Tag: "state laws"

Posted January 18, 2012 by christopher

AT&T, one of the few dominant Internet access providers in South Carolina, is again pushing a bill in the state legislature that will gut the self-determiniation of local communities in the digital age. The market power of AT&T and Time Warner Cable has already driven most private sector competition from the market -- now they want to use their lobbying clout to ensure that the communities themselves cannot build the networks they need to attract economic development and maintain a high quality of life.

Last year, we were deeply concerned about House Bill 3508 but it was orphaned in committee after AT&T lost its credibilty by encouraging the state adopt a broadband definition lower than even the much-maligned 200kbps previously used by the FCC.

The bill is back this year and would have been taken up by the Senate Judiciary Committee today but that meeting now appears to be cancelled. Nonetheless, AT&T will undoubtedly find a way to bring it back this year and we shouldn't count on AT&T's stupidity to save us again from its massive lobbying clout.

Phil Dampier has issued a call to action at Stop the Cap!, calling AT&T's bill the Profit Protection Act. He has a list of the Senate Judiciary Committee members so people in South Carolina can contact them.

It is crucial that Senators and Representatives hear from constituents on these matters. Issues of telecommunications policy rarely generate phone calls, so even a few calls can make a different and will serve notice to elected officials that they are being monitored on this issue.

There is no need for additional barriers in South Carolina for rural communities to build the networks they need. As we show on our community broadband preemption map, South Carolina has already enacted additional regulatory barriers that public sector entities must surpass in order to build this essential infrastructure in their community.

South Carolina's communities have very poor access to the Internet compared to regional and international peers. AT&T is not...

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Posted January 12, 2012 by christopher

Last year we noted that a bill to expand local authority to invest in publicly owned broadband networks would return in 2012. HB 1711 is in Committee and causing a bit of a stir. "A bit of a stir" is good -- such a reaction means it has a chance at passing and giving Washington's residents a greater opportunity to have fast, affordable, and reliable access to the Internet.

Washington's law presently allows Public Utility Districts to build fiber-optic networks but they cannot offer retail services. They are limited to providing wholesale services only -- working with independent service providers to bring telecom services to the public.

Unfortunately, this approach can be financially debilitating, particularly in rural areas. Building next generation networks in very low density areas is hard enough without being forced to split the revenues with third parties.

Last year, House Bill 2601 created a study to examine telecommunications reform, including the possibilty of municipality and public utility district provisioning. The University of Washington School of Law examined the issues and released a report [pdf] that recognizes the important role public sector investments can play:

U Washington Law School

Broadband infrastructure is this century’s interstate highway system: a public investment in an infrastructure that will rapidly connect Washington’s citizens statewide, nationally, and internationally; fuelling growth, competition, and innovation. Like highway access, the path to universal broadband access varies with the needs of the local community.

Our primary goal is to expand broadband access. We believe allowing municipalities and PUDs to provide broadband services addresses the most significant hurdles to broadband expansion: the high cost of infrastructure. In conjunction with a state USF, PUDs and municipalities are well placed to address the needs of their consumers.

A secondary goal is to promote a competitive marketplace. We believe that empowering PUDs and municipalities...

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Posted December 12, 2011 by christopher

Brendan Greeley and Alison Fitzgerald have authored an in-depth exposé of the role the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) played in passing a law in Louisiana designed to cripple community-owned networks ... while falsely claiming the bill was about creating a "level playing field."

This article may not have been possible without the work done by the ALEC Exposed folks at the Center for Media and Democracy.

The aptly-titled "Pssst ... Wanna Buy a Law?" article starts with the background of one of our favorite community broadband champions: Joey Durel, the Republican City-Parish President of Lafayette, Louisiana.

In April of 2004, Lafayette announced their intention to do a market survey to get a sense of whether the community would be interested in a publicly owned FTTH network run by the public utility. By that point, it was not possible to introduce new bills at the Louisiana Legislature. Or at least, that is a technicality when it comes to the lobbying prowess of big cable and telephone companies (mainly Cox and BellSouth - one of the major companies that later became AT&T).

Worried about losing their de facto monopolies, they tapped State Senator Winnsboro to take an existing bill, delete all the words from it and then append their anti-community broadband (anti-competitive) language.

The lobbyist brought back to Lafayette a copy of what would become Senate Bill 877. It named telecommunications as a permitted city utility, then hamstrung municipalities with a list of conditions. It demanded that new projects show positive revenue within the first year. It required a city to calculate and charge itself taxes, as if it were a private company. Cities could not borrow startup costs or secure bonds from any other sources of income. The bill demanded unrealistic accounting arrangements, and it suggested a referendum that would have to pass with an absolute majority. It also, almost word for word, matched a piece of legislation kept in the library of the American Legislative Exchange Council. The council’s bill reads, “The people of the State of _______ do enact as follows … ”

According to Ellington, he substituted the bill after a lobbyist for several of the state’s cable companies approached him, concerned about Lafayette’s project....

