Tag: "legislation"

Posted October 16, 2017 by lgonzalez

Torpedo legislation aimed at municipal network initiatives don’t usually appear in October, but Michigan’s year-round legislature is making 2017 atypical. Last week, Freshman Representative Michele Hoitenga from the rural village of Manton in Wexford County introduced a bill banning investment in municipal networks.

HB 5099 is short; it decrees that local communities cannot use federal, state, or their own funds to invest in even the slowest Internet infrastructure, if they choose to do it themselves:

THE PEOPLE OF THE STATE OF MICHIGAN ENACT: 

SEC. 13B. (1) EXCEPT AS OTHERWISE PROVIDED IN SUBSECTION (2), A LOCAL UNIT SHALL NOT USE ANY FEDERAL, STATE, OR LOCAL FUNDS OR LOANS TO PAY FOR THE COST OF PROVIDING QUALIFIED INTERNET SERVICE. (2) A LOCAL UNIT MAY ENTER INTO AN AGREEMENT WITH 1 OR MORE PRIVATE PARTIES TO PROVIDE QUALIFIED INTERNET SERVICE. (3) AS USED IN THIS SECTION, "QUALIFIED INTERNET SERVICE" MEANS HIGH-SPEED INTERNET SERVICE AT A SPEED OF AT LEAST 10 MBPS UPSTREAM AND 1 MBPS DOWNSTREAM.

The exception allows local communities to engage in public-private partnerships, but the bill’s ambiguous language is likely to discourage local communities from pursuing such partnerships. As we’ve seen from partnerships that have successfully brought better connectivity to towns such as Westminster, Maryland, communities often took the initiative to invest in the infrastructure prior to establishing a partnership. Typically, the infrastructure attracts a private sector partner. If a community in Michigan wants to pursue a partnership that suits the exception of HB 5099, they will first have to grapple with the chicken and the egg dilemma.

Rather than put themselves at risk of running afoul of the law, prudent community leaders would probably choose to avoid pursuing any publicly owned infrastructure initiatives.

Munis Gaining Ground In Michigan

seal-michigan.png Michigan already has a significant state barrier in place; municipalities that wish to improve connectivity must first appeal to the private... Read more

Posted September 29, 2017 by lgonzalez

California Legislators have turned on their constituents living in rural areas who want to participate in the 21st century online economy. What began as a move in the right direction - allocating substantial resources to funding high-speed Internet infrastructure - has become another opportunity to protect big incumbents. It’s twice as nice for Frontier and AT&T, because they will be paid big bucks to meet a low Internet access bar.

Discretionary Fund

Democrat Eduardo Garcia, the main author on Assembly Bill 1665, represents the Coachella Valley, a rural area in the southern area of the state near Palm Springs. Democrat Jim Wood coauthored with eight others. Wood represents coastal areas in the northern part of the state, which was passed during the eleventh hour of the 2017 legislative session. Wood’s district and region has obtained several grants from the California Advanced Services Fund (CASF) that have helped to improve local connectivity. 

The CASF is much like CAF; both programs are funded through a surcharge on revenue collected by telecommunications carriers from subscribers. Since 2007, when California authorized the CASF, the legislature has amended the rules and requirements several times. Early on, CASF awards went primarily to smaller, local companies because large corporations such as AT&T and Frontier did not pursue the grants. Now that those behemoths have their eyes on CASF grants, they’ve found a way to push out the companies who need the funds and have shown that they want to provide better services to rural Californians.

AB 1665 allocates $300 million to Internet infrastructure investment and an additional $30 million to adoption and related local programs. Policy experts have criticized the legislation on several fronts. Consultant Steve Blum told CVIndependent:

The incumbents (large corporate ISPs) including AT&T, Frontier and the California Cable and Telecommunications Association jumped in and said, ‘We want the bill to be X, Y and Z.’ … Assemblymember Eduardo Garcia took it and started adding language that reflected the desires of these cable and telephone company incumbents.

