Tag: "state laws"

Posted January 3, 2013 by lgonzalez

 

In late 2006, Wilson, North Carolina, voted to build a Fiber-­‐to-­‐the-­‐Home network. Wilson’s decision came after attempts to work with Time Warner Cable and EMBARQ (now CenturyLink) to improve local connectivity failed.

Wilson’s decision and resulting network was recently examined in a case study by Todd O’Boyle of Common Cause and ILSR's Christopher Mitchell titled Carolina’s Connected Community: Wilson Gives Greenlight to Fast Internet. This new report picks up with Wilson’s legacy: an intense multiyear lobbying campaign by Time Warner Cable, AT&T, CenturyLink, and others to bar communities from building their own networks. The report examines how millions of political dollars bought restrictions in the state that will propagate private monopolies rather than serve North Carolinians.

Download the new report here: The Empire Lobbies Back: How National Cable and DSL Companies Banned The Competition in North Carolina

These companies can and do try year after year to create barriers to community-­‐owned networks. They only have to succeed once; because of their lobbying power, they have near limitless power to stop future bills that would restore local authority. Unfortunately, success means more obstacles and less economic development for residents and businesses in North Carolina and other places where broadband accessibility is tragically low.

It certainly makes sense for these big companies to want to limit local authority to build next-­‐generation networks. What remains puzzling is why any state legislature would want to limit the ability of a community to build a network to improve educational outcomes, create new jobs, and give both residents and businesses more choices for an essential service. This decision should be made by those that have to feel the consequences—for better and for worse.

This story was originally posted on the ILSR website.

 

Posted December 5, 2012 by christopher

A Stop the Cap! story about Charter cutting customer service positions makes a point we make too rarely. Not that customer service from the national cable and telephone companies is terrible and getting worse, but that some are constantly struggling to make a profit.

Investors don’t think too highly of the company either. Charter reported a wider third-quarter loss in November, losing $87 million compared with $85 million lost during the same quarter last year. Executives tell Wall Street the company was in chaos before new management under Tom Rutledge took over operations. Rutledge’s priorities are to invest in new set top boxes, convert more of its systems to digital, raise prices on services, cut back on promotions and retention offers, and centralize customer support operations.

Imagine that! When communities have to make investments and suffer losses, they are accused of failing. Charter is losing money (and recently emerged from a bankruptcy proceeding) and trying to make changes to correct its condition.

This is what happens to many firms in telecommunications. Only when it happens to those that are owned by communities, they are besieged with claims that such a situation is somehow proof that the public cannot own and operate networks.

Note that others, like Comcast, are actually lauded by Wall Street for operating in areas with so little competition that they can increase their rates at will -- hard not to make a profit in that case. Which is precisely why existing cable and DSL companies push laws to restrict local authority to build better networks.

Posted October 5, 2012 by lgonzalez

Once again, consumers must fight to preserve their landline telephone service. This time, the Ohio General Assembly is pondering legislation that can end traditional service for up to 1 million Ohio residents.

Our readers know about the efforts of ALEC and AT&T to drastically reduce their obligation to provide landlines across the country. Up to now, telephone companies were required to serve everyone, but those requirements are under attack, state by state. Bills have emerged in Mississippi, Kentucky, New Jersey and California.

The very real fear is that Ohio's Senate Bill 271 (SB271) will increase telephone prices, reduce service quality, and cause many to lose access to reliable 911 service. Many of those who still depend on landlines, include senior citizens. From an article on the Public New Service:

AARP Ohio State Director Bill Sundermeyer says, besides preserving social contact, land-line phones are needed to protect seniors' health and safety. For instance, some seniors use the phone line to transmit routine health information from equipment in their home to their doctor's office, he says.

"They can make an evaluation of a person's heart and how's it working, of their lungs, etc. That information would be very difficult to transmit over a cell phone."

(on a personal note, I can attest to this….my father routinely uses his landline telephone to send data to the clinic about his pacemaker to make sure it is functioning correctly)

The Office of the Ohio Consumers' Counsel (OCC) also expresses concern with the bill because it would allow telephone companies to stop providing local service in places labeled as "fully competitive." In the SB271 Fact Sheet (read the PDF, which offers a map of the qualifying areas), the OCC explains the problem with this definition:

Ohio Consume Council seal

To be considered “competitive...

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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...

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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...

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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...

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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.

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