Tag: "legislation"

Posted April 25, 2012 by christopher

Community Broadband networks are increasingly getting the attention they deserve as an option for communities that want better, more accountable connections to the Internet.

We have long been warning about an AT&T-pushed bill in South Carolina to make it even harder for communities in that state to build the infrastructure AT&T has long neglected. But now The New Republic has also noticed -- in "Why are Telecom Companies Blocking rural America from Getting High-Speed Internet?"

The story starts by discussing rural and impoverished Orangeburg County, which received a stimulus award to help build the telecom infrastructure they need to succeed in the modern economy.

In an effort to improve the area’s economic prospects, county officials have worked in recent years to secure funding to refurbish roadways and sewer systems—but they also know that, in a globalized marketplace, old-school infrastructure is not nearly enough. That’s why, in 2009, Orangeburg County applied for, and received, $18.65 million in stimulus money to finally give the area access to high-speed broadband internet. County Administrator Bill Clark and his colleagues envisioned a municipal, or muni, network that could reach roughly a quarter of Orangeburg’s rural population, including just over three thousand households and one hundred businesses.

...

But the titans of telecom aren’t operating on quite the same wavelength. Since last January, AT&T, CenturyLink, and Time Warner have contributed just over $146,000 to politicians in South Carolina who back legislation that would cripple networks like Orangeburg’s. It’s only one example of a broader campaign by telecom companies to protect their cartel at all costs—even at the expense of keeping the country’s poorest on the wrong side of the digital divide for many years to come.

Same story, different state. We've seen the same efforts across the U.S., which is why nineteen states have created barriers to community broadband.

Meanwhile, the source of a lot of those barriers -- the American Legislative Exchange Council -- or ALEC has been getting attention for the many bad bills...

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Posted April 19, 2012 by christopher

Christopher Mitchell spoke with Gavin Dahl about community broadband on KYRS, a community radio station in Spokane, Washington, on April 11. The discussion touched on legislation in Washington that could have encouraged rural broadband deployment by area public utility districts and why the private sector is not getting the job done.

We also discussed the role of federal policy and what some communities have done elsewhere to build next generation networks.

Posted March 29, 2012 by lgonzalez

MPR News recently ran two stories on the trials and tribulations of new and prospective broadband networks. Conrad Wilson's story about the continuing Monticello drama and Jennifer Vogel's account of factors affecting the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act (ARRA) projects give us a good idea of the many hurdles in the way of building new fiber-optic networks.

We have reported many times on the drama that has unfolded in Monticello. The municipally owned fiber-optic network has faced some withering challenges and yet perseveres.

Monticello asked for a modern communications network but the existing service providers, the cable and phone companies, insisted the city was "sufficiently wired." Conrad's reporting suggests otherwise:

Bill Tapper, who owns a cabinet company with clients around the world, recalls a time just a few years ago when the Internet was so slow it hurt business.

"The service we had in Monticello was horrible," he said. "My employees would sometimes take the data home where they had a better Internet connection than we did and do their uploads at night."

Tapper said he lost out on business, but at the time the established Internet service providers like phone and cable TV companies told Tapper and other frustrated business owners in town that the city was wired sufficiently.

Fibernet Monticello

After the community voted in favor of a publicly owned fiber-optic network, the incumbent provider, TDS, filed a lawsuit. The lawsuit strategically succeeded in stalling the development of the new network but did not destroy the project. Even though the incumbent provider describes pre-network status as "just fine before the city got involved," TDS took advantage of the delay they caused to began building their own fiber network.

Currently, subscribers in Monticello are benefitting from their high-speed fiber in ways beyond expanded and improved access. Because of the threat of competition, Charter is...

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Posted March 26, 2012 by lgonzalez

A little less than a year ago, the 88th Arkansas General Assembly created HB 2033, later known as Act 1050 [pdf]. The law made a few changes to the Telecommunications Regulatory Reform Act of 1997 and, while “a few changes” may not sound like much, they don’t need to be much in order to have a significant effect on the prospect of municipal broadband in Arkansas. The language gets specific about municipal broadband, related services, and alters the possibilities in Arkansas.

WHO AND WHAT...

Prior law prohibited any government entity from offering, directly or indirectly, basic exchange services. So, an Arkansas town couldn’t create its own telephone company that offered the traditional concept of telephone service, as defined in statute.

Act 1050 expands the prohibition to data, broadband, video, and wireless. With the exception of those owning municipal electric utilities or cable television systems, Arkansas towns are now prohibited from offering broadband services to nonpublic entities.

EVERYBODY EXCEPT…

Prior law allowed an exception for government entities owning municipal electric systems or television signal distribution systems to be able to make telecommunications capacities associated with the facilities available to the public. Offering basic local exchange services was still prohibited.

Act 1050 actually opens up the uses of those networks that may have been created for the use of the electric system or television signal distribution system. The new language adds permission to use those capacities to provide, directly or indirectly, voice, data, broadband, video, and wireless. There is even an insertion that allows for like use in future constructed or acquired facilities. Reasonable public notice and a hearing are required, which is the normal course of action before making new investments.