“The bill went through three revisions, and each time,... Read more

Posted September 11, 2017 by lgonzalez

Two Ohio State Senators are taking a page from Minnesota’s playbook to expand rural broadband connectivity. Democratic Sen. Joe Schiavoni and Republican Sen. Cliff Hite recently announced that they would be introducing legislation to create a grant program modeled after the Minnesota Border-to-Border Broadband Grant Program.

Putting Money Into It

The program is expected to expand broadband Internet access to approximately 14,000 rural Ohio households per year. State officials estimate that 300,000 homes and 88,500 businesses in rural areas of the state do not have access to broadband connectivity.

In Minnesota, the Department of Employment and Economic Development hosts the Office of Broadband Development, which administrates grant awards and management. The Ohio bill will place the responsibility for the program in the hands of their Development Services Agency (DSA).

Grants will be awarded of up to $5 million for infrastructure projects in unserved and underserved areas; the grants cannot fund more than half the total cost of each project. Recipients can be businesses, non-profits, co-ops or political subdivisions. The bill allocates $50 million per year for broadband development from the state’s Ohio Third Frontier bond revenues.

The Ohio Third Frontier is a state economic development initiative aimed at boosting tech companies that are in early stages and helping diverse startups. The Ohio General Assembly appropriates funds to the program, much like the Office of Broadband Development in Minnesota.

Minnesota Setting The Trend

seal-minnesota.jpg This isn’t the first time politicians have looked longingly at Minnesota’s plan to build more network infrastructure in rural areas. Ralph Northam, Virginia’s Lieutenant Governor, released an economic plan for his state this summer and addressed the need to improve connectivity in rural areas. In his plan, he suggested that the state adopt clear goals “[s]imilar to the legislation Minnesota has passed.”

His report... Read more

Posted August 28, 2017 by Staff

This is the transcript for episode 267 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast. Michael Anderson from Spiral Internet joins the show to explain how this small ISP is building next-generation networks in rural California. Listen to this episode here.

Michael Anderson: If there's an existing incumbent nearby, and they claim that area, then they can say, "No, you can't fund that, we'll challenge it," and then they don't really have to give you a timeframe as to when they are going to provide that service, so it is a real show stopper.

Lisa Gonzalez: This is episode 267 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast, from the Institute for Local Self-Reliance. I'm Lisa Gonzalez. This week, Michael Anderson from Spiral Internet, and Christopher, talk about the California company, their history, and their approach. They also discuss what it's like to work in an environment where national providers do all they can to pretend competition from ISPs like Spiral. Some of those efforts are playing out right now, as the state legislature reviews funding that has traditionally been used to expand Internet access in rural areas. Before we start the interview, we want to remind you that this commercial-free conversation is not free to produce. Please take a moment to contribute at ILSR.org. If you've already contributed, thanks. Now here's Christopher and Michael Anderson from Spiral Internet.

Christopher Mitchell: Welcome to another edition of the Community Broadband Bits podcast. I'm Chris Mitchell with the Institute for Local Self-Reliance up here in Minneapolis. Today I'm talking with Michael Anderson, the Chief Information Officer for Spiral Internet, all the way out there in California. Welcome to the show.

Michael Anderson: Thank you, Chris.

Christopher Mitchell: So, you are in California, but in a place called Nevada City, I believe, which confuses me every single time I talk to you or one of your folks from Spiral Internet. Can you tell us a little more about your company?

Michael Anderson: Whenever you hear Nevada City, California, people still think that we are in the state of Nevada, which is not the case. Actually, Nevada City had the name "... Read more

Posted August 23, 2017 by christopher

With the right policies and local investment, Spiral Internet could bring high quality Internet access to much of northern California. Spiral is a small private company and its CIO, Michael Anderson, talks with us today for episode 267 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast. 

We discuss Spiral's enthusiasm for open access fiber networks and how the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) is funding some rural Internet investment. In particular, we get a sense of how Spiral is making the transition from reselling DSL to fighting for open fiber networks in rural California. 

One of the larger challenges today is an effort in the California Legislature to modify the rural broadband subsidy program to essentially give AT&T veto power over the CPUC grants. As we have discussed many times before, AT&T and some of the cable companies want a right of first refusal to grants, a policy that would dramatically disrupt the process for the smaller companies that are actually investing in high quality connectivity in areas poorly served by the incumbents. 

