Tag: "state laws"

Posted February 13, 2016 by ternste

Some of us remember it - not so fondly - as a discarded relic of an early era of the Internet. But it’s not a relic for people in some parts of rural Tennessee: the awful sound of a dial-up modem.

There are approximately 28,000 people living in the county and as Marion County Mayor David Jackson tells it, he knows residents with no Internet access at all. Some of Marion County residents with nothing better than dial-up can actually look across the Tennessee River and see buildings and houses served by Chattanooga's EPB’s gigabit Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) network.

Given this stark contrast, it’s no wonder the push is intensifying for more access to publicly owned Internet networks in Tennessee.

Marion County Wants Local Authority

Elected officials from the Marion County Commission and the town of Kimball are the latest communities to vote on resolutions asking state leaders to change Tennessee’s state anti-muni law. The legal barrier prevents existing municipal utilities from expanding their fiber network footprints to provide telecommunications services to neighboring communities. 

In fact, city leaders in every Marion county municipality have plans to vote on their own resolutions asking the same thing: give us the local authority to decide for ourselves.

While the U.S. Court of Appeals considers whether or not to reverse the FCC decision to roll back the state barrier, communities are calling on the legislature to solve the problem by restoring local authority.

As Communities Succeed, the Municipal Fiber Movement Grows

These communities hope that changing the law will enable Chattanooga to extend its much celebrated EPB network to serve the people of Kimball and other communities in Marion County. The efforts come in the wake of similar requests out of Bradley County.

"There's a...

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Posted February 12, 2016 by lgonzalez

For more than a decade, the people of Bristol, Virginia have enjoyed what most of us can only dream about - fast affordable, reliable, connectivity.  In recent days, we learned that Bristol Virginia Utilities Authority (BVU) has entered into a deal to sell its OptiNet triple-play fiber network to a private provider. The deal is contingent on approval by several entities.

As we dig deeper into the situation, we understand that troubles in southwestern Virginia and Bristol have led to this decision. Nevertheless, we urge the Bristol community to weigh the long-term consequences before they sacrifice OptiNet. Once you give up control, you won’t get it back.

"...A Few Bad Apples..."

If the people of Bristol surrender this valuable public asset to the private market, they run the risk of undoing 15 years of great work. None of this is a commentary on the private provider, Sunset Digital Communications, which may be a wonderful company. The problem is that Sunset will be making the decisions in the future, not the community. 

OptiNet has helped the community retain and create jobs, attracting and retaining more than 1,220 well-paying positions from Northrup Grumman, CGI, DirecTV, and Alpha Natural Resources. Businesses have cut Internet access and telecommunications costs. Officials estimate around $50 million in new private investment and $36 million in new annual payroll have come to the community since the development of OptiNet. The network allowed public schools to drastically reduce telecommunications expenses and introduce gigabit capacity long before such speeds were the goal among educators.

Schools and local government saved approximately $1 million from 2003 - 2008. Subscribers have saved considerably as well, which explains OptiNet's high take rate of over 70 percent. Incumbent telephone provider Sprint (now CenturyLink) charged phone rates 25 percent higher than OptiNet in 2003. The benefits are too numerous to mention in one short story.

However, BVU is emerging from a dark period marked by corrupt management. This sad reality actually makes its considerable achievements all the more remarkable. Last...

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Posted February 9, 2016 by lgonzalez

The town of Mount Washington, Massachusetts, has successfully streamlined its ability to invest in a municipal Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) network.

On January 22nd, Governor Charlie Baker signed a home-rule bill specifically granting the tiny town of 124 residents a special authority:

"Notwithstanding any general or special law to the contrary, the town of Mount Washington may own, operate, maintain, manage or hire others to do so on its behalf, and to take any reasonable action necessary to establish and operate broadband high speed internet infrastructure and services without the establishment of a municipal light plant."

Another Underserved Rural Town

Mount Washington is located in the southwest corner of the state; much of the community is covered by the Mount Washington State Forest and Mount Everett State Reservation. Large incumbents do not feel investment in fast, affordable, reliable network infrastructure would pay off. Due to a small population, the Taconic Mountains, and thickly wooded geography, any return on investment will take longer in Mount Washington than in urban areas.

