Tag: "legislation"

Posted February 24, 2020 by lgonzalez

The open access network in Ammon, Idaho, has been celebrated as visionary and viewed as a potential model for other communities seeking competitive local Internet access markets. A bill in the state legislature, however, aims to restrict local communities' ability to reproduce the Ammon Model, or any other publicly owned network, by imposing new restrictions on local efforts.

Read the text of the bill here.

Removing a Local Funding Option

H 490, introduced by Rep. Ron Mendive from Coeur d'Alene, states specifically that local governments have the authority to take the necessary steps to develop Internet networks and to offer services to the general public. Provisions in the bill that dictate how projects are financed, operated, and managed, however, transform the bill into a "muni killer" says Bruce Patterson, Ammon's technology director.

In a recent Idaho Business Review article (subscription required), Patterson described the language of H 490:

“On its face, it claims to authorize cities to have the authority to finance, build, and operate a communications network and offer a communications service, but each of the restrictions that follow make it impossible for a city to actually do those things. It is like telling your child: ‘Sure, you can play outside, just don’t leave the house.'”

Large, national Internet service providers have millions of dollars of capital to invest in new infrastructure wherever they see a business case to do so. The situation is different for local governments interested in developing fiber optic infrastructure when national companies concentrate investment elsewhere. Places like Ammon have had to think creatively to fund necessary projects. By using local improvement...

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Posted February 18, 2020 by lgonzalez

Minnesota's Border to Border Broadband Development Grant Program provides funding for deployment of broadband networks in rural regions of the state. The program, which started in 2014, has helped extend necessary high-quality Internet access infrastructure to dozens of communities. Without this week's guest, Matt Schmit, the program would never have become a reality.

Matt and Christopher knew each other long before the program was even an idea — when they were in grad school together — and you can tell they’re friends with a lot to reminisce about. Matt, who is now working on broadband in Illinois, was one of the State Senators who drove the conversation that moved the needle on rural broadband and who led the development of the state program that has accomplished so much in Minnesota. He and Christopher talk about the process and what it was like to go from recognizing the need to creating a program that is making change.

Because of his ability to get results in the “Land of 10,000 Lakes,” Matt is now working in Illinois, where billions of state dollars have been earmarked for infrastructure, which includes broadband deployment. Matt is now Deputy Director at the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity, where he will work to determine the best way forward in deploying broadband as critical infrastructure. He and Christopher talk about some of the challenges he expects to face, what it’s like working in Illinois as compared to his work in Minnesota, and his hopes for the new state broadband program.

We want your feedback and suggestions for the show-please ...

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Posted February 6, 2020 by Katie Kienbaum

At the end of 2019, Congress passed the Revitalizing Underdeveloped Rural Areas and Lands (RURAL) Act, fixing a tax law change that threatened to raise rates and delay the expansion of broadband for rural cooperative members across the country.

Passage of the RURAL Act ensures that cooperatives can accept federal funds for broadband deployment, disaster relief, and other efforts without risking their nonprofit tax exempt status. A change in the 2017 tax law would have labeled these funds as revenue for the first time, potentially causing co-ops to exceed the allowable percentage of non-member income they must maintain to remain tax exempt.

After Senators Tina Smith (D-Minn.) and Rob Portman(R-Ohio) and Representatives Adrian Smith (R-) and Terri Sewell (D-Ala.) introduced the bipartisan bill in April, it attracted 55 additional cosponsors in the Senate and more than 300 in the House. It was eventually incorporated into the consolidated appropriations act and signed into law in December.

“Obstacles From the Federal Government”

We described the possible impact of the 2017 tax law change on rural cooperatives over a year ago, when Senator Smith first brought the issue to our attention.

Failure to remedy it would have forced some co-ops to choose between continuing with desperately needed broadband and disaster recovery projects and increasing their members’ rates. Northwestern Electric Cooperative CEO Tyson Littau described the difficulty of that decision to the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association (NRECA):

Do we rebuild and try to strengthen our distribution system and pay the taxes, or do we delay the mitigation project that would improve 1,200 miles of line throughout our territory? I think we have a responsibility to the membership to improve the system for the future.

Gulf Coast Electric Cooperative was another co-op faced with the prospect of raising electric rates to...

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Posted January 28, 2020 by Katie Kienbaum

Despite state laws requiring referenda and public reporting, Iowa is home to successful municipal networks, which have been undeterred by these potential stumbling blocks. A bill in the Iowa Senate, however, may present a new barrier discouraging new networks in places where Iowans need it the most. In communities where Internet access companies aren't offering the caliber of services residents and businesses need, the proposal would restrict the possibility of competition.