Read the transcript of this show here.

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

This show is 28 minutes long and can be played on this page or via iTunes or the tool of your choice using this feed.

You can download this mp3 file directly from here. Listen to other episodes here or view all episodes in our index.

Thanks to Arne Huseby for the music. The song is Warm Duck Shuffle and is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution (3.0) license.

Posted June 30, 2017 by lgonzalez

It’s been a long road for Pinetops, North Carolina, as they’ve sought better connectivity in their rural community. After dramatic ups and downs, the community seems to have finally found a tepid resolution. Greenlight can, for now, continue to serve Pinetops.

With Conditions

On June 28th, the General Assembly passed HB 396, which allows Wilson’s municipal network, Greenlight, to continue to provide gigabit connectivity to the town and to Vick Family Farms but establishes conditions. If or when another provider brings Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) service to Pinetops, Wilson has 30 days to end service as customers transition to the new provider. Until a different provider comes to Pinetops, Greenlight will continue to offer its gigabit connectivity to the approximately 600 households and premises in the community of about 1,300 people.

In addition to premises in the town of Pinetops, Greenlight is serving Vick Family Farm, a local potato manufacturer. When the business obtained access to high-quality Internet access, they were able to expand their business internationally; they invested in a high tech distribution facility. The facility requires the kind of capacity they can only get from Greenlight.

Community leaders in Pinetops are relieved they don’t have to give up fiber connectivity, but they’re happy with the service they get with Greenlight and would rather stick with the muni.

“Although not the solution we expected, we are pleased this bill allows us to continue to leverage Greenlight’s next generation infrastructure as we focus on growing our community,” said [Town Commissioner Suzanne] Coker-Craig. “Hopefully, no other provider will exercise the option to build redundant infrastructure that our community neither wants nor needs. Pinetops has made it clear that we want the quality and speed of service that only Greenlight can provide.”

Read the text of the bill here.

What A Long, Strange Trip It’s Been... Read more

Posted June 14, 2017 by lgonzalez

The State Legislature in Indiana sent SB 478 to Governor Eric Holcomb earlier this session; he recently signed the bill into law. Also known as the Facilitating Internet Broadband Rural Expansion (FIBRE) Act, the new law allows electric cooperatives with easements for electric lines to use those same easement for fiber infrastructure. The change in existing law will allow rural electric cooperatives to bring high-quality Internet access to the many rural regions in Indiana that are now unserved or underserved.

Updating Easements For Connectivity

SB 478 applies only to existing easements between electric suppliers and property owners. It doesn’t apply to new electric easements, railroad property, or the installation of new poles, conduit, or other structures. Other exceptions also apply to limit the new easement applications to existing infrastructure. 

The language of the bill provides in detail the steps that a property owner can take if they oppose the installation of the new infrastructure under the purview of an existing easement. It also lays out the information that an electricity provider must provide to the property owner regarding the plan for fiber infrastructure deployment and planned delivery. The bill goes on to establish further procedures if a property owner decides to pursue legal action if they feel their property value is decreased due to the new infrastructure or other related matters.

Lastly, the bill lays out procedural requirements for an electric cooperative that decides to offer broadband Internet. They must create a separate entity and maintain a separate accounting system.

Read the entire bill here.

Learning From The Co-op Guys

Republican State Senator Eric Koch, lead author on the bill, introduced the legislation as part of his ongoing efforts to improve connectivity in Indiana’s rural areas. According to a March article in the Indiana Economic Digest:

A couple of years ago, Koch was working on another issue with the Indiana Electric Cooperatives, and he saw maps of all the areas that are served by... Read more

Posted May 4, 2017 by Nick

TechDirt - May 4, 2017

Maine The Latest State To Try And Let Giant Broadband Providers Write Shitty, Protectionist State Law

Written by Karl Bode

One of (several) reasons why American broadband is so uncompetitive is the fact that we continue to let giant broadband mono/duopolies quite literally write awful state telecom law. As we've long noted, more than twenty different states have passed laws making it difficult to impossible for towns and cities to improve their local broadband networks -- even in instances when the entrenched duopoly refuses to. Many of these laws even ban towns and cities from entering into public/private partnerships with the likes of Google Fiber. It's pure protectionism.

