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Blackburn and Tillis Introduce Bill Aimed to Undo FCC Decision to Restore Local Authority

Last week, the FCC made history when it chose to restore local telecommunications authority by nullifying state barriers in Tennessee and North Carolina. Waiting in the wings were Rep. Marsha Blackburn and Senator Thom Tillis from Tennessee and North Carolina respectively, with their legislation to cut off the FCC at the knees. [A PDF of the draft legislation is available online.]

Readers will remember Blackburn from last year. She introduced a similar measure in the form of an amendment to an appropriations bill. Blackburn has repeatedly attributed her attempts to block local authority to her mission to preserve the rights of states. A Broadcasting and Cable article quoted her:

“The FCC’s decision to grant the petitions of Chattanooga, Tennessee and Wilson, North Carolina is a troubling power grab,” Blackburn said. “States are sovereign entities that have Constitutional rights, which should be respected rather than trampled upon. They know best how to manage their limited taxpayer dollars and financial ventures."

Thom Tillis, the other half of this Dystopian Duo, released a statement just hours after the FCC decision:

“Representative Blackburn and I recognize the need for Congress to step in and take action to keep unelected bureaucrats from acting contrary to the expressed will of the American people through their state legislatures.”

Considering that networks in Chattanooga and Wilson are incredibly popular and an increasing number of communities across the country are approving municipal network initatives through the ballot, it is obvious that Tillis is rather confused about the expressed will of the American people. He needs to sign up for our once weekly newsletter!

No doubt the decision will be tied up in court proceedings for some time to come as state lawmakers attempt to control what municipalities do with their own connectivity decisions.

In keeping with the drama of the recent days, I have to say, "The lady doth protest too much, methinks." If Blackburn and Tillis are so convinced the FCC is overstepping, why not let the matter be decided in the courts? They know the law is not on their side, that's why.

We encourage you to contact your elected officials, and let them know that you think about the Blackburn/Tillis bill: "that dog won't hunt," in the words of Chairman Wheeler. The victory of February 26th was a significant first step in a long road to ensuring fast, affordable, reliable Internet for every one. Let's keep the momentum rolling.

Jim Baller is the Senior Principal of Baller Herbst Stokes & Lide, the lead counsel to Wilson and the Chattanooga EPB. You can read Jim's full statement at the firm's website:

“This is an important moment for communities in North Carolina, Tennessee, and other states that have barriers to local investments in advanced communications networks,” said Jim Baller, senior principal of Baller Herbst Stokes & Lide. “Not only has the Commission confirmed that it has authority to remove such barriers, but it has also compiled a massive record documenting the critical role that local Internet choice can play in fostering strong, vibrant communities and in ensuring that the United States will remain a leading nation in the emerging knowledge-based global economy.”

Cable Companies Lose Big at FCC, Barriers to Community Broadband Struck Down

For Immediate Release: February 26, 2015

Contact: Christina DiPasquale, 202.716.1953, Christina@fitzgibbonmedia.com

BREAKING: Cable Companies Lose Big at FCC, Barriers to Community Broadband Struck Down

Two southern cities today persuaded the Federal Communications Commission to recognize their right to build their own publicly owned Internet networks where existing providers had refused to invest in modern connections. The 3-2 FCC vote removes barriers for municipal networks in Chattanooga, Tennessee and Wilson, North Carolina, to extend their high-quality Internet service to nearby areas.  

Said Christopher Mitchell, Director of Community Broadband Networks at the Institute for Local Self-Reliance:

“Cable companies lost their bet that millions spent on lobbying to stifle competition was a wiser investment than extending high-quality Internet to our nation’s entrepreneurs, students and rural families. 

“Preventing big Internet Service Providers from unfairly discriminating against content online is a victory, but allowing communities to be the owners and stewards of their own broadband networks is a watershed moment that will serve as a check against the worst abuses of the cable monopoly for decades to come.”

The FCC decision sets an historic precedent for towns working to offer municipal broadband networks in twenty states that have enacted limits or bans on local governments building, owning, or even partnering to give local businesses and residents a choice in high speed Internet access. Three-quarters of Americans currently have either no broadband or no choice of their Internet provider. 

