the responsibilities and authority of community service districts (CSDs), created to provide necessary services. CSDs are independent local governments usually formed by residents in unincorporated areas for the purpose of providing the kinds of services city-dwellers often take for granted: water and wastewater management, trash collection, fire protection, etc. In keeping with the ability to raise funds for these services, CSDs have the authority to create enhanced infrastructure financing districts (EIFDs). CSDs are allowed to use EIFDs to fund development of Internet access infrastructure in the same way they would sewer infrastructure, or convert overhead utilities to underground, or other projects that deal with infrastructure and are in the public interest.

Prior to the adoption of AB 1999, however, a CSD would first have to engage in a process to determine that no person or entity was willing to provide Internet access before the CSD could offer it to premises. Additionally, if a private sector entity came along after the infrastructure was deployed and expressed a willingness to do so, the CSD had no choice by law but to sell or lease the infrastructure they had developed rather than operate it themselves.

With the passage of AB 1999, CSDs no longer need to adhere to those strict requirements.

When the California State Legislature chose to pass the...

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Posted September 21, 2018 by lgonzalez

People in Arkansas who depend on Medicaid for healthcare typically don’t have the option to sign-up for affordable health insurance through their jobs. Sometimes they aren’t able to find full-time positions that offer healthcare or they don’t earn enough to afford the premiums in addition to covering life expenses for their families. With so many people offline, either because they can’t afford to pay for connectivity or because they live in areas where there is no connectivity, Arkansas seems like a poor choice for mandatory online reporting of anything, especially activity that dictates eligibility for Medicare. 

State leaders didn’t see it that way, however, when they implemented the policy in June. Medicaid recipients who are able to work must now go online to report at least 80 hours per month of activity; if they fail to do so, they lose access to the state's expanded Medicaid program. The activity can include volunteer work, job training, or several other categories of activities. While the issue of attaching work requirements to Medicaid eligibility has already been deemed arbitrary and capricious by a U.S. District Court in Kentucky, the lack of Internet access appears to be contributing to Arkansas’s dubious efforts to trim its enrollment.

logo-Medicaid.jpgLack of Coverage Complicates

In a state where at least 30 percent of the population has access to only one Internet service provider (ISP) and approximately 20 percent depend on their smart phones for Internet access, the only way to report the new work-related requirement is online. Under the guide of cost savings, the state has not established any other method for reporting for those who don’t have access to the Internet.

In addition to an environment that lags in competition, 17 percent of...

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Posted August 21, 2018 by lgonzalez

One of the many states where legislators introduced broadband bills in 2018 was Ohio, where HB 378 appeared to offer a promising answer to funding rural broadband deployment. The bill obtained bipartisan support as it passed through several committees, but prior to the legislature's summer break, enthusiasm cooled.

Looking at Minnesota

HB 378 draws from the Minnesota Border-to-Border Broadband Program by allocating specific funding for deployment. The bill also creates an entity to manage the funding awards. In Ohio, lawmakers anticipated funding would draw from the state’s Ohio Third Frontier Program, which was originally established to assist tech start-ups. In April, HB 378 passed the House with support from both Democrats and Republicans and seemed on a positive track. Two Senate committees also heard SB 225, a companion bill to HB 378.

A second broadband bill, HB 281, addresses only rural last mile connectivity and came before one committee. HB 281 also appeared to have support, but leadership never fast tracked the legislation. HB 281 allocated only $2 million, a fraction of the $100 million required over two years for HB 378. With one generous broadband bill and one much smaller to choose from, experts were left scratching their heads as to why both bills seemed to stop dead in their tracks.

What’s the Hold-up?

Speculation as to why neither of the bills have been advanced further by House and Senate leadership swirls around Governor Kasich’s administration. Democrat Jack Cera believes that the plans for the Third Frontier Fund has held up the process. Cera and other suggest that Governor Kasich wants to focus Third Frontier Funds in other directions, such as smart highways and autonomous vehicles. As far as Cera and others are concerned, broadband for rural Ohio is the priority:

“I think there’s been some push back on it. I would suggest that if the administration and others don’t want to use that funding that we should move forward to use general fund monies on it. To me, it means that type of...

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Posted August 10, 2018 by lgonzalez

Lobbyists from the cable and telecom industry succeeded in using the legislature to firm up their rural Massachusetts monopolies this session. Communities that rely on state funds for local publicly owned broadband infrastructure projects now face restrictions on the reach of their high-speed networks.

A Long Trip Through the Legislature

Governor Charlie Baker’s economic development bill includes a provision designating funding for the Massachusetts Broadband Institute (MBI) and the Executive Office of Housing & Economic Development for broadband deployment. The agencies distribute the funds to various communities where residents and businesses plan to improve their local connectivity. Approximately 20 towns have decided to invest in publicly owned Internet infrastructure, including Alford, Otis, and Mount Washington, to name a few. Others are taking offers from Comcast and Charter, which will build out networks to more premises with state funding. 

