Tag: "legislation"

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.

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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.

Posted April 25, 2017 by lgonzalez

Maine is the latest battleground for local telecommunications authority. A bill in the state’s House of Representatives threatens to halt investment in “The Pine Tree State” at a time when local communities are taking steps to improve their own connectivity.

"I Do Not Think It Means What You Think It Means"

Rep. Nathan Wadsworth (R-Hiram) introduced HP 1040; it has yet to be assigned to a committee. Like most other bills we’ve seen that intend to protect the interests of the big national incumbent providers, this one also has a misleading title: “An Act To Encourage Broadband Development through Private Investment.” Realistically, the bill would result in less investment by discouraging a whole sector - local communities - from making Internet infrastructure investment. 

Large national companies have thus far chosen not to invest in many Maine communities because, especially in the rural areas, they just aren’t densely populated. In places like Islesboro and Rockport, where residents and businesses needed better connectivity to participate in the 21st century economy, locals realized waiting for the big incumbents was too big a gamble. They exercised local authority and invested in the infrastructure to attract other providers for a boost to economic development, education, and quality of life.

Not The Way To Do This

If HP 1040 passes, the community will first have to meet a laundry list of requirements before they can exercise their right to invest in broadband infrastructure.

HP 1040 contains many of the same components we see in similar bills. Municipalities are only given permission to offer telecommunications services if they meet those strict requirements: geographic restrictions on service areas, strict requirements on multiple public hearings including when they will be held and what will be discussed, the content and timelines of feasibility studies, and there must be a referendum.

The bill also dictates financial requirements regarding bonding, pricing, and rate changes. Municipalities cannot receive distributions under Maine’s universal service fund.

As one of the remaining states... Read more

Posted April 20, 2017 by Nick

Next City - April 20, 2017

Tennessee Bills Send Message on Municipal Broadband

Written by Josh Cohen

In a world increasingly reliant on high-speed internet for all facets of life, about 34 percent of Tennesseans lack broadband access. Two state bills were considered this year to remedy that. One would’ve allowed city-owned high-speed internet infrastructure to expand at no cost to residents. Another outlined an offer of $45 million in subsidies to private internet service providers to build the same infrastructure. Only the latter passed.

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Unsurprisingly, surrounding towns and suburbs want access to that network. EPB wants to expand as well. But they cannot. A state law pushed by private telecom companies prohibits public utilities with broadband networks from expanding beyond city limits. The Federal Communications Commission overturned that law in 2015, but an appellate court reversed the FCC’s ruling, meaning the law still stands.

 

State Senator Janice Bowling’s bill would’ve changed Tennessee law to allow municipal broadband providers to expand beyond city limits. Tullahoma, a city in Bowling’s district, also has a municipal broadband network. EPB said it could expand its network infrastructure with cash on hand and private loans. But both Bowling’s bill and its companion in the House died in committee.

 

Instead, the legislature passed the Tennessee Broadband Accessibility Act, a bill pushed by Governor Bill Haslam. It provides $45 million in tax breaks and grants to private companies such as AT&T and Comcast to build broadband infrastructure in communities that need it.

 

“I find that infuriating. Chattanooga has not only one of the best networks in the nation, but arguably one of the best on Earth and the state legislature is prohibiting them from serving people just outside of their city... Read more

Posted April 14, 2017 by lgonzalez

When state legislators in Tennessee recently passed the Broadband Accessibility Act of 2017, tech writers quoted our Christopher Mitchell, who pointed out that the proposal has some serious pitfalls.

Christopher's statement appeared in several articles:

"Tennessee taxpayers may subsidize AT&T to build DSL service to Chattanooga's [rural] neighbors rather than letting the Gig City [Chattanooga] expand its fiber at no cost to taxpayers. Tennessee will literally be paying AT&T to provide a service 1,000 times slower than what Chattanooga could provide without subsidies."