Christopher Mitchell, the Director of Community Broadband Networks at the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, has traveled to over 20 states and spoken with over 100 community groups looking to provide high-quality Internet for their residents. He has also advised members of the FCC on related telecommunications issues in the lead-up to the decision.

For interviews around the FCC decision, please contact Christina DiPasquale at 202.716.1953 or at christina@fitzgibbonmedia.com. To view a map tracking local government investments in wired telecommunications networks and state laws that discourage such approaches, please visit: http://www.muninetworks.org/communitymap.

Municipal broadband networks (munis):

  • Create thousands of new private sector jobsA collaborative muni effort in Georgia between five towns, is credited with bringing over 6,000 new jobs to the region by building and sustaining their network. The muni in Springfield, MO convinced online travel company Expedia to move to the town and has 900 local jobs because their network allowed the company to stay and expand.
  • Protect consumers by offering competitive pricing. During the period of 2007-08, Time Warner Cable increased rates up to 40 percent in some of the areas in Raleigh, NC, while not increasing rates in nearby Wilson—which has a strong muni. Chattanooga’s muni grew from a basic connection of 15 Mbps, when it was first founded, to 100 Mbps today–without raising prices once. The slowest connection available in Chattanooga from the utility is 10 times faster than the average American connection.
  • Provide higher speed Internet that allows for increased business activity. The largest employers in Wilson, NC rely on the municipal broadband network for their transactions. The muni in Springfield, MO, attracted John Deere Remanufactured and the McLane Company to the area. 
  • Do not rely on taxpayer financing, like large private telephone companies. Most municipal networks are financed through methods that do not involve raising taxes: revenue bonds, interdepartmental loans and savings created by ending expensive leased services. Dakota County in MN has saved $10 million over 10-15 years by building their own network and ending leases. Over $2 million in revenues from the Thomasville, GA network contributed to the town’s ability to eliminate its local fire tax.
  • Receive broad support from voters, regardless of party affiliation. Roughly 3 out of 4 cities with citywide munis reliably vote Republican and polling shows that 2 out of 3 Republicans, Independents, and Democrats prefer that decisions about how to best expand their Internet access be made by local governments.
  • Foster the strength of local businesses. Politically conservative communities in Chanute, KS, and Lafayette, LA, have munis that are working on the deployment of fiber networks to encourage economic development by allowing businesses to market themselves and compete online in the global marketplace. Lafayette has added over 1,000 tech jobs in 2014 alone.
  • Expand educational opportunities. The muni in Longmont, CO, is now providing 10 times the bandwidth that their school district previously received from a private provider at an annual savings of $100,000. Munis in Carroll County, MD, and Chanute, KS, have both allowed schools they service to offer new distance learning classes in multiple locations via video streaming. The city of Rockport, ME, partnered with a nonprofit college to bring students upload speeds 200 times faster than Time Warner Cable’s package for the area.

Republican Tennessee Leader Endorses Local Authority

Republican State Senator Janice Bowling from Tennessee is once again speaking out in favor of local telecommunications authority. On Monday, she published an op-ed in the Tennessean titled "Don't limit high-speed broadband to big cities," noting that rural communities often have no choice but to build their own infrastructure to obtain fast, reliable, affordable Internet access for residents and businesses.

Bowling refers to Tullahoma, her own home town, where economic growth is strong and Internet access is affordable. Tullahoma has a history of increasing speeds without increasing rates and now offers gigabit service for around $100. Unfortunately, Tullahoma is surrounded by communities it cannot help due to the state limitations.

Tennessee's restrictive laws prevent other communities from following in Tullahoma's footsteps. She sees the way these laws hold back people in her home state:

Unfortunately, public broadband networks are impeded by restrictive state laws that limit the power municipals have in providing services. In Tennessee, a 1999 law prohibits municipalities that operate broadband networks from providing service to anyone outside of the boundaries of their electrical footprint. This means that people in rural towns and small communities are still without high-speed Internet.

They’re without educational and employment opportunities, improved modern health care, enhanced public safety or better-quality government services, among other benefits.

As a senator representing seven rural counties and a resident of a small community myself, I am speaking out for all of those who are being held hostage to 20th-century technology. Let us grow our economies, improve our governments’ performance and create jobs for in our communities. Let us have Internet choice(s).

