Tag: "state laws"

Posted October 1, 2012 by lgonzalez

The National Association of Counties (NACo) gave us permission to reprint an article they recently wrote in their County News publication. NACo advocates for county governments on federal policy that impacts local decsion and local control. NACo is based in Washington, D.C.

In the article, author Charles Taylor discusses the perils of Oconee and Orangeburg Counties in South Carolina, both involved in broadband projects supported by stimulus funds. Because of a new law passed this past summer, those projects are in danger and the possibility of future projects is all but extinguished.

Rural counties' broadband projects face uncertainty

The success of two South Carolina counties’ plans to provide broadband access to rural areas could be in jeopardy because of a new state law that severely restricts public broadband projects. It also essentially bans new ones.

Oconee and Orangeburg counties received more than $27 million in federal stimulus funds in 2010 for rural broadband projects.

A South Carolina law, enacted in July, requires local governments that offer broadband Internet services to charge rates similar to those of private companies, even if the government could provide the service at a lower cost and the area is not served by commercial providers.

“It effectively prohibits municipalities from operating their own broadband systems through a series of regulatory and reporting requirements,” said Catharine Rice, president of the SouthEast Association of Telecommunications Officers and Advisors (SEATOA). “These practically guarantee municipalities could never find financing because the requirements would render even a private sector broadband company inoperable.”

SEATOA represents local government broadband planners and community video programmers in Georgia, North Carolina, South Carolina and Tennessee. While the statute won’t kill the projects already underway, it...

Read more
Posted September 29, 2012 by lgonzalez

A  recent book by David Cay Johnston, The Fine Print, examines specifically how big companies have found ways to take advantage of the tax and regulatory systems to their benefit and to the detriment of consumers. The sad part - we don't even realize it.

Johnston discusses how big companies and their leaders exploit tax rules to re-distribute wealth upwards. Johnston also examines how this exploitation is almost never covered in the media, encouraging big companies to stoop to new lows in ripping off consumers. Telecommunications is one of the industries he covers in the new book.

In the first chapter (read the first chapter via Democracy Now!), Johnston describes how friend and journalist, Bruce Kushnick, came across twenty years' worth of telephone bills in his elderly aunt's possessions. Kushnick tracked the changes in her bills, systematically reviewing and comparing every charge. Kushnick found an array of confusing and cryptic "fees," "charges," and "taxes." The end result:

When he cross-checked his aunt’s telephone bills over the years, he could hardly believe the numbers. His aunt paid $9.51 for her local phone service in 1984. By 2003 her bill had swollen fourfold to $38.90. In the two decades since the breakup of the AT&T monopoly, even after adjusting for inflation, his aunt’s telephone cost $2.30 for each dollar paid in 1984. And that was without any charges for long-distance calls.

Johnston notes the method used by telecoms to increase prices over time:

Bit by bit, the line items grew, and others were added. It was easy to miss the escalating prices because they came...

Read more
Posted August 30, 2012 by lgonzalez

The California Legislature recently passed SB 1161 (dubbed "California's Worst Telecom Bill Ever") and the bill is on the Governor's desk. Utility reform group, TURN, and the New America Foundation are two groups that have opposed this ALEC supported bill from the start. We reported on it in June and shared with you how it will negatively impact the ability for local communities to invest in broadband.

The Humboldt County Board of Supervisors sent a letter to Governor Brown formally opposing the legislation and asking for a veto. According to the an Access Humboldt press release:

In a letter yesterday (August 28, 2012), the Humboldt County Board of Supervisors requested Governor Brown to veto SB 1161, noting: "SB 1161 weakens open Internet protections and subverts long held State policy 'To continue our universal service commitment...' Why abandon our commitment to least served people and places?"

The Board officially expressed their opposition to the bill in May, noting that holes in the legislation ignored public safety, privacy, and consumer protection issues. No amendments were adopted to address those concerns.

You can view a PDF of the veto request here. We encourage you to take an active part in helping stop this legislation by contacting Governor Jerry Brown directly.

You can also read Susan Crawford's take on it and similar efforts in other states.

Posted August 7, 2012 by christopher

We have watched in growing horror as AT&T and other telco lobbyists have gone from state to state gutting telecommunications oversight. In several states, you no longer have an absolute right to a telephone - the companies can refuse to serve you if they so choose.

We tip our hat to Phil Dampier at Stop the Cap, who alerted us to this story. AT&T convinced Mississippi legislators to remove consumer protections for telecommunications.

