Tag: "legislation"

Posted February 7, 2019 by lgonzalez

Big cable and telecom lobbyists managed to locate a legislative vehicle for the components of last December's bill to fund rural broadband, locking out some of the state's most promising opportunities to bring better connectivity to those who need it the most. There’s still time for Michiganders to express displeasure and the result and possibly influence change. You can file a public comment online through February 15th.

The Problems

When we reported on Michigan’s HB 5670 in December, it was set to appear before the House Communications and Technology Committee. Prior to the hearing, however, Chair Michele Hoitenga removed it from the agenda. Regular readers will remember Hoitenga, whose support from cable and telecom companies has inspired her to introduce anti-muni legislation in the past.

The bill, dubbed the “Broadband Investment Act,” established a fund to provide grants for infrastructure deployment, but specifically locked out municipalities and other government entities from eligibility. Consequentially, local ISPs that might want to provide services via publicly owned fiber were also stifled from projects because this provision essentially ended the possibility of public-private partnerships or any competition with large incumbents.

According to the language of HB 5670, “broadband” was defined as 10 Megabits per second (Mbps) download and 1 Mbps upload. While we have seen state broadband legislation from several years ago falling back upon this outdated definition of “broadband,” Michigan condemns rural residents to slow, unreliable, last-century technology. It indicates a thinly veiled attempt to hand over state funds to telecom companies with no interest in providing anything better than what they already offer in rural Michigan — DSL or satellite Internet access.

Language in the bill also goes to extreme lengths to ensure that funds will only go to projects that have not received funding from any other source. What will prevent many projects from ever receiving funds, unless those projects are being developed by big corporate incumbents, is the fact that funds can’t be awarded to projects in places where...

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Posted January 11, 2019 by Hannah Bonestroo

While 97 percent of Georgia’s urban population has access to broadband, the urban-rural digital divide in the state remains stark and only 70.9 percent of the rural population has that access. Considering estimates are based on self-reported data from incumbent providers and determined broadly by census block, the data overstates the reality on the ground. Representative Doug Collins from Georgia’s 9th congressional district is now leading the charge to mitigate this disparity, not only in his home state but in rural regions throughout the country. In a recent “Dear Colleague” letter, the top Republican on the House Judiciary Committee stated his intentions of introducing the CAF (Connect America Fund) Accountability Act at the start of the 116th Congress. Collin, a Republican representing Georgia's 9th District, introduced H.R. 427 on January 10th. If passed, the bill will create stricter requirements for the Federal Communications Commission (FCC)’s broadband infrastructure funding under CAF.

Reaching for Accountability

CAF was designed to subsidize network deployments in unserved rural areas, which have often been overlooked due to the high expense of constructing infrastructure for few and scattered populations. While many providers that have received this funding have used it properly, as Collins stated, “others have taken taxpayer dollars but failed to fulfill their obligations to their consumers… instead using taxpayer dollars ineffectively or inappropriately – turning their backs on those families at the last mile.”

Currently, CAF recipients are required to provide speeds of at least 10 Mbps download and 1 Mbps upload. While this threshold is well below the current FCC definition of “broadband” service of at least 25 Mbps/3 Mbps, Collins noted that in his home district of Northeast Georgia, a region where a majority of ISPs are CAF recipients, consumers report speeds that are “consistently abysmal, sometimes not even reaching 3 Mbps downstream and 1 Mbps.”

...

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Posted December 26, 2018 by lgonzalez

We left our crystal ball, tarot cards, and astrology charts at home, but that won’t stop us from trying to predict what will happen in 2019 for this week’s annual predictions podcast. Each year, we reflect on the important events related to publicly owned broadband networks and local connectivity that occurred during the year and share our impressions for what we expect to see in the next twelve months. As usual, the discussion is spirited and revealing.

