Tag: "state laws"

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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Posted May 7, 2020 by Katie Kienbaum

The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) has worked for many years to protect privacy and civil liberties online and to support technological innovation and widespread Internet access.

Ernesto Falcon, Senior Legislative Counsel at EFF, speaks with Christopher for this episode of the Community Broadband Bits podcast. After explaining EFF's mission, Ernesto shares his background and how he got involved in the organization, before moving on to describe some of their policy efforts in California. The pair discuss EFF's involvement in repealing California's state law that had restricted municipal broadband networks. Christopher notes how AT&T has historically had a strong hold over Democrats in the state legislature, and Ernesto explains how EFF is working to counter that influence.

Ernesto and Christopher also talk about the California Advanced Services Fund and how State Bill 1130 would improve the program to bring better quality Internet access to more Californians. In particular, Ernesto points to the importance of symmetrical speeds and of designing policies that look to the future of connectivity. This has been highlighted by the Covid-19 public health crisis, and the two explore how the California Public Utilities Commission could help enable distance learning and respond to other urgent connectivity needs.

For more from EFF, listen to episode 145 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast.

This show is 30 minutes long and can be played on this page or ...

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Posted May 6, 2020 by Katie Kienbaum

In response to the increased reliance on connectivity precipitated by the Covid-19 pandemic, the Minnesota Legislature is working on legislation to improve access to broadband, online education, and telehealth services throughout the state.

The Senate passed their version of the bipartisan funding bill, SF 4494, earlier this week, and the House has two similar pieces of legislation, HF 1507 and HF 3029, currently under consideration. If the bills are passed and signed into law, there would be a total of $20 million to $27 million (depending on how the different versions are reconciled) available in grants to support distance learning, telemedicine programs, and broadband deployment. Bill authors designed the legislation to prioritize the use of federal money for the grant programs before pulling from the state’s general fund.

Broadband Bills in House and Senate

The Minnesota Senate passed its version of the legislation, SF 4494, on May 4 in a unanimous vote. Representatives in the House have rolled the grant programs into a larger coronavirus relief package that is under consideration, HF 1507. This is in addition to keeping a separate House bill with the broadband funding provisions, HF 3029, alive in case HF 1507 fails to pass.

The bills direct grant funding to three connectivity issues: connecting students for distance education, expanding access to telemedicine services, and deploying broadband networks in unserved areas. To facilitate online education during the pandemic, the bills would make $8 million (SF 4494 and HF 3029) or $15 million (HF 1507) available in grants to schools through the state Department of Education to fund the distribution of devices like hotspots and to reimburse the cost of...

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Posted March 4, 2020 by lgonzalez

In September 2019, we interviewed Kathryn DeWit from the Broadband Initiative at the Pew Charitable Trusts about their State Broadband Policy Explorer. The tool documents state laws aimed at expanding broadband access. Now, the group has released a reported titled, How States Are Expanding Broadband Access, that examines developments in nine states where broadband availability has improved after implementing state efforts. The report dives into what those states are doing that works and makes recommendations to emulate those policies and repeat that positive trajectory.

Read the full report here.

All Hands on Deck

One of the primary discoveries from the report is that states are using many technologies and funding approaches to bring high-quality Internet access to those who have been left behind. Like other projects that involved multiple stakeholders and public funding, Pew learned that building broadband support and requiring accountability are factors that contribute to success.

Pew examined efforts in California, Colorado, Maine, North Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia, West Virginia, and Wisconsin. They also looked at Minnesota, where the Border to Border Development Grant Broadband Program provides funding for projects in areas where connectivity is slow and unreliable or where people have no service options at all. In Minnesota, notes the report, the state has established measurable and increasing speed goals and allows funding to flow to a broad range of recipients, including local governments, rural cooperatives, tribal governments, and large corporate Internet access providers.

minnesota-loon_2.png Minnesota also provides a challenge process, which has been used by some of the larger ISPs in the past to delay plans for community-centered projects,...

