Tag: "federal government"

Posted August 3, 2017 by lgonzalez

We’ve all been lied to, but when we’re lied to by those we rely on, it’s the worst. Right now, we are all subject to a lie about our Internet access. That lie is rooted in the idea that the best way to move forward is to allow the free market to dictate our access to the Internet, along with the quality of services, privacy protections, and competition.

The big ISPs try to tell us “it’s a competitive market,” then they tell their shareholders competition is scarce. They tell legislators they fear competing against relatively small municipal networks and cooperatives that only serve singular regions but they have subscribers in vast swaths across the country. Federal decision makers tout the benefits of competition, but approve consolidation efforts by a few powerful companies that are already behemoths. This reality is The Big Lie.

What can we do about it? First, understand the cause of the problem. Next, share that understanding. We’ve created this short video to explain The Big Lie; we encourage you to share it and to check out our other resources. Our fact sheets and reports are a great place to start if you’re looking for a way to improve connectivity in your community. Don't forget to check out our other videos, too. 

Posted March 31, 2017 by lgonzalez

After elected officials in Washington, D.C., voted to allow ISPs to invade their customers’ privacy online, leaders in Minnesota took steps to protect constituents. A recent amendment in St. Paul may be setting some new rules for ISPs operating in the Land of 10,000 Lakes.

Taking Action In Minnesota

Both the state House and Senate approved omnibus bill amendments that prevent ISPs from collecting the personal data resulting from customer use of the Internet. The Senate amendment language, introduced by Ron Latz, reads like this:

No telecommunications or internet service provider that has entered into a franchise agreement, right-of-way agreement, or other contract with the state of Minnesota or a political subdivision, or that uses facilities that are subject to such agreements, even if it is not a party to the agreement, may collect personal information from a customer resulting from the customer's use of the telecommunications or internet service provider without express written approval from the customer. No such telecommunication or internet service provider shall refuse to provide its services to a customer on the grounds that the customer has not approved collection of the customer's personal information.

The body voted 66 - 1 to adopt the language into the Senate omnibus jobs bill, SF 1937. In the House, an almost identical amendment was adopted into HF 2209, their economic development omnibus bill. The Senate version added the last sentence, preventing ISPs from denying service unless a customer allows their ISP to collect data.

After the amendment was included in the bill, Sen. Latz commented that the language was, “about standing up and saying that our online privacy rights are critically important.”

Latz's office told us that, since federal law is silent on this particular issue, the state may enact this...

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Posted December 16, 2016 by lgonzalez

Chairman Tom Wheeler will be stepping down as FCC Chairman as of January 20, 2017; the day President Obama leaves office. The decision is not surprising, as FCC chairmen typically leave their position when a new administration takes the helm, but Wheeler had not yet made it official. His departure emphasizes the apprehensive uncertainty that has troubled advocates of municipal networks, local telecommunications authority, and network neutrality, as well as a long list of other public policy concerns that affect our future through technology.

In a statement released on December 15, Chairman Wheeler wrote:

“Serving as FCC Chairman during this period of historic technological change has been the greatest honor of my professional life. I am deeply grateful to the President for giving me this opportunity. I am especially thankful to the talented Commission staff for their service and sacrifice during my tenure. Their achievements have contributed to a thriving communications sector, where robust investment and world-leading innovation continue to drive our economy and meaningful improvements in the lives of the American people. It has been a privilege to work with my fellow Commissioners to help protect consumers, strengthen public safety and cybersecurity, and ensure fast, fair and open networks for all Americans.”

He Proved Himself

When Tom Wheeler was appointed as 31st Chairman of the FCC in November 2013, we had our concerns. He was following Julius Genachowski, one of the worst FCC Chairs in modern history, who had been appointed in Obama's first term. He had run both cable and wireless industry trade groups, but was strongly defended by Susan Crawford and Gigi Sohn when public interest groups opposed him. He strongly surpassed our hopes for what the FCC could achieve.