Sweeping Impact

Earlier this month, State Senator Dan Dawson, R-Council Bluffs, introduced Senate Study Bill 3009, which is supported by Mediacom, a national cable company that offers connectivity to nearly two-thirds of Iowans. The bill threatens cities’ access to financing for municipal broadband networks and challenges their ability to set competitive prices. This would impact cities with long established networks, like Cedar Falls and Coon Rapids, as well as communities that have recently decided to move forward with broadband plans, like Fort Dodge, Vinton, and Waterloo.

Tim Whipple, General Counsel for the Iowa Association of Municipal Utilities, which opposes SSB 3009, wrote in an email:

While community-owned broadband may not work for all communities, cities should have the opportunity to begin providing these services without having undue restrictions placed on them . . . especially in areas where incumbent providers aren’t properly investing.

Bill Brings New Barriers

Senator Dawson chairs the state Commerce Committee and introduced SSB 3009 as a proposed committee bill.

As currently written, the bill would make a number of...

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Posted December 31, 2019 by lgonzalez

It’s the end of the year once again, which means the Community Broadband Networks Initiative team at the Institute for Local Self-Reliance takes their place in front of the mic for the predictions show. In addition to offering our expectations for 2020, we review what happened this past year and compare it to the predictions we made at this time last year. Get ready for some opinions and laughs.

Once again, Communications Specialist Jess Del Fiacco and Research Associate Katie Kienbaum weigh in along with Christopher and Lisa. Our newest addition to the team, Michelle Andrews, joins for the first time this year; Michelle is our GIS and Data Visualization Researcher.

We review advancements from cooperatives, the growing interest in municipal projects and open access, and new approaches. We talk about realizations of models we anticipated and also some that took us by surprise. The crew discusses state and federal legislative changes and funding, partnerships, and Christopher even gives Comcast a break. You don’t want to miss this!

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

This show is 42 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 Community Broadband Bits page.

Read the transcript for the episode.

Listen to ...

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Posted November 20, 2019 by lgonzalez

When Vermont passed legislation to establish "communications union districts" in 2015, funding options expanded for regional community network ECFiber. Since then, other states trying to expand access to broadband in rural areas have looked at the success of ECFiber as a possible model. Now, New Hampshire is considering establishing a similar option as a way for local communities to improve local connectivity.

Waiting for Session

Democratic State Senator Jeanne Dietsch from Peterborough has drafted legislation she intends to introduce in the 2020 session. The bill will allow communities to establish "communications districts" to develop broadband infrastructure, similar to the way they band together in order to create sewer districts for necessary infrastructure. The entities are able to finance projects by applying for grants, loans, issuing bonds, and charging user fees, but are not able to tax.

In a recent GovTech article, Dietsch said:

“We modeled it on New Hampshire sewer districts just because that is language that’s already familiar to our legislators, and it’ll be much easier for them to pass it that way than to try to make it look like Vermont.”

The lawmaker was reflecting on difficulties the legislature had passing Senate Bill 103, which allows municipalities to work together for "multi-town bonding projects." Special interest lobbyists, whose job it is to maintain ISP monopolies, leveled their efforts at the bill when it appeared fearing the competition it might bring. Dietsch wants to avoid a similar fight with the communications district proposal, so has carefully crafted the language of the bill.

If passed, the new authority will allow cities to develop the infrastructure in order to work with private sector partners. ECFiber offers fast, affordable, reliable Internet access directly to the public, rather than providing fiber optic infrastructure for Internet access companies to use.

ECFiber

logo-ecfiber.png Prior to becoming a communications union...

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Posted October 22, 2019 by lgonzalez

If you're a regular reader of MuniNetworks.org, you've seen Karl Bode's name and it's almost certain you've read his work elsewhere. Karl has had his finger on the pulse of telecom, broadband, and related legislative events for a long time.

This week, Karl comes on the show to talk about how his career trajectory led to where he is right now, the surprising and unsurprising things he's seen, and how media coverage of telecom and technology has changed over the years. There are some issues, notes Karl, that should be handled more aggressively both in developing policy and in how the media covers them. The impact of large monopolistic Internet service providers, privacy concerns, and network neutrality are a few matters that affect us more than most people realize. 

