Tag: "legislation"

Posted February 25, 2021 by Ry Marcattilio-McCracken

Last week, House Republicans introduced a bill package ostensibly to promote broadband expansion and competition across the country. In reality, the legislation is a wish list of monopoly cable and telephone companies that will protect them from competition and decrease their accountability to the public. It would also ban communities from building their own networks or engaging in public-private partnerships.

 

A Rights of Way Free-for-All

About a third of the bills in the Boosting Broadband Connectivity Agenda would preempt regulations (including application timelines and fee schedules) set by government subdivisions on wireless deployment. The major mobile carriers are already in the process of slowly rolling out 5G networks which will require the installation of hundreds of thousands of small-cell sites over the next several years. AT&T spent more than $23 billion on the recently concluded 3.7 GHz C-band auction, with T-Mobile spending $9.3 billion. Verizon outspent every other bidder combined at $45 billion. Establishing shorter shot clocks and maximum fees for the installation of new hardware in public Rights of Way would simultaneously reduce the income municipalities receive and lead to the proliferation of poles and attachments across the country with limited public input. We’ve already seen how it has negatively impacted cities like Milwaukee and Tucson

Another handful of bills in the package would remove environmental or historic preservation regulations for wireless and wireless providers. If passed, they would exempt from review new or replacement facilities installed in public Rights of Way and those less than 50 feet tall (or ten feet taller than surrounding buildings), as well as remove protections so that telecommunications facilities can be installed on federal lands. 

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Posted February 16, 2021 by Ry Marcattilio-McCracken

Update: The Community Broadband Action Network (CBAN) notes that it looks like SSB 1184 is dead, having been shelved in committee yesterday. They say the "bill was briefly discussed by a subcommittee of the House Commerce Committee on February 16th, but postponed 'indefinitely.'"

Original story:

Less than a year after an attempt to hamstring municipal broadband in Iowa, local opponents are at it again. If you’ve been around the block, Senate Study Bill 1184 will look remarkably similar to SSB 3009 from last January 2020, and that’s because it’s nearly identical. 

Like its last incarnation, SSB 1184 threatens the viability of any new municipal broadband effort by placing draconian financial barriers in the way, and, if passed, handcuffs existing networks as well as those under construction. Though there are no public fingerprints on the bill, the word around the capitol is that Mediacom is behind it. Among its provisions are those that would:

  • Prohibit cities and towns from issuing loans from the general or reserve fund or an existing electric utility to a broadband division at an interest rate lower than the prevailing market rate set by private financing institutions.
  • Prohibit government entities from forgiving debt related to the construction or operation of a telecommunications system.
  • Set a maximum interest rate at which a municipal broadband utility could borrow to finance a new network, cutting off funding avenues
  • Disallow existing municipal networks from responding to the market in setting rates.
  • Prevent municipal network from bundling multiple city services in single transactions.

Individually, any of these conditions would represent a significant win for a provider looking to restrict competition with cities interested in building Internet infrastructure; collectively, they would be a gigantic step backwards in a state that ranks...

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Posted February 10, 2021 by Ry Marcattilio-McCracken

It’s official. Senate Bill 74 became law last week when Governor Asa Hutchinson signed it, significantly reducing (but not completely removing) barriers to municipal broadband in the state of Arkansas, with both chambers voting unanimously in approval of the legislation. While the legislation doesn’t completely eliminate existing barriers to municipal broadband in the state, we consider it an historic moment and a significant step forward.

The central win in SB 74 is that it allows government entities “to acquire, construct, furnish, or equip facilities for the provision of voice services, data services, broadband services, video services, or wireless telecommunications services” so long as they “partner, contract, or otherwise affiliate with an entity that is experienced in the operation of the facilities,” as well as conduct due diligence, and provide ten-days’ notice and hold a public hearing.

Importantly, it also allows municipalities to issue general obligation bonds or impose special taxes to do so; prior, they could only do so after acquiring third-party funding through grants or loans. Finally, the legislation also expands the emergency provisions clause to include health and public safety operations.

SB 74 was first filed in early January, making its way through the Agriculture, Forestry, and Economic Development Committee before returning to the floor in the third week of the month. There it was amended once more to remove language expressly permitting municipalities from construction, owning, and operating broadband networks, leaving the law a bit unclear where local authority ends. We, along with the Coalition for Local Internet Choice, take this to mean that municipalities without electric utilities that try build communications facilities to do retail service could run into some legal challenges. On the whole however, SB 74 remains a significant win for municipalities to pursue projects. 

Director of Community Broadband Networks Christopher Mitchell had this to say:

We are excited to see Arkansas encourage more investment in its communities by its communities. Between the electric cooperatives and the potential for community networks and partnerships, local businesses and residents will soon be seeing much better...