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Posted November 21, 2011 by christopher

In a nod to Thanksgiving, Government Technology has collected 11 "Tech Turkeys - "Half-baked lowlights from the year gone by" (2011).

North Carolina made the list at Number 9 after its Time Warner Cable-sponsored Legislature decided to effectively outlaw community fiber networks. This might not have been as big a deal if those communities were not the only entities in the state actually investing in next-generation broadband. Time Warner Cable and CenturyLink prefer to "save the best for last" when it comes to investing in the state.

The stated reason for revoking local decision-making power from communities? It wasn't fair for Time Warner Cable to compete against cities like Salisbury. We looked deeper into that claim and found it wanting, as illustrated below in an infographic and video:

600-TWC-Salisbury-infographic3.png

Posted November 9, 2011 by christopher

Minnesota's Governor Dayton has already done more for expanding broadband access in Minnesota than predecessor Pawlenty who took the "stay quiet and hope for the best" approach to expanding access in our state.

After being prodded by the legislature (including now-Lieutenant Governor Prettner-Solon) Governor Pawlenty appointed an industry-heavy "Ultra High Speed" Broadband Task Force that exceeded the expectations of many, including myself, with its report [pdf]. I give a lot of credit to a few members, especially "Mikey" and Chairman Rick King of Thomsen Reuters, for that report given the constraints of the environment in which it existed.

Minnesota's Legislature and Governor Pawlenty then created some goals for 2015 and generally ceased any work on ensuring Minnesota could meet the goals. However, some departments (like the Department of Commerce) are using that language to prod broadband providers to consider what steps they can take to get us closer. Despite my frustration, I want to recognize those who are doing all they can to expand access to this essential infrastructure.

Fast forward to this week, when Governor Dayton announced a new Task Force that is supposed to really do things (as opposed to the more common Task Force approach of creating the appearance of doing things).

I am heartened by many of the appointees. There are some terrific people, especially some terrific women who are too often under-represented in technology) that will work very hard to bring real broadband to the Minnesotans that either need their first option or a better option.

And they have their work cut out for them. The state has few options to compel investment from a private sector that sees little reason to invest in an industry with so little competition (St Paul has one high-speed provider: Comcast, and one slower, cheaper alternative - CenturyLink).

For instance, rural Kanabec County took the Ultra High Speed Task Force's recommendation and asked its incumbent to partner in providing better broadband. That went over about the...

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Posted September 23, 2011 by christopher

An interesting article earlier this week on Boston.com says a number of Massachusetts towns are studying muni electric plants after the privately owned electrical company took too long restoring power in the aftermath of Hurricane Irene.

“We are at the very beginning. We want to see if municipal control is even possible,’’ said Norwell Town Administrator James Boudreau.

“We want a faster response. This was a tropical storm. What if it was a category 2 hurricane? What if it was the winter?’’ he said, noting the efficient restoration of power in towns with electric utilities under municipal control, such as Hingham, Hull, and Braintree.

Braintree's municiple utility also runs a broadband network for the community. If these communities are looking at am uni utility, they should ceratinly consider improving their broadband access at the same time. As we have covered previously, Wired West (on the other side of the state) is a collection of many communities that recently formed municipal "light plants" (in the parlance of Massachuesetts) as a legal structure for building a community fiber network.

As we have observed time and time again, local control tends to improve the quality and response time of customer service. And in those cases where it doesn't, at least they have no one to blame but themselves. It is well within their power to fix it.

Curiously, National Grid was formed by combining privatized former muni electric utilities -- a warning to communities that may look to privatize their community broadband networks over time due to the mistaken notion that community ownership was only necessary to establish the network rather than ensure it continues operating for the benefit of the community. Community broadband is about far more than technology, it is about ownership by an entity with the right incentives to operate essential infrastructure.

The company's response to this movement is fascinating:

National Grid offers a different opinion. Communities are “best served by a company with established practices, resources, and programs that can serve them in an evolving, challenging energy environment,’’ said Deborah Drew, a spokeswoman for the utility.

Say what? When presented...

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Posted July 16, 2011 by christopher

We dedicated a lot of coverage to Time Warner Cable's purchasing legislation to handicap communities from building competitive networks. Kara Millonzi, from the University of North Carolina School of Government, examined the new law and made a potentially interesting point.

Communities have a steep mountain to climb to build a self-financing community network in the state but if a community wanted to treat broadband infrastructure like the roads they manage, the law may not impact them.