Northern District Mississippi Public Service Commissioner Brandon Presley is unhappy with a new state law that will strip oversight over AT&T. Presley plans to personally file suit in Hinds County Circuit Court against the law, calling it unconstitutional.

“It violates the state constitution,” Presley said of the bill during an interview with the Daily Journal. “There’s no doubt AT&T is the biggest in the state, and this bill will allow them to raise rates without any oversight at all.”

House Bill 825 strips away rate regulation of Mississippi landline service and removes the oversight powers the PSC formerly had to request financial data and statistics dealing with service outages and consumer complaints. The law also permits AT&T to abandon rural Mississippi landline customers at will.

As we've seen elsewhere (as in California), AT&T worked with ALEC to push this through - though Rep Beckett (R-Bruce) doesn't think AT&T will raise its rates or abandon parts of the state. Time will tell - but Beckett won't be the one to suffer when the inevitable occurs. Thanks to AT&T and ALEC, he already got his.

Posted August 3, 2012 by lgonzalez

Just this week, the Office of the Legislative Auditor General of the State of Utah released a report to the Utah Legislature on UTOPIA. The report, titled A Performance Audit of the Utah Telecommunications Open Infrastructure Agency rehashes prior criticisms of UTOPIA and tells the abridged story of the Auditor's understanding of UTOPIA's financial troubles.

While one can accept the report as truthful, it certainly is not comprehensive. Jesse Harris, of FreeUTOPIA notes that leaving out certain pieces of information taint the presumed impartiality of the report. From Jesse:

The Legislative Auditor General has published an audit of UTOPIA, and, as expected, it drags a fair amount of ancient history back into the spotlight.  The report concludes that additional accountability will alleviate the problems that UTOPIA has experienced, but it missed the mark on a number of points.

The Audit Scope and Objectives are spelled out in the beginning as:

Members of the Utah Legislature asked for an audit of UTOPIA so residents of UTOPIA member cities might know how the organization has used its funds. Legislators also asked for a review the organization’s general management practices. To address their concerns, we developed an audit plan to review the following areas:

  • The size and use of UTOPIA’s debt financing
  • The causes leading to UTOPIA’s current financial 
condition
  • UTOPIA’s management and board governance practices

While there are many bar graphs, pie charts, and dollar signs in the report and it seems to meet the scope and objectives, financial information alone does not explain UTOPIA's troubles. The first place to look is close to home.

From the beginning, UTOPIA has had to overcome difficult odds in a hostile legislative environment. As we note on our Community Broadband Map, the State of Utah effectively requires that community networks function as wholesale-only. The mandate puts them at a significant financial disadvantage from the beginning, severely limiting the amount of revenue they can collect...

Read more
Posted July 31, 2012 by christopher

Our sixth episode of the Community Broadband Bits podcast features a discussion with Cheryl Leanza, broadband consultant with Progressive States Network. Cheryl has been very active in legislative battles at the state level, where she has helped to defend the public against anti-consumer deregulation led by AT&T, CenturyLink, and cable lobbyists.

We touched on the effort in Georgia to revoke local authority as well as once again noting the bad bills in North Carolina in 2011 and South Carolina in 2012.

We also spent time talking about the state-by-state effort to kill consumer protections, including the basic right to have a wireline telephone in your home.

We want your feedback and suggestions for the show - please e-mail us or leave a comment below. Also, feel free to suggest other guests, topics, or questions you want us to address.

This show is 14 minutes long and can be played below on this page or subscribe via iTunes or via the tool of your choice using this feed. Search for us in iTunes and leave a positive comment!

Listen to previous episodes here. You can download the Mp3 file directly from here.

Read the transcript of this episode here.

Find more episodes in our podcast index.

Thanks to Fit and the Conniptions for the music, licensed using Creative Commons.

Posted July 28, 2012 by christopher

In keeping with our coverage of states that revoke local authority to prevent AT&T, Time Warner Cable, and the like from having to deal with any actual competition, we want to highlight the video below that explains how a modern bill becomes a law.

It ain't like it used to be and it doesn't have to be like this. North Carolina's anti-competition bill came only after years of campaign contributions and heavy lobbying. We discussed the history of that bill with Catharine Rice as well as the recent reprehensible South Carolina law.

Posted July 16, 2012 by lgonzalez

South Carolina's H3508 has passed the legislature, been signed by Governor Nikki R. Haley, and has revoked local authority to build the broadband networks they need to create new jobs. Last week, we noted some of the coverage about the bill.