Historically, the FCC has been a "captured" regulator, largely operating in favor of the largest telecommunications firms in a revolving door fashion. But Chairman Wheeler and Commissioners Clyburn and Rosenworcel listened to grassroots groups as well as industry, making important decisions to encourage more investment and choices in high quality Internet access. They also made historic decisions on prison phone rates and crafted new rules to make sure everyone could use the Internet, regardless of how able-bodied...

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Posted November 29, 2016 by KateSvitavsky

The Federal Reserve is responsible for setting interest rates and executing monetary policy in the United States, but many people don’t realize that the agency also has a hand in community development. This summer, the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas released a report, Closing the Digital Divide: A Framework for Meeting CRA Obligations, which includes information for banks about funding digital inclusion programs and community networks.

The report, published in July, states:

“Access to broadband has become essential to make progress in all areas of community development—education and workforce development, health, housing, small-business development and access to financial services.”

Closing the Digital Divide is important not only because it provides substantial information for banks, but also because it indicates federal support exists for community-based infrastructure improvements. The report discusses improving Internet access for low and moderate-income individuals and neighborhoods.

Using The Community Reinvestment Act To Improve Infrastructure

From the 1930 until the late 1970s, many banks denied lending to individuals and organizations based on their location. The practice is called “redlining” after the red ink that outlined low-income neighborhoods on a map, and was made illegal when Congress passed the Community Reinvestment Act (CRA) in 1977. Under the CRA, banks must to use the same evaluation criteria for all loan applicants regardless of the neighborhood they live in, which expands lending to include low and moderate-income (LMI) individuals. The Federal Reserve assesses banks’ performance under CRA guidelines, which bring about $100 million in capital to low and moderate income areas per year through various projects. Improving Internet access is an increasingly large portion of these initiatives.

In The Weeds

As part of the act, banks must “identify and invest in low and moderate-income communities.” Eligible activities include affordable housing, services geared toward LMI individuals, financing for certain small businesses and farms, and other revitalization efforts. Bringing broadband infrastructure to underserved communities qualifies as...

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Posted November 4, 2016 by lgonzalez

According to a 2014 Enforcement Advisory, cell phone and Wi-Fi jamming by state and local law enforcement is illegal by federal law. And yet, persistent allegations of jamming are coming from Water Protectors at the Standing Rock protests in North Dakota. Any jamming by law enforcement to monitor protestor cell phone communications is a serious breach of their Fourth Amendment rights as it amounts to unreasonable search and seizure. First Amendment rights of freedom of speech are also compromised when the method of transmitting reports is purposely blocked.

In order to pressure the FCC to determine whether jamming is happening in North Dakota, MoveOn.org has posted an online petition. From the petition:

Proving or disproving allegations about jamming is very difficult for anyone except the Federal Communications Commission [FCC]. Only the FCC can work with wireless providers, protesters, and local law enforcement to find out definitively what’s going on. The FCC is the only expert agency with authority to require law enforcement to disclose their use of any wireless devices and the only agency with the expertise to assess what is actually happening. If the FCC investigates and finds that there is no illegal jamming happening, then it can settle this concern. If the FCC discovers that there is illegal jamming happening, it has an obligation to expose the jamming and use its power under federal law to order local law enforcement to stop interfering with First Amendment rights of freedom of speech and freedom of the press.

As Harold Feld writes in his recent blog article, that the presence of IMSI catchers or Stingrays, leaves signs that the Water Protectors are experiencing at Standing Rock - sudden loss of a strong signal at inopportune times, cell phone batteries depleting quickly and inexplicably. Cell phones not only allow them to communicate with each other, but allow them to document law enforcement reaction:

In particular, the ability to upload streaming media documenting confrontations with authorities has been critical in proving whether...

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Posted September 27, 2016 by htrostle

We have recently covered state laws preempting local control, especially in North Carolina and Tennessee. State governments are supposed to be “laboratories of democracy” and municipalities are sub-parts of the state. Preemption is ostensibly to prevent problems, but instead these state laws limit local governments’ solutions for ensuring better connectivity.