Brian Tobin from the town's Select Board told WAMC:

“The town of Mount Washington is about as underserved as you can get in terms of broadband,” Tobin said. “Some people have long-distance wifi and others have satellite internet, but neither of those are satisfactory and it’s certainly not a 21st century solution to having reliable broadband.”

The community recognized that if they want 21st century connectivity they would have to build a municipal network.

Not Sold On Wired West

Many other communities in western Massachusetts have committed to joining the Wired West Cooperative, which requires member towns to establish a Municipal Light Plant (MLP). The MLP is a state-required municipal entity responsible for the administration of a municipal network. Wired West officials describe it as a "cooperative of MLPs."

This new law, which applies only to Mount Washington, allows the community to move forward with...

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Posted January 27, 2016 by lgonzalez

If you pay attention to state laws affecting municipal networks in Missouri, you are experiencing an unsettling feeling of deja vu right now. On January 7, Representative Lyndall Fraker introduced HB 2078, a bill much like last year's Senate anti-muni bill. Fraker is Chair of the House Utility Infrastructure Committee, where  the bill is now awaiting a hearing, so it has a good chance of being heard sooner rather than later. 

Your Phone Call Required! 

Time to call Members of the Committee, especially if any of them represent you, and let them know that you expect them to vote against this bill. It is anti-competitive, opposed to local authority, and prevents new investment. Bad bill! 

Preventing Partnerships to Maintain The Status Quo

This bill would not only make it extremely difficult for local communities to invest in publicly owned Internet networks, but would complicate and delay public-private partnerships. A number of communities across the country already own infrastructure and are exploring ways to partner with private providers who want to use it to serve schools, businesses, and residents. If a community wants to lower telecommunications costs or obtain better services, this legislation would have them first jump through a series of obscure, expensive, and cryptic hoops. This legislation creates barriers that serve no purpose except to erect hurdles that discourage local communities from finding better providers.

The requirements in HB 2078 and its companion bill SB 946 are clearly intended to limit competition - to maintain the existing de facto monopolies and duopolies within Missouri. As we have seen in places like Westminster, Rockport, and in Missouri's...

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Posted January 25, 2016 by Scott

The town of Hanover, New Hampshire (pop. 11,500), is considering building its own municipal fiber-to-the-home (FTTH) network following the enactment of a new state law that makes it easier for communities to take on such projects.

Under the new state law (Chapter 240, HB486-Final Version), New Hampshire towns and cities can now establish special assessment districts to finance telecommunications infrastructure, expanding a long-standing statute. Specifically, the law now includes “communication infrastructure” as among the types of “public facilities” for which a special assessment district can be formed.

Under the expanded law, communities can finance fiber optic networks by billing individuals who reside within the district for a prorated share of the cost of installing that communication infrastructure.

Prospects for Fiber Raised

Hanover town manager Julia Griffin told our Chris Mitchell in a recent podcast of Community Broadband Bits:

“For the first time I think there is a role here for a municipal entity to help ensure that fiber is installed and that homeowners and businesses have an opportunity to connect to that network."

...

“Prior to this we've been able to create districts for water and sewer and sidewalks and street lights and even for downtown maintenance; but never for communication infrastructure. Nor has the statutes that have been on the books for years, been as expansive as this one is in terms of laying out just how we make these assessment districts work.”

Since New Hampshire Gov. Maggie Hassan signed the special assessment districts measure into law last July, Hanover has started looking into building a municipal network. It is in the process of finalizing a contract with Wide Open Networks to perform the cost analysis and system network design.

Hanover Explores Building Fiber Network 

“We will likely have a completed design by late March at the latest,” Griffin told us. “We have asked them (Wide Open Networks) to develop cost estimates, recommend options of undergrounding the fiber and develop an implementation plan.”

...

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Posted January 12, 2016 by rebecca

The Knoxville News Sentinel published this op-ed about Tennessee's restrictive broadband law on January 9, 2016.

Christopher Mitchell: Next-Generation Networks Needed

Four words in Tennessee law are denying an important element of Tennessee's proud heritage and restricting choices for Internet access across the state.