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Posted January 25, 2021 by Ry Marcattilio-McCracken

In our year-end roundup and prediction show on the Community Broadband Bits podcast last month, the more optimistic members of the team predicted that 2021 would see some states remove barriers to municipal broadband. 

It looks like in a few places momentum might be headed in that direction. Last week we wrote about a bill in Arkansas that would remove almost all barriers in the state, allowing political subdivisions and consolidated utility districts to pursue projects on their own and without external grants. 

New legislation in Washington looks similarly promising. On Thursday, January 21st, House Bill 1336 was introduced [pdf], removing specific barriers which currently prevent Public Utility Districts (PUDs) from delivering broadband service on a retail basis. Currently, PUDs are only able to offer unrestricted broadband on a wholesale basis through a dark fiber or open access network. Under certain conditions PUDs can offer retail service, but only if an existing Internet Service Provider (ISP) leasing that PUD infrastructure ceases operations, and even then, they are only allowed to do so as long as no other private ISP steps up to offer retail service. In the interim, PUDs can provide service for a maximum of five months and must, within thirty days, begin the process of finding a replacement.

The new law removes that barrier, and not only allows PUDs to construct and operate retail broadband networks inside their existing territory, but outside as well. In addition, it establishes that PUDs can work with federally recognized tribes to construct infrastructure. 

Bipartisan Approach

The co-sponsors of the bill have staked out different rationales for removing the restrictions, with Drew Hansen calling for broadband to operate as a public utility and Alex Ybarra more concerned with the unconnected pockets of Washingtonians left by the private ISPs. Bill co-sponsor Alex Ybarra told the Washington State Wire:

We knew prior to...

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Posted January 19, 2021 by Ry Marcattilio-McCracken

This week on the podcast, Christopher talks with Larry Thompson, CEO of Vantage Point Solutions, a South Dakota-based company which provides engineering, consulting and regulatory services for ISPs of all sizes. The two talk about how the variety of subsidy and grant programs we’ve built to get broadband out into rural areas and make sure folks can afford Internet access came about, and the policy changes we’re likely to see in the near future to make sure existing networks and new construction remains viable. 

In particular, Larry and Christopher spend time talking about the Universal Service Fund (USF) and National Exchange Carrier Association (NECA), and how we come to terms with an increasing need for support in the face of a declining base from which to draw funds. Christopher and Larry discuss the USF’s sustainability as the contribution level nears 30%, alternatives to existing models, and what it will take to commit to fast, affordable broadband for all Americans in the decades to come.

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.

Transcript coming soon.

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

Listen to other episodes here or view all episodes in our index.

Subscribe to the Building Local Power podcast, also from the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, on ...

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Posted January 15, 2021 by Ry Marcattilio-McCracken

On Monday, a new bill introduced into the Arkansas State Legislature has the potential, if passed, to remove almost all existing barriers to municipal broadband in the state. SB 74 was introduced in the 93rd General Assembly, Regular Session 2021 by State Senators Breanne Davis and Ricky Hill and their counterparts Representatives Brian Evans and Deann Vaught. 

The legislation would substantially amend the state’s Telecommunications Regulatory Reform Act of 2013, which in most scenarios bans government entities from building and owning networks and delivering services to residents in pursuit of promoting competition and bringing Internet access to unconnected parts of the state.

SB 74 keeps an existing ban on providing basic local exchange service in place (i.e. telephone), but otherwise allows municipalities to build, buy, and operate network infrastructure to deliver digital voice, broadband, data, and wireless telecommunications service to anyone in the state. 

Slow Progress in Recent Years

Currently in Arkansas, municipalities are allowed to build or partner with private companies to build broadband infrastructure, but only if they acquire a grant or loan to do so and only do so in unserved areas. When policy veterans last commented on these particulars of the legislative landscape in 2019, they were worried that such geographic and financing restrictions would effectively preclude new networks, and they were right. 

SB 74 eliminates these two restrictions, which represents a significant step forward. It also adds consolidated utility districts to the list of eligible entities, removes the requirement to file a public notice, and dramatically expands the emergency services clause to include healthcare services, education, and “other essential services.”

This is not the first time State Senator Davis and fellow lawmakers have attempted to fix the state’s broken regulatory environment. In early 2019, SB 150 sought to do many of the same things, but in the end was altered by amendments such that it only allowed government entities to deploy broadband in unserved areas and only if they received...

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Posted January 6, 2021 by

This piece was authored by Jericho Casper from Broadband Breakfast.

The digital divide afflicting the United States has become even more apparent throughout the pandemic, repositioning the issue of universal broadband access to the forefront of many Washington policy agendas, including that of President-elect Joe Biden.

The Biden presidential campaign’s website early on included a plan for rural America that highlighted how the COVID-19 crisis deepened many of the challenges that were already confronting Americans, including “lack of access to health care, unreliable broadband, and the chronic under funding of public schools.”