This year we saw the departures of Research Associate Hannah Trostle and Communications Manager Nick Stumo-Langer as both decided to head off to grad school. This year, you’ll hear our new Communications Specialist Jess Del Fiacco and Research Associate Katie Kienbaum keeping those seats warm. Hannah and Nick take time out of their schedules to offer some predictions of their own at the end of the show.

In addition to recaps of last year's predictions for state legislation, cooperative efforts, and preemption, we get into our expectations for what we expect to see from large, national incumbent ISPs, local private and member owned providers, and governments. We discuss federal funding, local organizing efforts and issues that drive them, concentration of power, our predictions for digital equity, efforts in big cities, open access, rural initiatives, and more. This podcast is packed with good stuff!

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

This show is 45 minutes long and can be played on this page or via iTunes or the tool of your choice using this feed. You can listen to the interview on this page or visit the...

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Posted December 5, 2018 by lgonzalez

Update: HB 5670 was removed from the agenda prior to the committee hearing.

Representative Michele Hoitenga from Michigan is at it again. Last year as Chair of the House Communications and Technology Committee, she attempted to pass a bill to discourage her state’s self-reliant municipalities from improving local connectivity. Deja vu as her committee’s agenda for tomorrow, December 6th, picks up HB 5670, a bill sponsored by a different lawmakers and deceivingly titled the “Broadband Investment Act.”

View the language of the bill.

Money is Good, Who Gets it Matters

The bill, sponsored by Mary Whiteford (R - Laketown Township) establishes a fund that will provide grants for broadband infrastructure deployment; the fund will be created by the state treasury. The bill doesn’t specify a dollar amount, which likely would vary from year to year. Recognizing that the state needs to make a financial investment in rural Internet infrastructure deployment is certainly a step forward, but the details in HB 5670 will end up doing more harm than good for people living beyond urban centers.

Municipalities and other government entities are specifically denied eligibility for grants. Not only does the restriction prevent local communities the ability to offer Internet access to the general public, but without an equal opportunity at state funding for infrastructure, municipalities and counties can’t pursue a public-private model. In short, by locking out local governments from state funding, the bill is harming both local citizens and the local ISPs that tend to offer services via publicly owned infrastructure.

10/1 Isn’t Broadband!

Michigan’s State Legislators are considering a bill that uses the term “broadband” to describe minimum service as 10 Megabits per second (Mbps) download and 1 Mbps upload. The FCC increased the standard to 25 Mbps/3 Mbps back in 2015 and it remains today. HB 5670 will siphon money from the state treasury to Frontier, AT&T, and any other telco that refuses to invest in anything better than DSL in rural Michigan. Fail. Needs improvement.

The vague language of the bill would also thrust satellite and mobile Internet access into the “served” parameters...

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Posted November 30, 2018 by lgonzalez

When it comes to high-quality Internet access, the big corporate ISPs have failed rural Mississippi. Other states with similar digital divide issues are starting to see rural electric cooperatives make efforts to connect members. In some places, legislatures have adjusted state laws that complicated co-ops' ability to deploy fiber optic infrastructure. Now, the Public Service Commission (PSC) in Mississippi has formally requested that state lawmakers update an antiquated statute to allow rural electric cooperatives to expand high-quality Internet access.

Waiting for Action

When Magnolia's State Legislators convene in January, they’ll have a unanimous resolution waiting for them from the state’s PSC. The resolution requests that lawmakers take action to adjust Miss. Code 77-5-205 to allow electric cooperatives the authority to offer Internet access. 

James Richardson, Policy Director and Counsel from the Office of Commissioner Brandon Presley, explained that the law currently only allows electric cooperatives the authority to form “…for the purpose of promoting and encouraging the fullest possible use of electric energy…” — electric cooperative are precluded from operating for any other purpose. The law was passed in the 1930s when cooperatives formed across the state to bring electricity to the many farmers in rural Mississippi. The matter has been tested and confirmed at the state Supreme Court

The PSC asks that the State Legislature create an exception in statute in order to allow rural electric cooperatives the the ability to also offer Internet access. Earlier this month, the three Commissioners on the PSC approved the resolution requesting the law change.

logo-ms-psc.jpg Presley has been...