In November, Senator Bowling spoke at the Next Century Cities event "Envisioning a Gigabit Future." Below is her presentation on the need for high-speed connectivity and local authority in rural communities.

Photo available as a creative commons work from Senator Bowling's Campaign website.

Video: 
See video

Benton Foundation Article Dives Into Upcoming FCC Decision and Section 706

Kevin Taglang, recently published an excellent explanatory post for the Benton Foundation entitled What Section 706 Means for Net Neutrality, Municipal Networks, and Universal Broadband. He provides just the right amount of detail to get one up top speed on the upcoming decision and why it promises to be so influential. Additionally, he summarizes many federal programs relating to Internet access.

We already know that February 26th will be an historic day in telecommunications. On that day, the FCC's decision on new network neutrality rules and municipal broadband networks has the potential to literally change millions of lives. The decision will impact education, economic development, jobs, healthcare, communications, utilities - you name it. 

Taglang fittingly describes the series of findings from the FCC as a three act play. Read the text of the play, anticipate the conflict, see how the characters clash, and you will be the dramaturge. 

Act I: The FCC Considers U.S. Broadband and Finds It Lacking:

In addition to other factors, the FCC looked at the way we defined broadband (4 Mbps/1 Mbps), what capacity is needed to align with the way households use broadband (as in multiple devices simultaneously), and how ISPs market their services (25 Mbps as a minimum downstream acceptable). 

Accessibility rates showed divergent results based on urban and rural geography. The agency reassessed what is needed in schools for students and staff. The result was a decision to redefine broadband as 25 Mbps/3 Mbps and, once the agency determined that, the landscape changed dramatically. In January, the FCC adopted the Broadband Progress Report for 2015 [PDF], which asked what is advanced telecommunications capability now and are all Americans able to access that capacity?

From the arcticle:

Given these gaps in availability, the FCC concluded that advanced telecommunications capability is not being deployed to all Americans in a reasonable and timely fashion. And, in light of this finding, the FCC must “take immediate action to accelerate deployment of such capability by removing barriers to infrastructure investment and by promoting competition in the telecommunications market.”

 

Act II: Major Federal Efforts to Expand the Reach of Broadband

Taglang documents the many programs, funds, orders, and initiatives at the federal level aimed at promoting broadband. The White House, the FCC, and the Departments of Agriculture and Commerce have been particularly active. Nevertheless, broadband in the USA is not moving fast enough.

 

Act III: Notice of Inquiry on Immediate Action to Accelerate Broadband Deployment

In addition to the progress Report, the FCC established a Notice of Inquiry to find ways to remove the barriers to infrastructure investment and promote competition. Taglang writes:

The FCC’s NOI asks for comment on additional actions it can take to increase competition, remove barriers to market entry or stimulate the offering of innovative services. For example, are there efforts in addition to those we have taken that would encourage providers to enter the market or expand their reach to unserved or underserved areas, including Tribal lands?

The FCC also seeks comment on how to address the disparity in broadband availability between Americans living in urban areas with those living in rural areas and Tribal lands. This gap, the FCC notes, is, by itself, the basis for a determination that broadband is not being deployed to all Americans in a reasonable and timely fashion.

Finally, the FCC asks if there are additional actions it could take to reduce the number of schools that lack high-capacity broadband.

With these three major acts in mind, the expected result will be a timely implementation of ubiquitous broadband in the U.S., writes Taglang. He is sensible, however:

There are no silver bullets or single efforts that can get us there on their own. It will take pragmatic policy choices and sustained policy attention in a variety of areas -- from new policies around lowering barriers to pole attachments, deployment of fiber, improved access to programming, access to spectrum, a vigorous competition policy agenda, and policies that continue to enable innovation in the content and services that broadband can deliver and that can transform the way we work, the way we live, and the way we learn. Ultimately, that is the challenge that is before us. And the reason that Congress gave us Section 706 in the first place.

Opelika Speaks From Experience: Support Local Authority!

Opelika has offered FTTH to residents and businesses for less than six months but already it is singing the praises of local choice. Mayor Gary Fuller is now speaking out in an opinion piece in AL.com, encouraging the FCC to allow Wilson, Chattanooga, and other communities to have the same opportunity as Opelika.