At the same time, people trust their local government more than their state government to handle problems. That’s the latest finding from Gallup’s most recent Governance Poll, and that makes sense for all of us following community networks.

It's no surprise that trust starts with local community leaders. We have spoken to a number of public officials that acknowledge that when you know your elected official - perhaps live down the street from them or run into them at the grocery store - it's much easier to know that they share your hopes for the community.

Polls, Trends, and Republicans

Gallup’s September 7th-11th Governance Poll found that 71 percent trust their local government to handle problems, but only 62 percent say the same about their state government. This continues a fifteen-year trend of people putting their faith in local government more than in state government.

Seventy-five percent of Republicans stated that they have a "great deal/fair amount" of trust in local government. (Compare to only 71 percent of Independents and 66 percent of Democrats.)  This corresponds with what we found in January 2015 while analyzing our data. Most citywide, residential, municipal networks are built in conservative cities. They trust local governments to solve connectivity problems when the big providers can't or won't deliver.

Municipal network voting patterns

Image of the graph on trust in local and state governments from Gallup

Posted September 21, 2016 by lgonzalez

“A-number one importance.”

On September 15th, the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee gathered to discuss FCC oversight and telecommunications issues. Among those issues, the Committee discussed municipal networks.

Senator Cory Booker (D - NJ) asked FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler to provide his thoughts on how important it is that Congress takes action. The matter he put before Wheeler was the prospect that Congress act to allow local communities to have local authority on issues relating to Internet infrastructure and advanced telecommunications capabilities. How important is it?

Wheeler’s answer: “A-number one importance.”

Wilson, Pinetops, And A Harmful State Law

Booker, who introduced a bill in 2015 to restore local authority, brought up the subject of Wilson, North Carolina, and nearby Pinetops. When the FCC rolled back restrictive state laws in 2015, Wilson’s electric utility finally had the legal authority to help their neighbors so began offering high-quality Internet access through it’s municipal Internet service, Greenlight. Earlier this summer, the Court of Appeals found in favor of the state, which challenged the FCC decision. As a result, Wilson must cut off service to Pinetops or risk losing the legal ability to serve anyone. The FCC has announced that it will not pursue further review of the decision and will focus its resources on other areas. 

Booker described the situation in Pinetops as “disturbing,” but went on to praise Wilson for investing to solve the need in the region and pointing out how local businesses, including those in Pinetops, came to depend on those investments. He went on to say he was “disappointed, if not angered” by the Court of Appeal’s decision.  

Watch a clip of the hearing:

For Pinetops and other rural communities where big cable and DSL companies refuse to bring the...

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Posted August 31, 2016 by lgonzalez

In late July, the FCC released a Notice of Apparent Liability (NAL) in which it found the telecommunications giant AT&T Southeast liable for a $106,425 forfeiture. The agency also ordered the company to return $63,760 of E-rate funds it described as “improperly disbursed.” AT&T overcharged two school districts in Florida and, in a response released last week, are trying to justify their pilfer by blaming the E-rate rules and the schools themselves, much as a criminal blames victims for being such easy targets.

Funded By Phone Users

E-rate funds are collected as a surcharge on telephone bills; the funds go to schools to help pay for telecommunications costs at schools, including telephone, Internet access, and infrastructure costs like fiber network construction. The amount a school district receives depends on the number of students in the district that qualify for free and reduced lunches; schools with higher numbers of low-income students are reimbursed at a higher rate. Given that many of our schools are funded through property tax rolls, this means that schools in poorer neighborhoods that are more likely to need help with their budgets receive the higher reimbursement rates.

