Tag: "state laws"

Posted February 27, 2019 by lgonzalez

Earlier this month, we learned about a Senate bill in the Arkansas State Legislature that, in it’s original form, would have rescinded state restrictions preventing many municipalities from improving local connectivity. After amendments, SB 150 lost most of its effectiveness, but the bill that became law this week is still a small step in the right direction for a state where the rate of broadband connectivity is some of the lowest in the country.

Beginning Promise

For years, Arkansas has been one of the states that doesn’t allow government entities from providing broadband services to the public. The ban specifically disallowed “directly or indirectly, basic local exchange, voice, data, broadband, video, or wireless telecommunication service.” There has always been an exception to the ban for communities that have their own electric or cable utilities and want to offer telecommunications services. No municipality may offer basic exchange service, interpreted as telephone service.

Only a few communities have taken advantage of the legal exception, such as Paragould, Clarksville, and Conway. In recent years, electric cooperatives are deploying in rural areas, but many of the state’s rural residents rely on DSL, fixed wireless, and satellite. In the few more populous communities, there may also be scattered cable connections available. 

seal-arkansas.png Even though large incumbent ISPs have collected federal grant funding in the past, deployment in Arkansas has been inadequate to connect all Arkansans. According to the FCC, connectivity to households is near the bottom of the list.

SB 150 is one of several bills introduced by the Republican Woman’s Legislative Caucus as part of their “Dream Big” initiative. Other bills in the initiative...

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Posted February 26, 2019 by lgonzalez

Winter has not been kind this year. In addition to interrupting our kids’ learning with numerous snow days, stranding the Minnesota office in our homes due to dangerously cold weather, and interrupting our typically prolific workflow with day after day of shoveling, minor ice related traffic accidents, and sick kids, there’s one other unforgivable offense that rests square on the shoulders of Mother Nature: the cancellation of the D.C. screening of Do Not Pass Go. An impending winter storm forced the cancellation of the event, which was scheduled for February 20th. The organizers are ready to try again, however, and the new event date is March 26th, 2019, 5 - 7 p.m. The venue will be the same — the offices of the National League of Cities/National Association of Counties at 660 North Capitol Street NW.

Register for the free screening and the discussion.

The Coalition for Local Internet Choice (CLIC), Next Century Cities, the Institute for Local Self-Reliance (ILSR), and the National League of Cities (NLC), will lead the discussion about the film and the policies that influence the events of the film and the people living in Pinetops, North Carolina. 

Do Not Pass Go, a documentary by Cullen Hoback, tells the story of Pinetops, where the community finally obtained high-quality Internet access when their neighbor, Wilson, connected Pinetops to Greenlight. The Greenlight community fiber optic network later had to disconnect Pinetops, however, when the state chose to protect incumbents from competition. Hoback’s film tells the Pinetops story and examines how lack of competition has negatively impacted rural communities.

After the screening, the group will discuss regulatory and legislative barriers, and actions that local and federal government can adopt to help communities that consider municipal networks an option.

The panel will include:

  • Christopher Mitchell from ILSR
  • Terry Huval: Former Director, Lafayette Utilities System, Lafayette, LA
  • Suzanne Coker Craig...
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Posted February 7, 2019 by lgonzalez

Big cable and telecom lobbyists managed to locate a legislative vehicle for the components of last December's bill to fund rural broadband, locking out some of the state's most promising opportunities to bring better connectivity to those who need it the most. There’s still time for Michiganders to express displeasure and the result and possibly influence change. You can file a public comment online through February 15th.

The Problems

When we reported on Michigan’s HB 5670 in December, it was set to appear before the House Communications and Technology Committee. Prior to the hearing, however, Chair Michele Hoitenga removed it from the agenda. Regular readers will remember Hoitenga, whose support from cable and telecom companies has inspired her to introduce anti-muni legislation in the past.

The bill, dubbed the “Broadband Investment Act,” established a fund to provide grants for infrastructure deployment, but specifically locked out municipalities and other government entities from eligibility. Consequentially, local ISPs that might want to provide services via publicly owned fiber were also stifled from projects because this provision essentially ended the possibility of public-private partnerships or any competition with large incumbents.

According to the language of HB 5670, “broadband” was defined as 10 Megabits per second (Mbps) download and 1 Mbps upload. While we have seen state broadband legislation from several years ago falling back upon this outdated definition of “broadband,” Michigan condemns rural residents to slow, unreliable, last-century technology. It indicates a thinly veiled attempt to hand over state funds to telecom companies with no interest in providing anything better than what they already offer in rural Michigan — DSL or satellite Internet access.

Language in the bill also goes to extreme lengths to ensure that funds will only go to projects that have not received funding from any other source. What will prevent many projects from ever receiving funds, unless those projects are being developed by big corporate incumbents, is the fact that funds can’t be awarded to projects in places where...

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Posted February 5, 2019 by lgonzalez

The story of tiny Pinetops, North Carolina, and how large corporations blocked their ability to obtain high-quality Internet access from a nearby municipal network comes to life in Do Not Pass Go, a documentary by Cullen Hoback. On February 20th, you can attend a screening of the film and stay for the discussion after. The event will be in Washington, D.C., at the office of the National League of Cities/National Association of Counties from 5 - 7 p.m.

Register for the free screening and discussion.

Join the Coalition for Local Internet Choice (CLIC), Next Century Cities, the Institute for Local Self-Reliance (ILSR), and the National League of Cities (NLC), who will be guiding the discussion about the film and the policies that come into play. The group will discuss regulatory and legislative barriers, and actions that local and federal government can adopt to help communities that consider municipal networks an option.

After the screening, a panel discussion will include:

  • Christopher Mitchell from ILSR
  • Terry Huval: Former Director, Lafayette Utilities System, Lafayette, LA
  • Joanne Hovis: Co-Founder and CEO, Coalition for Local Internet Choice; President, CTC Technology & Energy
  • Dr. Christopher Ali: Assistant Professor, Department of Media Studies, University of Virginia; Faculty Fellow, Benton Foundation; Fellow, World Economic Forum
  • Suzanne Coker Craig:Managing Director, CuriosiTees of Pinetops LLC; former Commissioner, Pinetops, NC

Following the panel discussion, the Networking Reception will allow participants to continue the conversation and share their individual experiences.

Register online for the free D.C. screening.

Pinetops, Wilson, and Greenlight

Greenlight, Wilson’s municipal Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) network has created benefits for folks in Wilson since 2008. Pinetops and other neighbors have asked Wilson to expand in order to take advantage of the fast, affordable, reliable Internet access but state law prevented Wilson from serving beyond...

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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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