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Posted August 30, 2018 by lgonzalez

Shortly after Republican FCC Commissioners repealed federal network neutrality protections late in 2017, state lawmakers began introducing legislation to protect their constituents. California’s AB 1999, introduced as one possible antidote to the FCC failure in judgment, passed the General Assembly on August 29th and is on its way to Governor Jerry Brown.

Read the final version of the bill and the Legislative Counsel Digest here.

Let the People Serve the People

As local communities have investigated ways to protect themselves from throttling, paid prioritization, and other activities no longer banned, they’ve looked at investing in publicly owned infrastructure. Rural communities where national Internet service providers are less motivated to deploy have always struggled to attract investment from the same large companies known to violate network neutrality tenets. Assembly Member Ed Chau’s AB 1999 addresses rural communities’ need for better connectivity, solutions that can preserve network neutrality, and challenges in funding broadband infrastructure.

California’s community service districts (CSDs) are independent local governments created by folks in unincorporated areas. CDSs provide services that would otherwise be provided by a municipality. Residents usually join together to form a CSD and do so to establish services such as water and wastewater management, garbage collection, fire protection, or similar services. A CSD also has the ability to create an enhanced infrastructure financing district (EIFD) in order to finance the development of a broadband network.

The EIFD statute granting the authority allows communities, including CSDs, to join together regional projects for a range of financing purposes. Tax Increment Financing (TIF) and various bonding mechanisms are a few examples.

The law currently on the books, which AB 1999 will change, requires CSDs to first determine that no private entity or person is willing to offer broadband in their sector before they are allowed to invest to do so. If they manage to get past the requirement but an entity or person enters the picture and is willing to provide those services, the...

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Posted August 21, 2018 by lgonzalez

One of the many states where legislators introduced broadband bills in 2018 was Ohio, where HB 378 appeared to offer a promising answer to funding rural broadband deployment. The bill obtained bipartisan support as it passed through several committees, but prior to the legislature's summer break, enthusiasm cooled.

Looking at Minnesota

HB 378 draws from the Minnesota Border-to-Border Broadband Program by allocating specific funding for deployment. The bill also creates an entity to manage the funding awards. In Ohio, lawmakers anticipated funding would draw from the state’s Ohio Third Frontier Program, which was originally established to assist tech start-ups. In April, HB 378 passed the House with support from both Democrats and Republicans and seemed on a positive track. Two Senate committees also heard SB 225, a companion bill to HB 378.

A second broadband bill, HB 281, addresses only rural last mile connectivity and came before one committee. HB 281 also appeared to have support, but leadership never fast tracked the legislation. HB 281 allocated only $2 million, a fraction of the $100 million required over two years for HB 378. With one generous broadband bill and one much smaller to choose from, experts were left scratching their heads as to why both bills seemed to stop dead in their tracks.

What’s the Hold-up?

Speculation as to why neither of the bills have been advanced further by House and Senate leadership swirls around Governor Kasich’s administration. Democrat Jack Cera believes that the plans for the Third Frontier Fund has held up the process. Cera and other suggest that Governor Kasich wants to focus Third Frontier Funds in other directions, such as smart highways and autonomous vehicles. As far as Cera and others are concerned, broadband for rural Ohio is the priority:

“I think there’s been some push back on it. I would suggest that if the administration and others don’t want to use that funding that we should move forward to use general fund monies on it. To me, it means that type of...

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Posted August 10, 2018 by lgonzalez

Lobbyists from the cable and telecom industry succeeded in using the legislature to firm up their rural Massachusetts monopolies this session. Communities that rely on state funds for local publicly owned broadband infrastructure projects now face restrictions on the reach of their high-speed networks.