When private firms would not electrify Tennessee, public power came to the rescue. In the same spirit, some local governments have built their own next-generation Internet access networks because companies like AT&T refused to invest in modern technology. These municipal networks have created competition, dramatic consumer savings and a better business climate in each of their communities.

The four words at issue prevent municipal electric utilities from expanding their successful fiber optic Internet networks to their neighbors, a rejection of the public investment that built the modern economy Tennessee relies upon.

Current law allows a municipal utility to offer telephone service anywhere in the state, but Internet access is available only "within its service area." This limit on local authority protects big firms like AT&T and Comcast from needed competition, and they have long lobbied to protect their de facto monopolies. To thrive, Tennessee should encourage both public and private investment in needed infrastructure.

These municipal systems have already shown they can bring the highest-quality Internet services to their communities. Chattanooga's utility agency, EPB, built one of the best Internet networks in the nation. Municipal fiber networks in Tullahoma, Morristown and more have delivered benefits far in excess of their costs while giving residents and local businesses a real choice in providers.

Many of these networks are willing to connect their neighbors — people and businesses living just outside the electric utility boundary. If Chattanooga wants to expand its incredible EPB Fiber into Bradley County with the consent of all parties, why should the state get in the way?

Consider that Tennessee metro areas almost always have at least one high-speed Internet option. Those with municipal networks have a real choice in providers. Nashville is slated for Google Fiber. But there is...

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Posted January 7, 2016 by ternste

Sandi Wallis, a resident of northern Bradley County in Tennessee, doesn’t simply want to have ultra-fast, reliable broadband access for the fun of it. She needs it to run her home business. Her school-age children need it too:

“I've had to send my kids into town to do their homework. We’ve had to go into town with our business laptops to download updates to our programs for our accounting business because we can’t do it at home. We need service — not just reliable service and not just for entertainment.”

Wallis made the comments at a recent meeting hosted by the Bradley County Chamber of Commerce in Tennessee. The meeting focused on a persistent problem in many parts of Bradley County - residents and businesses lack the fast, affordable, reliable, broadband access that is available via Chattanooga’s EPB fiber network in neighboring Hamilton County. The deficiency is taking its toll.

Cleveland, a city of about 43,000 in Bradley County, has explored the idea of building their own community broadband network. But business leaders, government officials, and residents across Bradley County and the State of Tennessee are all anxiously awaiting the results of the ongoing legal struggle over the state’s anti-muni law. In addition, a bill set for consideration at the next state legislative session would, if passed, allow municipalities like Chattanooga to expand their existing fiber broadband services to adjacent communities in Bradley County. 

Don’t Mind the Gaps

Alan Hill, a representative from AT&T, suggested that rather than focusing on the broadband service gaps in the state, Bradley County should acknowledge AT&T’s positive contributions in the area:

“Instead of talking about the gaps, we need to celebrate what all has happened here...

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Posted January 6, 2016 by Scott

A new state law is on the books in Vermont that supporters expect will encourage more investor activity supporting community broadband networks. 

The new law, which took effect this past June, allows for the creation of “communications union districts,” enabling towns and cities to band together to form geographic entities dedicated to establishing fiber-optic broadband networks for their area’s residents and businesses. 

A New Nomenclature

While Vermont towns have been able to work cooperatively via inter-local contracts, the new law is less cumbersome and uses a governmental nomenclature more familiar to most people—the union district. The union district governance model has been used for many years throughout Vermont, including by various utilities that have multi-town operations to handle, for example, sewer and water service.  

Carole Monroe; general manager of the East Central Vermont Community Fiber-Optic Network (ECFiber), a consortium of 24 Vermont communities that have banded together to provide broadband service; told our Christopher Mitchell there isn’t much practical difference for her group operating now as the East Central Vermont Telecommunications District instead of by an inter-local contract.  

“But I can say that in the municipal investment markets, they’re much more familiar with the municipal utility district, whether it’s a water district or sewer district or something along those lines,” Monroe told Chris in a recent edition of Community Broadband Bits podcast. “A municipal utility district is a common language for them. Inter-local contracts, not so much.” 

