Tag: "legislation"

Posted May 26, 2020 by Katie Kienbaum

We've written a lot about North Carolina's HB 129, the anti-competition law that prevents communities in the state from investing in broadband infrastructure. This week on the Community Broadband Bits podcast, Christopher dives deeper into the history of HB 129 with guests Catharine Rice, co-founder of NC Broadband Matters and project manager at the Coalition for Local Internet Choice, and Jack Cozort, a government relations consultant who has worked with the City of Wilson. In this first half of a two part conversation, Christopher and his guests discuss the years leading up to HB 129, which was passed in 2011, speaking frankly about the sway telecom lobbyists held over state legislators.

To start, Jack describes how Wilson decided to invest in its own broadband network Greenlight, after incumbent providers refused to partner with the city to upgrade the community. He goes on to explain how Wilson's decision led the regional broadband monopolies Time Warner Cable (now Charter Spectrum) and AT&T to advocate for legal restrictions on municipal broadband at the state legislature.

Catharine and Jack review some of the early bills ⁠— written by telecom companies and handed off to state legislators ⁠— that the monopoly providers introduced in an attempt to stop broadband competition. They share their involvement in those legislative fights and explain how difficult it was to counter the influence that the telecom industry had over politicians in both major parties. However, Catharine points out that there were also Democratic legislators during this time who defended local broadband authority and kept anti-...

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Posted May 7, 2020 by Katie Kienbaum

The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) has worked for many years to protect privacy and civil liberties online and to support technological innovation and widespread Internet access.

Ernesto Falcon, Senior Legislative Counsel at EFF, speaks with Christopher for this episode of the Community Broadband Bits podcast. After explaining EFF's mission, Ernesto shares his background and how he got involved in the organization, before moving on to describe some of their policy efforts in California. The pair discuss EFF's involvement in repealing California's state law that had restricted municipal broadband networks. Christopher notes how AT&T has historically had a strong hold over Democrats in the state legislature, and Ernesto explains how EFF is working to counter that influence.

Ernesto and Christopher also talk about the California Advanced Services Fund and how State Bill 1130 would improve the program to bring better quality Internet access to more Californians. In particular, Ernesto points to the importance of symmetrical speeds and of designing policies that look to the future of connectivity. This has been highlighted by the Covid-19 public health crisis, and the two explore how the California Public Utilities Commission could help enable distance learning and respond to other urgent connectivity needs.

For more from EFF, listen to episode 145 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast.

This show is 30 minutes long and can be played on this page or ...

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Posted May 6, 2020 by Katie Kienbaum

In response to the increased reliance on connectivity precipitated by the Covid-19 pandemic, the Minnesota Legislature is working on legislation to improve access to broadband, online education, and telehealth services throughout the state.

The Senate passed their version of the bipartisan funding bill, SF 4494, earlier this week, and the House has two similar pieces of legislation, HF 1507 and HF 3029, currently under consideration. If the bills are passed and signed into law, there would be a total of $20 million to $27 million (depending on how the different versions are reconciled) available in grants to support distance learning, telemedicine programs, and broadband deployment. Bill authors designed the legislation to prioritize the use of federal money for the grant programs before pulling from the state’s general fund.

Broadband Bills in House and Senate

The Minnesota Senate passed its version of the legislation, SF 4494, on May 4 in a unanimous vote. Representatives in the House have rolled the grant programs into a larger coronavirus relief package that is under consideration, HF 1507. This is in addition to keeping a separate House bill with the broadband funding provisions, HF 3029, alive in case HF 1507 fails to pass.

The bills direct grant funding to three connectivity issues: connecting students for distance education, expanding access to telemedicine services, and deploying broadband networks in unserved areas. To facilitate online education during the pandemic, the bills would make $8 million (SF 4494 and HF 3029) or $15 million (HF 1507) available in grants to schools through the state Department of Education to fund the distribution of devices like hotspots and to reimburse the cost of...

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Posted February 26, 2020 by lgonzalez

As state lawmakers debate in committee rooms and Capitol chambers around the country, various broadband and Internet network infrastructure bills are appearing on agendas. Some are good news for local communities interested in developing publicly owned networks while other preemption bills make projects more difficult to plan, fund, and execute. We've gathered together some notable bills from several states that merit watching - good, bad, and possibly both.

New Hampshire

For years, local communities were not allowed to bond to develop publicly owned broadband infrastructure in New Hampshire. Last year, the state adopted SB 170, which opened the door a crack so that municipalities can bond to develop infrastructure for public-private partnerships (PPPs) in "unserved" areas. This year, the New Hampshire General Court has the opportunity to push open the door a bit wider with SB 459.

SB 459 allows local communities to potentially define "unserved" areas themselves by putting more responsibility on Internet access providers. Municipalities must currently engage in a request for information process in which they must reach out to all Internet service providers operating in the community. SB 459, if adopted, would allow a community to consider areas "unserved" if a provider does not respond to such a request to clarify which premises are unserved. With the "unserved" designation, municipalities can bond to develop infrastructure to serve those premises.

The bill has bipartisan support and is scheduled for a March 11th hearing in the Senate Election Law and Municipal Affairs Committee. Read the text of SB 459 here [PDF] and follow its progress here.

Pennsylvania

In Pennsylvania, where lawmakers meet all year, Rep. Pam Snyder introduced HB 2055 in late in 2019. The bill allows local governments to provide telecommunications services, but limits them to unserved areas. If passed, the bill amends the Municipalities Authorities Act and,...

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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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