A Long Trip Through the Legislature

Governor Charlie Baker’s economic development bill includes a provision designating funding for the Massachusetts Broadband Institute (MBI) and the Executive Office of Housing & Economic Development for broadband deployment. The agencies distribute the funds to various communities where residents and businesses plan to improve their local connectivity. Approximately 20 towns have decided to invest in publicly owned Internet infrastructure, including Alford, Otis, and Mount Washington, to name a few. Others are taking offers from Comcast and Charter, which will build out networks to more premises with state funding. 

Many of the rural communities who are going with the publicly owned option want to connect households and establishments within the town proper, but also what they describe as “edge” properties — those beyond town limits but have no other choice for broadband. Edge properties in western Massachusetts typically don’t have access to anything better than expensive and unreliable satellite or dial-up. Often, there are only a few “edge” properties in each community, but neighbors don’t want to leave anyone behind. 

Baker’s bill began its trip through the state legislature in March and, as is the case with typical large bills, went through numerous hearings along the way. Over the course of the legislative process, a question arose as to whether or not those rural towns wanting to serve edge properties would be able to use state funding to reach edge properties. In the original version of the bill, language specifically allowed municipalities the right to cross municipal borders to serve edge properties, but when the telecom industry opposed the language, it was removed in the House. The action left an ambiguous gap that Gail...

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Posted July 10, 2018 by lgonzalez

Death, taxes, and legislative drama are three of life’s certainties. Most recently, the drama unfolded in California as Democratic Sen. Scott Wiener has tried to pass state network neutrality protections after the FCC revoked federal law, leaving millions at the mercy of a broken market.

Coulda, Shoulda, Woulda

California is one of a long list of states that have in some way addressed the current lack of regulations regarding network neutrality. In addition to Executive Orders in six states, including Vermont and Montana, state legislatures in 29 states have introduced legislation that address some aspect of network neutrality. Oregon, Vermont, and Washington have adopted legislation. To see a comprehensive list of state bills across the country, check out the National Conference of State Legislatures’ website.

Wiener’s  SB 822 had been described as “the most comprehensive” of state legislation introduced since FCC Chairman Ajit Pai and the Republican Commissioners repealed federal network neutrality late last year. The bill passed in the Senate in late May, but amendments adopted during a contentious Communications and Conveyance Committee meeting in the Assembly transformed it into quite a different piece of legislation.

When the bill was at full strength in the Senate, it received the support of network neutrality advocates, including former FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler and the state’s Attorney General Xavier Becerra. Mayors from some of California’s largest cities have also endorsed SB 822. While the bill implemented the types of protections that past federal network neutrality provided, such as prohibiting paid prioritization and allowing equal access to all traffic on the Internet, SB 822 in its original form created additional protections. For example, the bill...

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Posted June 15, 2018 by lgonzalez

In response to the FCC’s decision to end federal network neutrality protections, California and other states have introduced bills to fill the gap left by the Commission. Local communities who had flirted with the idea of publicly owned Internet infrastructure in the past have now taken a second and more serious look to counteract the FCC’s harmful policy shift. Assembly Member Ed Chau’s AB 1999, making its way through the legislative process, is opening possibilities for local communities to invest in their own Internet infrastructure. Chau recognizes that publicly owned networks are an option for more than network neutrality protections, especially in rural communities.

Attitude Adjustment

Our Christopher Mitchell travelled to California in May to testify about the bill as it worked its way through the committee process. AB 1999 could indicate that big telephone and cable companies now have less influence in state Capitols around the U.S. than in past years. We recently wrote about a New Hampshire bill that gives us similar hope — a piece of legislation signed by the Governor there that removed restrictions on local investment in broadband networks.

Like New Hampshire's SB 170, AB 1999 allows communities where big national providers don’t want to invest have more control over how they improve local connectivity. If passed, the bill will give California's community service districts the ability to develop public broadband networks and offer services. The language of the bill also requires that any networks developed by community service districts adhere to network neutrality rules.

Rural Communities Serving Themselves

Community service districts (CSD) are independent local governments created to provide services in unincorporated areas of a county. CSDs are...

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