According to the program rules, phone companies and Internet Service Providers (ISPs) that participate are required to offer the “lowest corresponding price” to schools. Providers aren’t permitted to charge rates that exceed the “lowest corresponding price” or bid higher than that price on contracts to serve similarly situated entities if those entities are eligible to receive E-rate funds. School districts do not carry the burden of getting the lowest corresponding price - telephone and Internet access providers are responsible to ensure that they offer the lowest price in exchange for the opportunity to participate in the program. Between July 2012 and June 2015 alone, AT&T received $1.23 billion in E-rate funding nationwide.

Filching In Florida

In Orange County and Dixie County, AT&T charged the districts prices that were 400 percent higher than other phone rates in Florida, claims the FCC. Their investigation focused only on two types of telephone services. The FCC noted that when Florida deregulated phone services in 2011, AT&T “dramatically increase[d] its pricing.” According to the the NAL,...

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Posted August 17, 2016 by KateSvitavsky

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) recently asked for comments about a proposed rule to expand low-income access to high-speed Internet. The regulations would require building owners to install high-speed Internet infrastructure in HUD-funded multi-family rental housing during new construction or substantial rehabilitation, improving Internet access by promoting competition. Because the Internet infrastructure is not owned by one company, many Internet Service Providers (ISPs) can compete to provide residents with better options.

A variety of individuals and groups provided feedback for HUD, including local governments, nonprofit advocacy groups, ISPs, and professional associations. The majority of comments support HUD’s proposed rule, with many encouraging HUD to go further in their efforts to close the digital divide.

We submitted comments with Next Century Cities to articulate the importance of having reliable Internet access in the home:

Although Internet access may be available at schools, libraries, and other locations away from home, families with children - in particular single-parent households - face barriers to accessing those facilities. There is no substitute for having high quality home Internet access, where all members of a household can use it with privacy, security, and convenience. This high quality Internet access is what our organizations work with mayors and local leaders to achieve for residents and businesses everyday, which is why we feel so strongly about the proposed steps to close the digital divide and allow more residents to connect online.  

HUD correctly notes that installing telecommunications equipment during major rehabilitations or as units are being built creates an opportunity to ensure high quality access without significantly adding cost to the project. The ongoing benefits from high quality Internet access certainly dwarf the one-time low cost of installing appropriate technology. --Next Century Cities and the Institute for Local Self-Reliance

Promote Competition

Google Fiber discusses the...

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Posted July 12, 2016 by KateSvitavsky

As part of a growing interest in expanding fast, affordable, reliable Internet access for low-income families at home, the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) has proposed a new regulation requiring high-speed Internet infrastructure to be installed in HUD-funded multi-family rental housing during new construction or substantial rehabilitation. While the proposed rule doesn’t require developers to pay for Internet service subscriptions, it is a step in eliminating barriers that low-income families face in obtaining quality, consistent Internet access. Public comments are due July 18, 2016.

The proposed rule covers HUD’s rental assistance and grant programs, including its Section 8 housing assistance program, Supportive Housing for the Elderly and Disabled program, Community Development Block Grant program, and Choice Neighborhoods Implementation Grant program. Families living in multi-family housing can then choose to purchase full-priced Internet access from local providers or utilize other resources in their community, which include federal subsidy programs in addition to other state, local, and charitable programs.

Getting Wired Up

As for the actual infrastructure, several types of Internet access technologies satisfy the requirement. Developers can install either wireless (Wi-Fi, fixed and mobile wireless, satellite) or wired (digital subscriber lines also known as DSL, power lines or BPL, cable lines, or fiber) infrastructure. HUD expects most builders will elect to install wired access because of the rapidly changing nature of wireless technologies.

Additionally, wired access is more likely to provide meaningful competition between several Internet Service Providers (ISPs), lowering costs and improving service quality for multi-family housing residents. In an open access network, ISPs typically lease space on infrastructure owned by another entity rather than owning the physical infrastructure themselves. If HUD's new rule called for an open access model, multiple ISPs could utilize a building’s wired infrastructure to offer services to residents. According to HUD’s estimates, which are detailed in the proposed rule, the average construction costs for wired broadband access in its multi-family housing is approximately $200 per unit.

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