Motherboard

Motherboard noted that the Tennessee legislature had the opportunity to pass a bill, sponsored by Senator Janice Bowling, to grant municipal electric utilities the ability to expand and serve nearby communities. Nope. Legislators in Tennessee would rather pander to the incumbent providers that come through year after year with generous campaign contributions:

logo-motherboard.jpgTo be clear: EPB wanted to build out its gigabit fiber network to many of these same communities using money it has on hand or private loans at no cost to taxpayers. It would then charge individual residents for Internet service. Instead, Tennessee taxpayers will give $45 million in tax breaks and grants to giant companies just to get basic infrastructure built. They will then get the opportunity to pay these companies more money for worse Internet than they would have gotten under EPB's proposal.

The Motherboard reporter quoted Bowling from a prior article (because, like the movie "Groundhog Day," she keeps finding herself in the same situation year after year):

"What we have right now is not the free market, it's regulations protecting giant corporations, which is the exact definition of crony capitalism," she said.

TechDirt Gets Personal

... Read more

Posted April 12, 2017 by Nick

Tennessee Legislature Passes Broadband Accessibility Act, Delivers Hollow "Victory"

While Governor Haslam's Signature Legislation Sounds Great, AT&T Will Be Laughing all the Way to the Bank

 

Contact:

Christopher Mitchell

christopher@ilsr.org

MINNEAPOLIS, MN - Late yesterday, the Tennessee Legislature officially sent Governor Bill Haslam's signature legislation, the Broadband Accessibility Act of 2017, to his desk. Unfortunately, this bill is more about making taxpayer dollars accessible to AT&T than ensuring rural regions get modern Internet access.

"What we have on one side is a taxpayer-funded subsidy program, and on the other we have a subscriber-based model," says Christopher Mitchell, director of the Community Broadband Networks initiative at the Institute for Local Self-Reliance. "The tragic thing is, AT&T is a taxpayer subsidized monopoly in rural Tennessee that only has to provide a service far slower than the definition of broadband. Locally-rooted networks like Chattanooga's EPB not only offer nation-leading services but have tremendous community support."

With this bill's passage, the Tennessee General Assembly will likely not pass any other broadband legislation during this session. The Broadband Accessibility Act won't improve Tennessee's rating as 29th in Internet connectivity, but it will do a great job of lining AT&T's pockets. As we've tracked throughout the session, there are a number of bills worth supporting that would actually increase connectivity and allow municipalities to take part in their own broadband future.

Mitchell is deeply frustrated with this situation: "Chattanooga is the only city on this planet that has universal access to 10 Gigabit symmetrical Internet access. It is a stunning achievement and Tennessee taxpayers may subsidize AT&T to build DSL service to Chattanooga's neighbors rather than letting the Gig City expand its fiber to neighbors at no cost to taxpayers. Tennessee will literally be paying AT&T to provide a service 1000x slower... Read more

Posted April 6, 2017 by lgonzalez

When Alabama State Sen. Tom Whatley from Auburn spoke with OANow in late March, he described his bill, SB 228, as a “go-to-war bill.” The bill would have allowed Opelika Power Services (OPS) to expand its Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) services to his community. On Wednesday, April 5th, his colleagues in the Senate Transportation and Energy Committee decided to end the conflict in favor of AT&T and its army of lobbyists.

The final vote, according to the committee legislative assistant, was 7 - 6 against the bill. She described the vote as bipartisan, although the roll call isn’t posted yet, so we have not been able to confirm.

According to Whatley:

“AT&T has hired 26 lobbyists to work against me on that bill. It really aggravates me because I have boiled one bill down to where it only allows Opelika to go into Lee County. It cuts out the other counties.”

Whatley has introduced several bills this session and in previous legislative sessions to allow OPS to expand beyond the state imposed barriers to offer services in Lee County. Alabama law doesn’t allow OPS, or any other municipal provider, to offer advanced telecommunications services outside city limits. SB 228 would allow Opelika and others (described as a “Class 6 municipalities”) to offer services throughout the counties in which they reside. A companion bill in the House, HB 375, is sitting in the House Commerce and Small Business Committee.

Rep. Joe Lovvorn, who introduced HB 375 agrees with Whatley:

“If it doesn't make sense for a large corporation to go there, that's OK that's their choice,” he said. “But they don't have the right to tell, in my opinion with my bill, the city of Opelika they can't serve them either.”

AT&T’s lobbyists aren’t the only big... Read more

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