Maine is the 49th ranked state in broadband speed and coverage -- in large part due to rural markets. Despite countless years of subsidies, broadband providers consistently refuse to seriously upgrade these areas at any scale due to costs. And yet they refuse to let the towns do it themselves, either. State Representative Nate Wadsworth has introduced HP1040, aka "An Act To Encourage Broadband Development through Private Investment." Except like so many of these bills, the proposed law's name is a stark 180 from what the legislative measure actually does.

...

And laws banning municipal broadband -- and especially public/private partnerships -- accomplish the exact opposite of that. And while large ISPs (and their ocean of paid think tankers, economists, and other doller-per-holler professionals) have tried to make this a partisan issue -- the vast majority of municipal networks are built in Conservative areas with broad, bipartisan support. That's because there's one thing we can all agree on: nobody likes the local cable and broadband monopoly.

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... Read more

Posted May 3, 2017 by lgonzalez

Today in the Maine Legislature, the Committee on Energy, Utilities and Technology voted unanimously to stop LD 1516, a bill that would restrict local telecommunications authority. After Tuesday's compelling testimony, when it was time for a Wednesday vote, LD 1516’s sponsor moved the bill be shelved.

Engaging Testimony

On Tuesday, May 2nd, the Committee of Senators and Representatives met to listen to testimony on the bill. We’ve provided audio of the public hearing.

South Portland, Islesboro, the Sanford Regional Economic Growth Council, and Rockport all sent experts with knowledge about developing public projects to testify in opposition to the bill. Representatives from GWI (the ISP working with several local communities that have invested in their own Internet infrastructure), the Maine Municipal Association, and the Mayors’ Coalition also testified against LD 1516.

Communities where publicly owned fiber is already improving local connectivity provided stories of how they tried unsuccessfully to work with incumbents. Page Classon from Islesboro described how incumbent proposals could be described as, “You pay for it, we own it, we charge you what we charge everyone else.” LD 1516 requires local referendums for such investments and Classon balked at taking such a proposal to the voters.

In South Portland, the city paid for construction of its open access fiber-optic network with general fund reserves. The language in LD 1516 restricts communities to funding through revenue bonds but South Portland uses its network to offer free Wi-Fi and to improve connectivity for municipal facilities. Under LD 1516, they would not have been able to make the investment.

Rick Bates from Rockport testified that the bill would force municipalities to contend with restrictions that legacy providers will never face and how those restrictions will not solve the problem of connecting rural Maine. Bates also took the opportunity to point out that organizations such as the Taxpayer Protection Alliance relies on misinformation and incorrect data, such as their erroneous assertion that Rockport has debt for its FTTH project.

... Read more

Posted April 27, 2017 by lgonzalez

Earlier this week, we learned that a bill in the Maine House of Representatives had been introduced that would steal local telecommunication authority from communities working to improve their connectivity. LD 1516 / HP 1040 was assigned to the House Energy, Utilities and Technology Committee and is scheduled for a hearing on May 2nd at 1 p.m.

No Barriers...Yet

Maine is a mostly rural state that doesn’t draw much investment from national cable and telephone companies, so in the past few years local folks have started taking steps to improve Internet access for themselves. Their efforts have gotten the attention of the big corporations that fear competition and, since Maine doesn’t have restrictions on municipal networks, it appears to be one of the next targets. Rep. Nathan Wadsworth’s bill imposes a number of restrictions that threaten to derail current or proposed projects to bring better connectivity to several Maine communities. 

The bill is deceivingly titled “An Act To Encourage Broadband Development through Private Investment,” but it will discourage any new investment that may attract new entrants to Maine.

Let Them Know What You're Thinking

If you want to contact members of the committee and tell them that this bill will discourage investment, rather than encourage it, contact information for all the members is available here. The best time to stop a bill is early in committee. If one of these elected officials represents you, be sure to let them know.

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