SOME SPECIAL CONSIDERATIONS…

Prior law allowed exceptions to the restrictions for some government entities’ ability to create their own networks for specific purposes. Emergency,...

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Posted March 13, 2012 by ejames

The National Rural Assembly, an advocate for America's hinterland, continues to track harmful legislation moving through the Kentucky Legislature. The assembly's Rural Broadband Policy Group in February publicized Senate Bill 135which eliminates the "carrier of last resort" requirement that big telcos provide basic phone basic and 911 service in rural Kentucky (Feb. press release on SB135). The bill's sponsor Senator Paul Hornback attempted to distance the negative publicity of SB 135 by crafting a new Senate Bill 12 with similar language.  SB 12 cleared a Senate panel today to the dismay of opponents.

After June 30, 2013, AT&T and other electing "Incumbent Local Exchange Carriers" (ILECs) would no longer be required to provide basic landline telephone service to all persons in a service area, and rural Kentuckians would no longer be assured of access to reliable basic phone service, including 911-emergency service. This bill would be especially harmful for rural people, because they are more likely to be in areas phone companies would decide not to serve, if given the choice. If the Kentucky bill succeeds, we expect major telephone companies to try similar bills in other states. The Rural Broadband Policy Group thinks that both bills need to be killed. After June 30, 2013, AT&T and other electing "Incumbent Local Exchange Carriers" (ILECs) would no longer be required to provide basic landline telephone service to all persons in a service area, and rural Kentuckians would no longer be assured of access to reliable basic phone service, including 911-emergency service. This bill would be especially harmful for rural people, because they are more likely to be in areas phone companies would decide not to serve, if given the choice. If the Kentucky bill succeeds, we expect major telephone companies to try similar bills in other states.

The Rural Broadband Policy Group thinks that both bills need to be killed. Possible repercussions:

  • Customers left at the mercy of a utility and its affiliated companies to raise the price for basic service in an area where no other competitor exists. 
  • Possible "redlining" of poor and remote communities where providing service is...
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Posted March 6, 2012 by christopher

We have heard rumors that the Minnesota Cable Communications Association (MCCA) has ramped up its lobbying efforts in the capitol over the past few weeks and now we know why -- Representative Runbeck is today introducing MN HF 2695, a bill undoubtedly written by the cable companies.

Update: Apparently MCCA is denying they are behind this bill. Given how blunt the bill is, I'm inclined to take them at their word. I would expect a bill by MCCA to be more strategic, refusing to admit they wanted to revoke all authority outright. Nonetheless, this bill is still a giant gift to the incumbent cable operators in the state.

Much of Minnesota lacks access to next generation broadband networks -- the kind of networks needed for economic development and maintaining a high quality of life. Minnesota law already discourages communities from building their own next-generation networks but they still have the authority to choose.

This bill would deny them a choice. If passed, MN HF 2695 would be a power grab by the state on behalf of big cable companies to prevent any threat of broadband competition, denying communities local self-determination on matters of essential infrastructure.

MCCA has been trying to kill a broadband stimulus project on the North Shore that would connect thousands of people who have no access to modern broadband because it overlaps in places with Mediacom turf. Mediacom recognizes that if it can kill the network owned by Lake County, it will have no competition to worry about for the foreseeable future.

Private telecom companies are not about to go overbuild rural areas or pick a fight with Mediacom. The only legitimate hope for a real choice in broadband in Minnesota is in areas where communities choose to do it themselves.

We believe communities should be free to make that choice. The cable companies, and a number of elected officials in Minnesota, believe that communities should not be trusted with that decision.

Posted March 6, 2012 by christopher

After AT&T began pushing a bill in Georgia to revoke local authority to decide to build a publicly owned broadband network, the Georgia Municipal Assocation (GMA) and the SouthEast Assocation of Telecommunications Officers and Advisors began reaching out to Georgia's legislators to explain how the private sector has left serious gaps in broadband coverage, which stopped the bill. Below are two flyers they report being particularly helpful.

GMA, SEATOA, and the Institute for Local Self-Reliance are among the vast majority that believe communities should decide locally if a community network makes sense to bring next-generation connections to local businesses and residents.

Georgia is a conservative state and AT&T had enlisted the support of the Senate Majority Leader in pushing their anti-competition broadband bill. Unfortunately for AT&T, their CEO was too candid on calls with Wall Street, contradicting AT&T's lobbyist talking points in Georgia.

Georgia Flyer1

Note, that AT&T was originally trying to define broadband at the absurd 200kbps level but a substitute bill would have bumped it up to a still-too-low 768kbps, which is referenced above.

The other flyer that apparently made a difference with legislators is here:

Georgia Flyer2

Rememeber that elected officials often think of broadband in binary terms. You have it or you don't. In their mind, if you have options aside from dial-up, the problem is solved. These are people that often do not know what is needed to attract economic development, work efficiently from home, or successfully compete remote education courses.

Graphics that explain why we need next-generation networks rather than simply...