Mayor Fuller points out that local telecommunications authority is an organic outgrowth of local self-reliance:

Cities have always been at the heart of economic expansion, entrepreneurialism, and local connection to citizens, charged with ensuring high-quality education for our children, caring for our sick and elderly neighbors, and laying the foundation for shared prosperity. As we look to the years ahead, high-speed broadband will only become more and more important to the quality and vitality of our community. 

That's why in Opelika, I led the charge to become the first city in Alabama to offer this cutting edge technology, both to residential and business customers. As a result, Opelika citizens now have access to fast, reliable broadband speeds that will turn possibilities into real opportunities. Businesses now have more opportunities to expand and grow, work more effectively and efficiently, and compete in a larger market. 

As one of over 450 communities that have invested in the infrastructure for better connectivity, Opelika can speak from experience. Mayor Fuller encourages all FCC Commissioners to support the notion of local choice:

The important fact is that every city must have the power to make the best decisions for their residents, free of interference. That's why the Federal Communications Commission should join Chairman Wheeler in preserving these two communities' right to self-determination. 

In Opelika, our citizens are building a stronger more prosperous city based on local Internet choice. If more cities have those same opportunities, someday soon it may not be so strange for a 30,000-person city to offer blazing fast Internet.

Check out Opelika's recent marketing videos and listen to Chris interview Mayor Fuller back in Episode #40 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast.

Join Christopher on Reddit: Ask Him Anything Feb. 26th, 6 - 7 p.m. EST

This event was cancelled when Reddit chose not to list it on the calendar. We will be happy to do an AMA if there is sufficient interest in the future.

On February 26th, from 6 - 7 p.m. EST, join Chris on Reddit for an Ask Me Anything forum. We encourage you to chat in with your questions. He is ready to answer all your inquiries about municipal networks, community broadband, and the FCC action expected that day.

As our readers know, the FCC anticipates rendering a vote on Docket 14-28, Protecting and Promoting the Open Internet. First on the agenda, however, will be the Chattanooga and Wilson petitions. If the Commission decides in favor of allowing these cities to expand despite Tennessee and North Carolina barriers, as Chairman Tom Wheeler has advocated, state barriers prohibiting or discouraging local telecommunications authority may be on the way out.

Chris will have front row seat at the FCC proceedings, so get your questions ready! We will update this post with the link to our AMA when it is ready. In the meantime, start thinking up questions!

USA Today Leadership Latest to Support Munis

USA Today recently joined the growing list of national press to publicly support local telecommunications authority. In its February 16th opinion piece, the Editorial Board commented on the proposed rule being considered by the FCC that would allow local communities to chart their own course with no preemption from state legislatures:

The FCC should stand up to the broadband lobby and approve the rule. The laws in question have not been passed in the name of limited government but rather in the name of limiting competition.

USA Today recognizes that many of the communities that invest in infrastructure do so out of necessity when they cannot draw the interest of the big players that fight to limit their ability to make those investments. Whether or not a community decides to deploy a muni should always be left up to the people who live there, argues the Editorial Board:

The question, however, is not whether these systems are good, but whether they should be quashed by acts of legislatures. The answer is no.

Municipal Networks and Small ISP Partners to FCC: Title II Not a Problem

A group of municipal leaders and their private sector small ISP partners submitted an ex parte filing with the FCC today stating that they see no reason to fear Title II reclassification of Internet access. The statement, signed by a variety of towns and providers from different areas of the country is reproduced in full:

Dear Chairman Wheeler,

As a group of local governments and small ISPs that have been working to expand the highest quality Internet access to our communities, we commend you for your efforts to improve Internet access across the country. We are committed to a free and open Internet without blocking, throttling, or discriminating by ISPs.

As local governments and small ISPs, we wanted to ensure you are aware that not all local governments and ISPs think alike on matters like reclassification. For instance, on July 18, 2014, the mayors of New York City; Portland, Oregon; and San Francisco called on you to issue the strongest possible rules to guarantee Net Neutrality. Each of these communities is also taking steps to expand and improve high quality Internet access to their businesses and residents.