After reviewing the language of the bill, we are astonished at how far the Governor and the South Carolina Legislature have gone to protect AT&T's monopoly, to the detriment of the many businesses and citizens who desperately need better access to the Internet -- whether to be more productive, competitive, or just take advantage of educational opportunities.

South Carolina is near the bottom of adoption rate in the U.S. and has a higher than average number of residents living below the poverty line. Communities with fast, affordable, and reliable access to the Internet are seeing new jobs. Those stuck on slow DSL are watching jobs wither away.

We continue to be amazed at state legislatures that are prioritizing laws to make it harder to expand broadband rather than easier. The only explanation is the vast amounts of money big companies like AT&T and Time Warner Cable spend in campaign contributions.

This bill is designed to prevent local governments from building next-generation networks, even when the private sector has refused to invest. It may also put an end to projects already in the works (even those that have received BTOP or BIP funding).

H3508 is not an outright ban against municipal networks, but it might as well be. South Carolina had already discouraged community broadband networks in Article 23, Chapter 9, Title 58 of its 1976 Code. This bill ramps up the unfavorable...

Read more
Posted July 12, 2012 by lgonzalez

Last week, South Carolina's General Assembly passed H3508, the ALEC and AT&T bill we previously warned you about. AT&T, ALEC, and cable companies pushed this bill to limit broadband competition and revoke local authority to decide if public investments in broadband infrastructure are wise.

H3508 is one of the worst pieces of legislation we have seen. States usually incorporate language that "grandfathers in" existing projects as a way to avoid legal challenge and federal scrutiny of their anti-competition legislation. In South Carolina, however, crafty drafting puts one county BTOP project in the cross hairs while permitting two other projects to continue.

Below is a roundup of media coverage of the bill. We will soon release our analysis of the supposed "exemptions" to this bill but in the meantime, this coverage explains several of the problems with South Carolina's latest Monopoly Protection Act.

Ars Technica's Cyrus Farivar contacted Jim Baller, a preeminent telecom attorney and expert in broadband issues:

"States have different ways to achieve the same end—discourage, delay, or derail public broadband initiatives," wrote Jim Baller, a telecom lawyer based in Washington, DC, in an e-mail to Ars on Thursday. He noted that similar bills were introduced in Minnesota and Georgia this year, the former of which has led to a "study bill," while the latter did not make it out of committee.

"In some ways, the South Carolina bill is worst of all because it does not grandfather existing projects and would retroactively undermine federal stimulus grants that Orangeburg and Oconee Counties have received,"  he added.

Ars Technica Logo

Farivar also looked into the chief author and found:

Public records show that in 2011, AT&T, itself an ALEC member, contributed $1,000 to the coffers of...

Read more
Posted June 21, 2012 by lgonzalez

Sean McLaughlin from the New America Foundation and Access Humbolt alerted us to HB 1161, an AT&T and ALEC driven bill to scale back state regulation of Internet services. Sen. Alex Padilla (D-SD20, San Fernando Valley) is a co-author of the bill, introduced in February and moving steadily forward.

Sean tells us:

On Monday, the bill passed CA Assembly's Committee on Utilities and Commerce with only one brave NO vote (Asm. Huffman is also leading candidate for US House for the new CA-2 district).  Next stop is Assembly Appropriations Cte. but it will quickly move to the Assembly Floor - NOW is the time to alert all Assembly Members in California to stop this juggernaut.

Access Humbolt's press release is an excellent analysis and tells us why this bill needs to be stopped:

"While the Bill strives to be self-limiting and makes hopeful assumptions about the benefits of unfettered industry, it neglects to address three profound and overarching realities:

1. In the future all telephone or voice service will be IP enabled communication service;

2. Federal oversight over IP enabled communication services including Internet access services remains highly uncertain; and,

3. Competition is not sufficient in IP enabled communication services to protect consumers, nor to ensure universal access to an open internet.

SB 1161 removes State expertise and local knowledge from public policy making that is necessary to secure universal access to an open internet. And further, this Bill will impede State and local efforts to develop broadband services for public safety, public education, public health, public works and public media. Clearly, a more thoughtful approach is needed.

If the Bill is adopted as proposed, local community investments to support broadband deployment and adoption will suffer, causing increased costs and reduced benefits from State and Federal universal service programs for remote, rural, low income and other people in our community who are least served.

By prohibiting independent...

Read more

Pages

Subscribe to state laws