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Posted February 26, 2020 by lgonzalez

As state lawmakers debate in committee rooms and Capitol chambers around the country, various broadband and Internet network infrastructure bills are appearing on agendas. Some are good news for local communities interested in developing publicly owned networks while other preemption bills make projects more difficult to plan, fund, and execute. We've gathered together some notable bills from several states that merit watching - good, bad, and possibly both.

New Hampshire

For years, local communities were not allowed to bond to develop publicly owned broadband infrastructure in New Hampshire. Last year, the state adopted SB 170, which opened the door a crack so that municipalities can bond to develop infrastructure for public-private partnerships (PPPs) in "unserved" areas. This year, the New Hampshire General Court has the opportunity to push open the door a bit wider with SB 459.

SB 459 allows local communities to potentially define "unserved" areas themselves by putting more responsibility on Internet access providers. Municipalities must currently engage in a request for information process in which they must reach out to all Internet service providers operating in the community. SB 459, if adopted, would allow a community to consider areas "unserved" if a provider does not respond to such a request to clarify which premises are unserved. With the "unserved" designation, municipalities can bond to develop infrastructure to serve those premises.

The bill has bipartisan support and is scheduled for a March 11th hearing in the Senate Election Law and Municipal Affairs Committee. Read the text of SB 459 here [PDF] and follow its progress here.

Pennsylvania

In Pennsylvania, where lawmakers meet all year, Rep. Pam Snyder introduced HB 2055 in late in 2019. The bill allows local governments to provide telecommunications services, but limits them to unserved areas. If passed, the bill amends the Municipalities Authorities Act and,...

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Posted February 24, 2020 by lgonzalez

The open access network in Ammon, Idaho, has been celebrated as visionary and viewed as a potential model for other communities seeking competitive local Internet access markets. A bill in the state legislature, however, aims to restrict local communities' ability to reproduce the Ammon Model, or any other publicly owned network, by imposing new restrictions on local efforts.

Read the text of the bill here.

Removing a Local Funding Option

H 490, introduced by Rep. Ron Mendive from Coeur d'Alene, states specifically that local governments have the authority to take the necessary steps to develop Internet networks and to offer services to the general public. Provisions in the bill that dictate how projects are financed, operated, and managed, however, transform the bill into a "muni killer" says Bruce Patterson, Ammon's technology director.

In a recent Idaho Business Review article (subscription required), Patterson described the language of H 490:

“On its face, it claims to authorize cities to have the authority to finance, build, and operate a communications network and offer a communications service, but each of the restrictions that follow make it impossible for a city to actually do those things. It is like telling your child: ‘Sure, you can play outside, just don’t leave the house.'”

Large, national Internet service providers have millions of dollars of capital to invest in new infrastructure wherever they see a business case to do so. The situation is different for local governments interested in developing fiber optic infrastructure when national companies concentrate investment elsewhere. Places like Ammon have had to think creatively to fund necessary projects. By using local improvement...

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Posted December 31, 2019 by lgonzalez

It’s the end of the year once again, which means the Community Broadband Networks Initiative team at the Institute for Local Self-Reliance takes their place in front of the mic for the predictions show. In addition to offering our expectations for 2020, we review what happened this past year and compare it to the predictions we made at this time last year. Get ready for some opinions and laughs.

Once again, Communications Specialist Jess Del Fiacco and Research Associate Katie Kienbaum weigh in along with Christopher and Lisa. Our newest addition to the team, Michelle Andrews, joins for the first time this year; Michelle is our GIS and Data Visualization Researcher.

We review advancements from cooperatives, the growing interest in municipal projects and open access, and new approaches. We talk about realizations of models we anticipated and also some that took us by surprise. The crew discusses state and federal legislative changes and funding, partnerships, and Christopher even gives Comcast a break. You don’t want to miss this!

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

This show is 42 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 Community Broadband Bits page.

Read the transcript for the episode.

Listen to ...

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Posted November 4, 2019 by lgonzalez

The people of our imaginary community "Villageville" have gathered outside the library, inside the library, and on Grumpy Gary's lawn to talk about the problem of poor local Internet access. Now, they're making it official and letting town leaders know that they want change. It's time for Episode 4 of "From Crops to Co-ops: Small Towns Want Better Internet!"

