Tag: "legislation"

Posted May 12, 2011 by christopher

Wally Bowen, the Founder and Executive Director for the Mountain Area Information Network in Asheville, North Carolina, wrote the following op-ed with Tim Karr of Free Press. Wally gave us permission to reprint it here.

North Carolina has a long tradition of self-help and self-reliance, from founding the nation's first public university to building Research Triangle Park. Befitting the state's rural heritage, North Carolinians routinely take self-help measures to foster economic growth and provide essential local services such as drinking water and electric power.

Statesville built the state's first municipal power system in 1889, and over the years 50 North Carolina cities and towns followed suit. In 1936, the state's first rural electric cooperative was launched in Tarboro to serve Edgecombe and Martin counties. Today, 26 nonprofit electric networks serve more than 2.5 million North Carolinians in 93 counties.

Strangely, this self-help tradition is under attack. The General Assembly just passed a bill to restrict municipalities from building and operating broadband Internet systems to attract industry and create local jobs. Although pushed by the cable and telephone lobby, similar bills were defeated in previous legislative sessions. But the influx of freshmen legislators and new leadership in both houses created an opening for the dubiously titled "Level Playing Field" bill (HB 129).

No one disputes the importance of broadband access for economic growth and job creation. That's why five cities - Wilson, Salisbury, Morganton, Davidson and Mooresville - invoked their self-help traditions to build and operate broadband systems after years of neglect from for-profit providers, which focus their investments in more affluent and densely populated areas. Not coincidentally, all five cities own and operate their own power systems or have ties to nonprofit electric cooperatives.

(While the bill does not outlaw these five municipal networks, it restricts their expansion and requires them to make annual tax payments to the state as if they were for-profit companies.)

How does a state that values independence, self-reliance and economic prosperity allow...

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Posted May 12, 2011 by christopher

FCC Commissioner Copps spoke at the SEATOA Conference in Asheville, North Carolina, on Tuesday. He went out of his way to condemn legislation that would preempt the authority of local governments to build broadband networks, echoing a similar statement from his colleague, Commissioner Clyburn.

But he started with a discussion about the importance of broadband access to the Internet:

Getting broadband out to all our citizens is not just something that would be nice for us to do. It is something essential for us to do if we want to provide individuals the opportunity to live productive and fulfilling lives in the Twenty-first century and something equally imperative if we want our country to have a competitive edge in this challenging world.

But he moved on to highlight the importance of communities having the right to build their own networks, should they deem it necessary:

When incumbent providers cannot serve the broadband needs of some localities, local governments should be allowed--no, encouraged--to step up to the plate and ensure that their citizens are not left on the wrong side of the great divide. So it is regrettable that some states are considering, and even passing, legislation that could hinder local solutions to bring the benefits of broadband to their communities. It's exactly the wrong way to go. In this context, too, our previous infrastructure challenges must be the guide. The successful history of rural electrification, as one example, is due in no small part to municipal electric cooperatives that lit up corners of this country where investor-owned utilities had little incentive to go. Those coops turned on the lights for a lot of people! You know, our country would be a lot better off if we would learn from our past rather than try to defy or deny it.

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We strongly support his comments, while emphasizing that an incumbent that simply provides DSL or cable services must not be construed as necessarily serving the broadband needs of communities. Many of the best broadband networks in this...

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Posted May 5, 2011 by christopher

It took far more longer than expected, due to the many phone calls from concerned citizens opposing it, but Time Warner Cable's investments in the North Carolina Legislature have finally paid off. A bill that will crush its only potential broadband competition in the state is sitting on the Governor's desk. We join with SEATOA, the vast majority of businesses in North Carolina who depend on broadband, and local communities in calling on the Governor to veto it.

The NC House had to approve it again due to changes made in the Senate -- including a change that absolutely gutted the rural exemption for communities who are lacking access broadband access to the Internet. Representative Avila and other sponsors have made many promises throughout this process that they never intended to hold true to.

SEATOA has long organized to preserve local authority in this matter and reported:

We made certain Rep. Avila understood that that clarification gutted the exemption and she did not care. e-NC reports that the private sector providers are permitted to report an entire Census Block as having access to internet, if only one home in the block actually has it.  In essence, North Carolina will have no "unserved areas" or communities will have to do their own door to door surveys, an expensive and monumental feat.

But what do you expect from elected officials who calls something a "level field" while bragging that they are crafting rules (such as limited service territories) that only apply to the community networks, which already operate at a disadvantage to a $19 billion a year competitor like bill author Time Warner Cable?