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Posted March 5, 2012 by christopher

We are hearing that SB 313 in Georgia, AT&T's bill to overrule local authority, will be turned into a study bill. Despite the strong support of the Senate Majority Leader, the bill lost support after we and others exposed the frank admission of AT&T's CEO that they had no plans to expand broadband in rural areas.

Given the strength of AT&T's lobbying and the support of the Senate Majority Leader, this is a tremendous victory. Congratulations to the communities in Georgia that successfully organized and defended their authority to decide locally if a network is a wise choice for them.

We do not consider these issues resolved until the ink is dried, but it does look like AT&T lost this round -- which means thousands of local businesses and millions of people won. They can still hope for next-generation networks and a real choice in providers.

Note: the South Carolina bill remains in play and will be discussed on Wednesday by a Senate Judiciary Subcommittee.

We have been collecting some of the news coverage of this broadband debate in Georgia, but have neglected posting until now. Here is a run-down of some of the coverage.

In the beginning of February, the AP covered an SB 313 hearing featuring testimony from rural communities:

Leaders from cities including Elberton, Hogansville, Thomasville, Monroe and Toccoa lined up to tell senators that broadband is necessary infrastructure for the 21st century economic development they hope to attract — and that they are doing what they must to keep their communities competitive.

"We cannot wait for the private sector to ride to our rescue," said Tim Martin, executive director of the Toccoa-Stephens County Development Authority.

Thomasville Mayor Max Beverly said the city's broadband network supports major employers there.

"If we have to cut them off, there's no telling what that's going to do...

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Posted February 29, 2012 by christopher

For tourists and residents alike, much of Colorado is one amazing vista after the next. I nearly circumnavigated it on a recent trip and was re-blown away at how incrediblely beautiful it is (recommendation: stop by Great Sand Dunes National Park).

But those incredible mountains are a two-way street. The same ridges that make it great ski country make it awful wireless country. All those mountains make it hard to provide ubiquitous wireless access - leave the interstate or urban areas behind and you are lucky to see the old "1x" show up on your smartphone.

When I go on vacation, I like to remain connected to find weather reports, directions to my next destination, local cafes, etc. And like just about everyone, I really like to be connected where I live. The private telecom sector gets a failing grade for serving both residents and vacationers.

Don't forget that Colorado is one of the nineteen states that have barriers to publicly owned networks despite the refusal of cable and DSL companies to build next-generation networks. We've frequently written about Longmont's efforts to improve its broadband access despite that legislation.

Senate Bill 12-129 aims to identify areas of the state lacking sufficient acess to the Internet and seeking solutions. A local newspaper reported on testimony from local businesses suffering from the lack of investment:

Wendell Pryor, director of the Chaffee County Economic Development Corp., testified to the impacts of limited bandwidth on businesses in that area.

Princeton Hot Springs Resort, an economic driver that generates the second-highest amount of sales tax among businesses in Chaffee County, is unable to process credit cards electronically when bandwidth traffic is high.

"The broadband is simply not sufficient to allow them to do that, so it's done manually," Pryor said.

He said Monarch Ski Resort, which anchors the winter tourist season in Chaffee County, asks the staff to shut off their computers in order to have adequate broadband availability for skiers and...

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Posted February 28, 2012 by christopher

Kentucky is considering a bill that would significantly change rural telephone service in the state. An editorial examines in issue here. We signed on to a letter opposing the bill, reprinted below:

Dear Senate Standing Committee on Economic Development, Tourism, and Labor:

A harmful bill is before you this week that would cut basic telephone service to rural, low-income and elderly Kentuckians. Senate Bill 135, if approved in your committee, threatens access to what most consider a basic lifeline, including 911-emergency service, for Kentucky’s most vulnerable citizens.

As rural Internet and broadband advocates, we know the importance of having access to all forms of communication, including basic telephone service. Communication is a fundamental human right. Lack of basic telephone service isolates people and denies them the right to communicate. Without basic telephone service, rural people will be further isolated from economic and civic participation, and disconnected from the safety our nation’s vital emergency service network.

You have the power to ensure that all Kentuckians can continue to count on basic telephone service.

SB 135 would allow AT&T, Windstream, Cincinnati Bell, and other telecommunications companies to end their obligation as “carriers of last resort.” A Carrier of Last Resort is a telecommunications carrier that commits (or is required by law) to provide service to any customer in a service area that requests it, even if serving that customer would not be economically viable at prevailing rates.

Carriers of Last Resort are crucial to help people in rural, remote, and poor communities stay connected via basic telephone service. Because they are not profitable under a traditional market framework, these communities are the least desirable to corporations primarily interested in profits. The real tragedy of this bill is to further disadvantage the most vulnerable people in Kentucky by cutting their ability to communicate with their loved ones, elected officials, potential employers, medical providers and the society at large.

As rural constituents, we feel compelled to express our concern over the negative impact that SB 135 will have on rural, remote, and poor communities in Kentucky. Especially at a time when poverty rates are statistically high and jobs are scarce,...

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