As stated above, S.L. 2011-84 imposes some significant limitations on a municipality’s authority to provide cable and Internet services. With some exceptions, the limitations apply to a “city-owned communications service provider.” A city-owned communications service provider is defined as:

  • a city
  • that provides cable, video programming, telecommunications, broadband, or high-speed Internet access service (collectively, communication services)
  • directly, indirectly, or through interlocal agreement or joint agency
  • to the public
  • for a fee
  • using a wired or wireless network (communications network).

This definition is important because the new limitations only apply to municipalities that meet all of its elements. In particular, the Act’s provisions only apply to a municipality that provides the listed services “for a fee.” That means that the requirements do not apply to any municipality that provides the above-listed communication services for free to the public. Many local governments provide free Wi-Fi service in their downtown or other central business areas. (In fact, I am taking advantage of Town of Carrboro’s free Wi-Fi as I draft this post.) If a municipality uses its unrestricted general fund revenue to finance this service, or any other communications services, it is not subject to the new Act’s provisions. (Note that many local governments actually offer this service by taking advantage of excess capacity on their internal broadband networks.)

Though it is an extreme long shot, it would be fascinating to see a community build a network without charging a direct fee to access. It would also be fun to see Time Warner Cable hoisted on their own petard after...

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Posted July 5, 2011 by christopher

Update: You can also watch the video over at the Huffington Post, in our first post as a HuffPo blogger.

While we were battling Time Warner Cable to preserve local authority in North Carolina, we developed a video comparing community fiber networks to incumbent DSL and cable networks to demonstration the incredible superiority of community networks.

We have updated the video for a national audience rather than a North Carolina-specific approach because community fiber networks around the country are similarly superior to incumbent offerings. And community networks around the country are threatened by massive corporations lobbying them out of existence in state legislatures.

Feel free to send feedback - especially suggestions for improvement - to broadband@muninetworks.org.

Without further ado, here is the new video comparing community fiber networks to big incumbent providers:

Posted June 30, 2011 by christopher

We occasionally see big cable and phone companies getting creative in their efforts to shut down community networks. In socially conservative communities, restrictions on providing adult content is a common approach.

This technique came up several times in North Carolina, where TWC-sponsored elected officials proposed disallowing public providers from offering the same adult content channels that private providers offer. The reason has nothing to do with morals, but rather with the substantial revenue adult content generates. Incumbent providers know that if community networks cannot offer adult content to those who wish to purchase it, they will be deprived a significant source of revenue needed to pay the debt from building a modern network.

Bear in mind that no one is forced to see this content or even a scrambled channel (as was common in the "old" days). Community networks allow each family to decide for themselves what content is appropriate -- to the extent community networks differ from private providers in this regard, they provide more tools to filter out content that some may find inappropriate.

Last week, the Louisiana House briefly considered a bill to limit Lafayette's authority to make adult content available to subscribers that request it. House Bill 142 exists solely to put LUS Fiber, an impressive muni FTTH network, at a disadvantage.

John at Lafayette Pro Fiber has excellent coverage of the situation, with both an initial post featuring eyes-a-rollin' as well as an in depth followup "Lafayette delegation kills anti-LUS bill."

LUS Fiber Logo

The latter is essential reading for those new to understanding how any legislature works. And anyone building a network that will compete with big companies like AT&T, Cox, Time Warner Cable, et al. had better know how legislatures work because those companies live in the Leg. Their...

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Posted June 23, 2011 by christopher

Craig Settles recently interviewed Dan Speers, the Executive Director of the Pulaski-Giles County Economic Development Council, focusing on the publicly owned PES Energize muni FTTH network.

Craig started by asking how the network is used by local businesses:

There’s a printing operation here with their corporate headquarters in Los Angeles. They have to be able to send artwork all the time to headquarters. There’s a guy who works developing catalogue books that are published by an outfit in Canada. Before the network it would take him six hours to upload materials and now it’s done in minutes. One company has their offices on the north side of community and the manufacturing plant on the south side. They’re always sending large data files back and forth.

Hospitals here can upload and download files such as x-rays, MRIs, and CT scans immediately between other hospitals and doctors 75 miles away in Nashville. Patients don’t have to be transferred there, and they don’t have paper records that have to be carried by hand to specialists like they did in the old days. All of this saves lives and it saves money.

When Craig asked what the Obama Administration can do to expand broadband to "improve local economies," Speers asked for an end to state-created barriers to community networks and mentioned a Tennessee bill that would allow muni utility networks to offer services to communities outside their historic electric territories:

From a Tennessee perspective, first put us on a level playing field with the telcos. Allow municipalities to get into the business with none of the restrictions we have. We wanted to be able to wholesale our network services. Take Lawrenceberg, for example. They have no broadband and the telcos flat out refuse to build it there. We can expand our network over to them and they’d save $3 Million. But with the law the state legislature passed, we can’t serve them because they’re out of our area. If we shared head-in facilities, this would go a long way for economic development there.

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