For the past three weeks, we've seen the good folks of this fictional community grapple with the difficulties that many rural towns face. When local connectivity doesn't keep up with the needs of the community, small towns can't be competitive. In Villageville, entrepreneurs, parents, and people who just want better Internet access have been researching why connectivity in their town is so poor and what are some possible solutions. Now they're ready to take their concerns to local elected officials.

The setting in this episode is a bustling town council meeting, in which locals are gathered to discuss what to do about poor Internet access in Villageville. The special speaker tonight is an attorney from the incumbent Internet access company. Citizens are ready to ask him why, for corn's sake, his employer still hasn't updated the services they provide.

During this episode, we learn more about the influence of large corporations and their lobbyists on competition, or the lack of it. The people of Villageville have noticed some patterns in the way state laws get passed and they're ready to talk about it at the meeting. By the end of the evening, folks are inspired to do more than complain.

In addition to the educational value from this short video, you'll enjoy the campy style of the Very Amateur Acting Troupe of the Community Broadband Networks Initiative and a special guest star from the Insitute for Local Self-Reliance. We've had fun writing, acting, and editing these videos and it shows. As with all "masterpieces," artists have come and gone from the Initiative team, leaving their imprints on "From Crops to Co-ops: Small Towns Want Better Internet!"

If you haven't seen episodes 1 - 3, check them out below, read the backstories or view them all on our Videos page.

...

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Posted November 1, 2019 by Sayidali Moalim

An increasing number of local governments around the country have started taking steps to improve broadband adoption and accessibility in their communities. A recent Brookings Institution article discusses the role of states in broadband deployment and adoption and how lawmakers are making efforts, but still have room for improvment.

Special Interest Lobbying Leaves an Imprint

A few states have explicitly banned municipal government from telecommunication services while others have confusing and hard-to-understand laws and regulations. Local governments have stepped up in the best interest of their residents but the imposed barriers have created tension between the local and state governments. Huge players influencing state legislation affecting broadband are the telecom lobbying interest groups. Due to their efforts, 19 states face barriers ranging from blocks to outright bans.

Brookings writes that states are a key factor in expanding high-quality Internet access to citizens and calls for a state-centered approach to improve the situation:

Instead of waiting for the stars to align in Washington, we should focus on states as an important middle ground. States have access to a range of tools and resources—independent of federal action—to promote broadband availability and adoption within their borders. The question is whether they will actually use them.

Specifically, Brookings recommends that states allow local communities to function with local telecommunications authority:

However, there is still more that states can do. Many should reconsider laws that block local efforts to expand broadband access, which limit opportunities to service populations that privately owned broadband networks will not.

The various barriers set up by the state governments may be hard to find but researchers at Pew Charitable Trusts have created the State Broadband Policy Explorer, a handy tool to make research easier. Using this tool, anyone from lawmakers to concerned citizens can search...

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Posted October 25, 2019 by lgonzalez

We're pleased to bring you the first episode from a special bonus series of the Community Broadband Bits Podcast titled "Why NC Broadband Matters." The series is a collaboration with the nonprofit NC Broadband Matters, whose focus is on facilitating the expansion of ubiquitous broadband coverage to local communities for residents and businesses. We'll be working with NC Broadband Matters on this series to develop nine more episodes that center around broadband in North Carolina.

"Overbuilding Means Providing Internet Choice: How One Small Company is Closing North Carolina's Digital Divide," is a conversation between host Christopher Mitchell and Alan Fitzpatrick of Open Broadband. The North Carolina company delivers high-quality Internet access to local communities. As Fitzpatrick notes in the interview, Open Broadband uses different types of technology, depending on what's most effective in each region. The goal is delivering quality Internet access.

logo-nc-hearts-gig.png Christopher and Alan talk about how the term "overbuilding" is now associated with waste, rather than with competition. They discuss the benefits of overbuilding and competition, problems with of lack of choice, and Alan reviews some potential long-term policy changes that could encourage investment. Alan and Christopher talk about local government involvement in promoting competition for better access to high-quality connectivity. They also touch on how lack of competition can increase the digital divide and how North Carolina could make changes to allow local governments to...

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