When the bill passed the Senate, a newspaper in Davidson noted its unequal approach that further handicapped communities:

Davidson Mayor John Woods said Tuesday MI-Connection deserves to be treated the same as private companies.

“We strongly object to the territory limits that this bill will impose on MI-Connection which are not imposed on other broadband providers. In addition, MI-Connection would remain subject to open meeting laws, which do not apply to those other providers,” he said.

Mr. Venzon also said local governments already face other rules that put them at a disadvantage to private competitors, including the requirement to...

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Posted May 3, 2011 by christopher

As we continue to report on depressing campaigns to deny people fast, affordable, and reliable access to the Internet (as Time Warner Cable is doing in North Carolina), we are also making an attempt to highlight good legislation (as we recently did in Washington state). In that spirit, we turn to HB 2076 / SB 1847 in Tennessee

From the bill summary:

This bill urges all municipalities to endeavor to utilize advanced broadband systems in their operations and to encourage the construction of advanced broadband systems.

The full bill is available here [pdf] but the most interesting part is what was not included. As reported by Andy Sher of the Times Free Press, the bill was intended to go much further.

The bill would have let the municipal utilities extend service up to 30 miles outside their service areas.

Unfortunately, the powerful incumbent lobbying machine (including AT&T, Comcast, and others who already hate having to compete with technologically superior networks in several Tennessee communities) killed the bill, a blow to the future of economic development in the state. Neighbors of Chattanooga, including Bradley County, desperately want access to the impressive 1Gbps network Chattanooga built -- the most advanced citywide network in the country.

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Harold DePriest recognized the power of AT&T and Comcast in the Legislature, but vowed not to give up.

“Well, we would like to see the bill pass, but I think Gerald was dealing with the reality of the difficulty of moving the bill through the committee at this point in time,” he said Friday. “We will be back. We think it is important.”

The article wisely includes a...

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Posted May 2, 2011 by christopher

As Time Warner Cable's bill to limit competition from community networks nearly finished its exciting journey through the North Carolina Legislature, it found itself in a madhouse where the sponsor of TWC's bill (Senator Apodaca) accused another Senator of allowing his children to watch adult content.

Stop the Cap! wrote up the details, including a discussion of why Senator Apodaca's amendment to deny adult programming to publicly owned networks violates federal law. This is yet another "level playing field" requirement that handicaps publicly owned networks but does not touch Time Warner Cable -- no surprise given TWC's influence with the current group of Legislators in Raleigh.

One of the most frustrating aspects of this ongoing saga is that it does nothing to help people and businesses get the access to the Internet they need for economic development, better health care and education outcomes, and more. This absurd debate is just about how fast North Carolina can walk backwards. Time Warner Cable and CenturyLink want Time Warner Cable to sprint backwards to protect the monopoly revenues. We are working with North Carolina's communities to stop it from moving backward at all. But nothing in here is helping communities to move forward and be competitive in the digital economy.

There is still time to oppose this bill - contact information here at Stop the Cap!.

Once again, we have some audio clips from the Legislature below.

Posted April 28, 2011 by christopher

A short update on yesterday's hearing of the Senate Finance Committee on Time Warner Cable's bill (HB 129) to level community broadband in North Carolina: the bill was passed and will head to the Senate Floor (but not this week) TODAY.  It has been modified to expand the anti-compettion fence being built around Wilson and Salisbury, both of whom operate muni fiber networks, offering the best connections in the state.  Both will now be able to expand slighty more (as opposed to private companies, who are free to offer service anywhere in the state), which is great for those nearby communities that now have some hope for competition in the future but remains disappointing for the vast majority of the state's residents and businesses, who will shortly have no hope of any real improvement in their access to the Internet.

Senators need to continue hearing from constituents on this bill - they will all be on the spot on the Senate Floor when it comes up for passage.  This will happen TODAY at noon (EDT), listen here for the railroading

The result of this bill will be to lessen any incentive for private companies like Time Warner Cable and CenturyLink to increase investment in the communities they serve because they know the local government now has no power to build a better network that would threaten their monopoly profits.  And in areas without any access to broadband, the present Legislature seems to have no interest in solving that problem until those rural folks can pony up campaign contributions on the level of Time Warner Cable.  

We will plan to get some of the interesting audio clips online when they are avaialble.