The plan further states that “Americans everywhere need universal, reliable, affordable, and high-speed Internet access to do their jobs, participate equally in remote school learning and stay connected” and promises to “expand broadband, or wireless broadband via 5G, to every American.”

Biden’s Top Four Priorities Convey an Urgent Need for Advanced Infrastructure

Of the challenges facing the incoming administration of Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris, it seems clear that universal broadband is critical to each of them.

Biden’s campaign website specifically lists universal broadband as a priority in bolstering economic recovery, fighting climate change, and advancing racial economic equity. Universal access to broadband also underscores  the fourth top policy initiative listed on the Biden campaign website, battling COVID-19, although the incoming administration fails to link broadband as a precondition for this priority.

As a presidential candidate, Biden called broadband a tool to put Americans to work during a visit to Hermantown, Minnesota.

The campaign’s plan for economic recovery specifically links the country’s financial recovery to mobilizing American work forces in the construction of  “modern, sustainable infrastructure” and “sustainable engines of growth,” connecting universal broadband to building a clean energy economy, addressing the climate crisis, and creating millions of “good-paying, union jobs.”

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Posted January 5, 2021 by Sean Gonsalves

While the bulk of the Accessible, Affordable Internet for All (AAIA) Act proposes to invest $100 billion to expand broadband access in unserved and underserved parts of the country, the legislation also looks to build an essential bridge across the digital divide that goes beyond new infrastructure. An important part of the equation involves addressing laws and policies that have proven to be obstacles to Internet connectivity for tens of millions of Americans.

In our previous installments examining the AAIA, we covered the big-ticket items – the why, how and where the $100+ billion would be invested. This final installment in the series covers the last three major sections of the bill: Title IV – Community Broadband; Title V – Broadband Infrastructure Deployment; and Title VI – Repeal of Rule and Prohibition on Use of NPRM.

These last three sections of the AAIA do not call for any federal appropriations but instead aim to tackle several thorny policy challenges.

Removing State Barriers to Municipal Broadband Initiatives

Title IV – Community Broadband (Section 4001) of the bill is straight-forward. It would prohibit state governments from enforcing laws or regulations that prevent local governments, public-private partnerships, and cooperatives from delivering broadband service.

As it stands now, there are 19 states across the country where state legislators have passed laws designed to shield the biggest corporate Internet Service Providers (ISPs) from competition. Those laws were mostly written by lobbyists for these behemoth monopolies and duopolies, despite the fact that the Big Telcos have failed to deliver reliable, affordable and truly high-speed Internet access to large segments of the population.

In Colorado, for example, legislators in that state passed SB-...

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Posted December 25, 2020 by Ry Marcattilio-McCracken

On Episode 265 of the Techdirt podcast, Sonic CEO Dane Jasper joins host Mike Masnik to talk about how the broadband market in the United States is a failed competitive market, how the regulatory environment brought us from a place with thousands of Internet Service Providers (ISPs) to one where the vast majority of households have just one or two options at basic broadband speeds of 25/3 Megabits per second (Mbps), the arbitrariness of imposing usage caps and future of net neutrality, and the array of other interrelated issues that will dictate the way Internet access looks over the next decade.

Listen to it here.

Happy Holidays!

Posted December 23, 2020 by Sean Gonsalves

If you have been following our series on the Accessible, Affordable Internet for All (AAIA) Act, you already know the proposed legislation calls for a $100 billion investment in expanding broadband access and affordability in unserved and underserved parts of the country. In this fourth installment of the series, we explore the part of the bill that contains the bulk of the funding. Of the $100 billion proposed in the bill, $85 billion of it can be found in the Title III - Broadband Access section.

Amending the Communications Act of 1934, Section 3101 of the bill appropriates $80 billion for “competitive bidding systems” to subsidize broadband infrastructure. That is to say, it requires the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), and states, to use “competitive bidding systems” for Internet Service Providers (ISPs) to bid on broadband deployment projects in “areas with service below 25/25 Megabits per second (Mbps), and areas with low-tier service, defined as areas with service between 25/25 and 100/100 Mbps.” The term “competitive bidding” seems to suggest a reverse auction process, though it hardly makes sense for each state to set up such a system given the logistical challenges. A legislative staffer responded to our email earlier this year saying he believed that language would allow for state programs that solicited applications from ISPs and scored them for evaluation, much like Minnesota’s Border-to-Border Broadband program operates. However, he noted that the FCC would interpret that language ultimately. More on this below. 

Prioritizing Higher Upload Speeds

It’s worth noting that this part of the bill implicitly acknowledges the insufficiency of the current FCC definition of a minimum broadband speed of 25/3 Mbps. As it stands now, the FCC defines “unserved areas” as parts of the country where there is either no Internet access or broadband speeds under 25/3. This legislation raises the bar and broadens the definition of “unserved areas.” It’s a step in the...

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