Our approaches vary but are already resulting in the highest level of service available because we are committed to expanding high quality Internet access to supercharge local economies and improve quality of life. We have no interest in simply replicating older triple play model approaches. We want to build the infrastructure of the future and we see nothing in the proposed Title II reclassification of Internet access that would hinder our ability to do that. As Sonic CEO Dane Jasper has strongly argued, ISPs that don’t want to interfere with their subscribers’ traffic should expect a light regulatory touch.

We thank you for your leadership during this difficult period of transition. We understand that many of our colleagues have trouble trusting the FCC given a history that has, in many cases, ignored the challenges small entities face in this industry. But whether it has been increasing the speed definition of broadband, or calling for the removal of barriers to community networks, we have been impressed with your willingness to take on powerful interest groups to ensure the Internet remains a vibrant, open platform.

We look forward to working with you to ensure that future rules recognize the unique challenges of small providers and innovative approaches to expanding access.

Sincerely,

  • Peter d'Errico, Town of Leverett MA, Municipal Light Plant, Town of Leverett MA Select Board
  • Fletcher Kittredge, President and CEO, GWI, Maine
  • Rick Bates, Town Manager, Town of Rockport, Maine
  • Kevin Utz, Mayor, Westminster, Maryland
  • Dr Robert Wack, Council Member, Westminster, Maryland 
  • R. Brough Turner, Founder and CTO, netBlazr Inc., Boston, MA
  • Pete Ashdown, Founder and CEO of XMission, Salt Lake City, Utah
  • Elliot Noss, CEO, Tucows / Ting
  • Kim Kleppe, Information Systems Director, City of Mount Vernon, Washington
  • Dana Kirkham, Mayor, City of Ammon, ID
  • Levi C. Maaia, President, Full Channel Labs, Warren, Rhode Island

You can also view the PDF of the filing at the FCC website.

For more on Title II and how it may or may not affect municipal networks and their private partners, listen to Chris interview Chris Lewis from Public Knowledge in Episode #138 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast.

Answering Questions About Title II and Munis - Community Broadband Bits Episode 138

As we near the FCC open meeting at the end of next week, when it will decide on both the Chattanooga and Wilson petitions regarding their wish to expand as well as a proposal to reclassify Internet access a Title II service in order to ensure it can maintain the same open Internet we have long loved. We have mostly focused on the muni petitions, but after hearing some concerns from some munis regarding Title II, we realized we have to delve into the Title II reclassification more deeply.

Enter Chris Lewis, VP of Government of Affairs for Public Knowledge. I've always enjoyed talking with Chris on various issues around telecom policy and we asked him to come on and answer some of the questions we have heard.

We talk about the prospects of rate regulation, unbundling, transparency requirements, and the process for filing complaints until Title II. Overall, our conclusion is that the rules as we understand them, are quite reasonable and should not pose a problem to munis that are already committed to providing a high quality service.

You can read a Fact Sheet about the proposed rules here.

Read the transcript from this episode here.

We want your feedback and suggestions for the show - please e-mail us or leave a comment below.

This show is 22 minutes long and can be played below on this page or via iTunes or via the tool of your choice using this feed.

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

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Thanks to Persson for the music, licensed using Creative Commons. The song is "Blues walk."

38 Next Century Cities Leaders Sign Letter to FCC Supporting Local Authority

President Obama suggested restoring local telecommunications authority while visiting Cedar Falls in January and a number of local elected officials were ready to back him up. Leaders from 38 members of Next Century Cities recently submitted a public letter to the FCC urging commissioners to consider local autonomy as they consider the Chattanooga and Wilson, North Carolina, petitions.

Last summer, both communities filed with the FCC seeking relief from restrictive state laws that prevent their broadband utilities from serving surrounding communities. FCC Chairman Wheeler has spoken in support of local authority more than once. Next Century Cities, a coalition of communities that was formed specifically to advance better connectivity, writes:

We write only to urge that, as you consider these petitions, you take proper account of the importance of local choice and autonomy. The benefits of high-quality broadband are now beyond dispute: these projects have stimulated local innovation and economic development, enhanced education, improved government services, and opened new worlds of opportunity to communities and citizens. It is our hope that federal policy will support the realization of these outcomes in our communities and in towns and cities across the country, by empowering every community to meet the needs of their residents.

You can read the full letter [PDF] online to see if your elected officials signed on.

The FCC's decision on the petitions is expected in February.