ECFiber Grew From Inter-Local Contract 

Irvin Thomae, chairman of the EC Vermont Telecommunications District board, agreed. He noted that seven years ago the east central Vermont communities created ECFiber through an inter-local contract. “But this (the inter-local contract) was unfamiliar to investors beyond our state borders,” Thomae told us.

“We needed a structure more capable of being recognized by large institutional investors. It (the communications union district) makes it easier for community broadband networks to appeal more for large investors.”

Jerry Ward, an ECFiber delegate from Randolph Center, earlier in 2015...

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Posted December 19, 2015 by rebecca

The Pioneer Press published this op-ed about Minnesota high speed Internet access and availability on December 3, 2015. 

Christopher Mitchell: Competition and community savings

Minnesota has just one more month to achieve its goal of high speed Internet access available to every resident and local business. In 2010, the Legislature set a 2015 goal for universal Internet access at speeds just under the current federal broadband definition. But the state never really committed to anything more than a token effort and will fall far short.

Even for those of us living in metro areas that have comparatively high speed access, we don't have a real choice in providers and most of us lack access to next-generation gigabit speeds.

The big cable and telephone companies excel at restricting competition by manipulating markets, state and federal government policy, and other means. This is why so many local governments across the nation are themselves expanding Internet infrastructure: to ensure local businesses and residents can access affordable next-generation services and create a real choice. We should be encouraging these local approaches.

The Institute for Local Self-Reliance is tracking more than 450 communities where local governments are expanding choices with direct investments in networks. Just this month, some 50 communities in Colorado and two in Iowa voted to move forward with plans for their own networks or partnerships.

Here in Minnesota, we have seen a variety of successful approaches. Eagan's modest network attracted a data center.

Dakota County has saved itself millions of dollars by placing conduit for fiber in the ground at very low cost as part of other projects. Now it can use that to help local companies to compete with the big cable and telephone companies.

Scott County's fiber network has helped create more than 1,000 jobs and tremendously improved access in area schools. In Sibley County and part of Renville, cities and townships joined together to help launch a new cooperative, RS Fiber, which shows tremendous promise. Cooperatives, which are effectively community-owned as well, offer some of the best connectivity in rural regions of the state.

Some municipal networks have been...

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Posted December 15, 2015 by rebecca

The Salt Lake Tribune published this op-ed championing local investment in Internet infrastructure on December 11, 2015.

 

Op-ed: Spanish Fork’s success shows municipal Internet networks work

By Christopher Mitchell

For nearly 10 years, large telephone and cable companies have claimed municipal Internet networks are so risky that local government authority should be restricted. But after 15 years of experience, we can only conclude that the cure is worse than the disease.

Utah has three municipal networks, where local governments invested in Internet infrastructure to provide choices in a monopolistic environment. But only two of those networks are regularly discussed and used as examples of why local governments shouldn't be in this business: iProvo and UTOPIA, which were not able to meet their financial targets.

The network missing from the conversation is Spanish Fork Community Network, which has just finished paying off its debt and has generated millions of dollars in surplus revenue for the community. The network is now upgrading from community cable to community gigabit fiber optics.

Of the over 450 municipal networks tracked by the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, Spanish Fork's experience is above average. The vast majority of municipal networks deliver benefits well in excess of costs and do not require subsidies to operate.

It may come as a surprise, but iProvo and Spanish Fork are nearly twins, separated at birth and raised in dramatically different environments. Both were conceived at the same time — the same consultant did the feasibility study for each. But Spanish Fork, being smaller and more nimble, was able to move forward before Utah's Legislature weighed in to restrict local decision-making.

Comcast and the predecessor to CenturyLink crafted the legislation, which was revealed in a brilliant 2011 BusinessWeek article aptly entitled "Pssst … Wanna Buy a Law?" by Brendan Greeley and Alison Fitzgerald.

Since then, any new Utah municipal network has been subject to numerous requirements unlike anything private providers face, including a de facto requirement to use a wholesale-only arrangement.

Provo wanted to use the same business model as Spanish Fork, which we now know was tremendously successful. Whereas Spanish Fork could directly...

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