Posted April 26, 2011 by christopher

North Carolina's Senate Finance Committee is poised to take away the right of communities to decide for themselves if building their own broadband network is a good idea or not. If it passes out of this committee, it goes right to the Senate Floor and will likely become law.

We have covered Time Warner Cable's bill to kill community networks in greater depth than any other story -- and now folks in North Carolina have to immediately contact their Senators to oppose this power grab from big companies like TWC and CenturyLink. You can also use this form from Free Press if you are unsure who your Senator is.

In recent weeks, we've posted excellent speeches from legislators opposed to the bill, testimony from concerned citizens, and a variety of resolutions from local governments who are fearful of this bill's impact on public safety networks needed to keep residents and businesses safe.

If you are shy, you can call before or after business hours and leave a message on their voicemail. It takes less than five minutes. Your calls make a huge difference because so few constituents ever call state legislators. Simply let them know you oppose H129 and that the state should concern itself with expanding broadband access, not restricting who can offer it.

And as I have said numerous times, those outside North Carolina should also be contacting their elected leaders -- because everyone lives in a state where powerful lobbyists are trying to preserve and expand the power of a few massive companies like Time Warner Cable and AT&T. Progressive States Network recent covered this topic.

Two weeks ago, I wrote the following op-ed for The Wilson Times...

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Posted April 21, 2011 by christopher

As we recently noted in our coverage of the Chelan Public Utility District in Washington state, state law restricts the authority of Public Utility Districts to offer retail services over the fiber-optic networks many have built. But at least one Representative is pushing to expand PUD authority.

Representative John McCoy has been working to improve rural broadband access and spurring more competition in Washington State. He brought a bill, HB 1711 that would allow PUDs to begin offering retail services as well as offer telecommunications services outside their traditional boundaries.

The bill did not go far this year, likely due to the considerable influence of large carriers like Charter, Frontier, and others. But Representative McCoy plans to bring it up again next year and may have more support depending on the recommendations of a current study. The University of Washington Law School is studying options to expand broadband access in rural areas. The final report is due in December and will address the option of allowing PUDs to offer retail access.

I strongly encourage people who may be interested in such developments in Washington to contact Rep McCoy or email me to find out how you can get involved. Quite frankly, we need to develop better networks to ensure citizens are aware of efforts like this bill so elected officials can be contacted in a timely manner.

At the bottom of this post, we have embedded a six minute audio clip of Rep. John McCoy discussing HB 1711 and issues around access to the Internet more generally from a Progressive States Network conference call earlier this month.

Digging into this bill, the summary of the bill [pdf] offers some history:

Public utility districts (PUDs) are municipal corporations authorized to provide electricity, water, and sewer service. In 2000, the Legislature authorized PUDs and rural port districts to acquire and operate telecommunications facilities...

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Posted April 20, 2011 by christopher

I just noticed that Progressive States Network has published the audio from a phone call we did on March 31 about community broadband networks. I was one of the four guest speakers -- we each spoke for 5-10 minutes and then answered questions from the audience. Progressive States Network has long advocated in the states to recognize and preserve local authority to decide whether to build a community broadband network.

Other guests included:

  • Washington State Representative John McCoy
  • Ben Lennett, Senior Policy Analyst, New America Foundation
  • Craig Settles, Founder and President, Successful.com
Posted April 19, 2011 by christopher

We have again isolated individual comments from the arguments around Time Warner Cable's bill to strip local authorities of the right to build broadband networks vastly superior to their services. On April 13, the Senate Finance Committee allowed public comment on TWC's H129 bill. Craig Settles has posted an extended story about a small business struggling to get by with the existing paucity of service in her community.

There was no hope that I could efficiently communicate, collaborate, and share online documents and applications with clients and peer professionals. I couldn’t even buy a functional phone line. For years I paid for a level of service from Centurylink that I can only describe as absolutely embarrassing.

This bill will make it vastly harder, if not impossible, for communities to build the necessary infrastructure to succeed in the digital economy. Listening to those pushing the bill, it is very clear they have no conception of the vast difference between barely broadband DSL from CenturyLink and Wilson's Greenlight community fiber network -- essentially the difference between a hang glider and a Boeing 747. And many in North Carolina don't even have access to the hang glider! Yet the Legislature cares more about protecting the monopoly of powerful companies that contribute to their campaigns than ensuring all residents and businesses have access to the fast, affordable, and reliable broadband they need to flourish.

Thanks to Voter Radio for making audio from the hearing available.  Each of the following comments is approximately 2 minutes long.

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