Christopher and Karl talk about the FCC and corruption of the commenting system that surrounded the decision to retract federal network neutrality protections. They also talk about Washington D.C.'s different attitudes toward big tech companies such as Google and Facebook versus big ISPs like AT&T and Comcast.

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

This show is 32 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 Community Broadband Bits page.

Read the transcript for this episode.

Listen to ...

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Posted August 20, 2019 by lgonzalez

Multiple studies in recent years indicate that properties with fast, reliable Internet access sell faster, bring in a higher price, and are in demand by potential buyers. Properties with slow or no Internet access languish. In Colorado, where the market is competitive and broadband is available in a good portion of the state, organizations like the Colorado Association of Realtors play an important role in protecting property owners rights. This week, Vice President of Government Affairs from the Association Elizabeth Peetz stops in to talk with Christopher.

Colorado is taking positive approaches toward expanding broadband in both funding and in policies that encourage deployment. Liz talks about how the Association has become involved in legislative advocacy and how broadband has become one of their priorities. She describes how the Association has weighed in on policy changes to help ensure the rights of property owners. Liz discusses collaboration at the Capitol to reach a common goal and Colorado’s investment in funding, especially in rural areas.

Christopher and Liz also talk about what people can do to let their elected officials and community leaders see the strong link between real estate and broadband policy. Allowing the market to function as it should can make a huge difference.

Learn more about the Colorado Association of Realtors at coloradorealtors.com.

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

This show is 24 minutes long and can be played on this page or ...

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Posted June 10, 2019 by lgonzalez

Clarksville, Arkansas, began their journey toward better local connectivity to enhance electric utility efficiencies. Four years after making the choice to deploy fiber, the town has chosen to use that fiber to offer Internet access to the community. Gigabit connectivity is on the way to every premise in Clarksville.

Kicking it Off

On June 1st, about 400 people gathered for an event to celebrate three achievements for Clarksville: a new high school campus, re-branding of the municipal utilities, and a fiber splicing to kick-off their upcoming citywide Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) deployment. They enjoyed free food, tours of the new facility, and learned more about the new infrastructure that will bring fast, affordable, reliable connectivity to residents and businesses. John Lester, General Manager of Clarksville Connected Utilities, told us about the event and the new project.

Re-branding 

logo-clarksville-connected-utilities.png As CCU has worked to update connectivity for the town of around 10,000, Lester and other leaders at the utility have recognized that it's also time for a re-branding. After more than 100 years, the Clarksville Light & Water municipal utility retired “The Waterdrip Guy” and adopted a new name and a new logo. In order to reflect the city’s transition to a more forward thinking and competitive attitude, they transitioned to Clarksville Connected Utilities (CCU); the utility Commission approved the change in March. Their new logo uses the utility locate colors. 

From Light to Light-Speed

In 2017, we reported on Clarksville’s investigation into the possibility of deploying fiber for SCADA operations and how they kept their eye on future uses as part of the decision making process. When determining how best to use the fiber and its extra capacity, city leaders decided to allocate 12 strands each for different specific sectors in the community. They determined that 48 strands would be enough for the electric utility’s needs and chose to allocate 12 strands each for educational facilities, healthcare institutions, public safety needs, and government facilities. Almost 200...

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Posted May 17, 2019 by htrostle

Legislative changes are helping electric cooperatives continue to expand high-quality Internet access in rural parts of America. At least three state governments have bills in the works that empower cooperatives to provide high-speed Internet service in their service territories.

Georgia, Maryland, Alabama

Georgia Governor Brian Kemp recently signed into law SB 2 and SB 17, which clarify that both electric and telephone cooperatives are able to provide broadband service. This change allows the electric cooperatives to use their easements which have been used for electric service to extend those easements so they also apply to equipment and lines needed in order to supply broadband service. Electric cooperatives have already been at work on providing Internet service in Georgia: Habersham Electric Cooperative operates Trailwave Network, and the Pineland Telephone and Jefferson Energy Cooperatives have partnered to bring Internet service to their communities.

In Maryland, Governor Larry Hogan has just approved SB 634 which similarly underscores how electric cooperatives can use their easements to provide broadband. Meanwhile in Alabama, HB 400 will codify in existing law that electric cooperatives have the ability to offer broadband service and that their easements are valid for that use. Alabama HB 400 has passed in the House and is now working its way through the Senate. Alabama cooperatives North Alabama Electric and Tom Bigbee Electric already provides high-speed Internet service in their service territories. 

Cooperatives Bring New Tech to Rural Areas

The fact is, from electricity to Internet service,...

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