Many of the rural communities who are going with the publicly owned option want to connect households and establishments within the town proper, but also what they describe as “edge” properties — those beyond town limits but have no other choice for broadband. Edge properties in western Massachusetts typically don’t have access to anything better than expensive and unreliable satellite or dial-up. Often, there are only a few “edge” properties in each community, but neighbors don’t want to leave anyone behind. 

Baker’s bill began its trip through the state legislature in March and, as is the case with typical large bills, went through numerous hearings along the way. Over the course of the legislative process, a question arose as to whether or not those rural towns wanting to serve edge properties would be able to use state funding to reach edge properties. In the original version of the bill, language specifically allowed municipalities the right to cross municipal borders to serve edge properties, but when the telecom industry opposed the language, it was removed in the House. The action left an ambiguous gap that Gail...

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Posted July 10, 2018 by lgonzalez

Death, taxes, and legislative drama are three of life’s certainties. Most recently, the drama unfolded in California as Democratic Sen. Scott Wiener has tried to pass state network neutrality protections after the FCC revoked federal law, leaving millions at the mercy of a broken market.

Coulda, Shoulda, Woulda

California is one of a long list of states that have in some way addressed the current lack of regulations regarding network neutrality. In addition to Executive Orders in six states, including Vermont and Montana, state legislatures in 29 states have introduced legislation that address some aspect of network neutrality. Oregon, Vermont, and Washington have adopted legislation. To see a comprehensive list of state bills across the country, check out the National Conference of State Legislatures’ website.

Wiener’s  SB 822 had been described as “the most comprehensive” of state legislation introduced since FCC Chairman Ajit Pai and the Republican Commissioners repealed federal network neutrality late last year. The bill passed in the Senate in late May, but amendments adopted during a contentious Communications and Conveyance Committee meeting in the Assembly transformed it into quite a different piece of legislation.

When the bill was at full strength in the Senate, it received the support of network neutrality advocates, including former FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler and the state’s Attorney General Xavier Becerra. Mayors from some of California’s largest cities have also endorsed SB 822. While the bill implemented the types of protections that past federal network neutrality provided, such as prohibiting paid prioritization and allowing equal access to all traffic on the Internet, SB 822 in its original form created additional protections. For example, the bill...

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Posted June 28, 2018 by lgonzalez

In May, Connecticut’s Public Utility Regulatory Agency (PURA) struck a blow at local authority when the ruled that communities could not use their protected utility pole space for municipal fiber deployment. Big cable and telephone companies cheered, broadband advocates and communities that need better connectivity decided to take action. Now, PURA faces lawsuits that challenge the decision from the Office of Consumer Counsel (OCC), the Connecticut Conference of Municipalities (CCM), and at least three local communities that just want high-quality Internet access.

Long Wait

The focus of the controversy is Connecticut’s Municipal Gain Space Law, which was first established in the early 1900s to guarantee municipalities the ability to hang telegraph wires. The municipal gain space is a location on all utility poles — publicly or privately owned — situated in the public right-of-way. After multiple law suits over the years in which cities and the state typically won, Connecticut’s legislature finally amended the language of the law to allow government entities to use the municipal gain space for “any use” in 2013.

Almost two years ago, we reported on the petition filed by the OCC and the State Broadband Office (SBO) with PURA asking for clarification on the law, which included establishing clear-cut rules on using the municipal gain space for fiber optic deployment. They felt the rules needed cleaning up because some incumbents in Connecticut were still finding ways to thwart competition and stop or delay plans for municipal fiber deployment. 

logo-PURA-ct.jpeg In addition to using restrictive pole attachment agreements, incumbents were exploiting the lack of definition in the statute to slow make-ready work, question who pays for make-ready work, and generally delay municipal projects. Time is money and losing momentum can drive up the cost of of a project, which in turn erodes a community's will to see it realized.

The Decision in Question

In addition to the petition that the OCC had filed, Frontier, the Communications Workers of America, and the New England Cable and...

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Posted June 26, 2018 by lgonzalez

The State of Colorado has made some changes in the past few years that are improving broadband deployment, especially in rural areas. In this episode of the podcast, Christopher talks about some of those changes with Tony Neal-Graves, Executive Director of the Colorado Broadband Office. While Christopher was in Vail at the Mountain Connect event, he and Tony sat down to have a conversation about broadband and deployment in Colorado.

In addition to discussing his shift from the private to public sector, Tony gets into changes in state law, including last session’s adjustments to Colorado’s right of first refusal. Tony describes what kinds of conversations he's had with local communities and acknowledges that Colorado communities are especially good at working together to solve connectivity issues. Chris and Tony also talk about the growing role of cooperatives and state versus FCC data collection. In addition to the Colorado Department of Local Affairs (DOLA), which helps fund local broadband deployment, Colorado seems to be making some smart moves that keep raising the bar on how to fast-track smart broadband deployment.

This show is 28 minutes long and can be played on this page or via iTunes or the tool of your choice using this feed.

You can download this mp3 file directly from here. Listen to other episodes here or view all episodes in our index.

Read the transcript for this show here....

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