Tag: "legislation"

Posted March 4, 2019 by lgonzalez

In recent years, North Carolina has become a legislative broadband battleground in the war to regain local telecommunications authority. This legislative session, support from Governor Roy Cooper, outspoken State Legislators, and North Carolina media may make an impact on state law.

Let's Fix This

In 2015, the FCC preempted restrictive state laws which set dire limitations on municipal network expansions, but the state chose to back telecom monopolies over citizens’ need for better connectivity. The state took the FCC to court and won, which meant North Carolina’s laws won’t allow places such as Wilson to help neighbor Pinetops with high-quality Internet access. In addition to preventing local community networks from expanding, requirements and regulations are so onerous, that the state law is a de facto ban on new networks.

Lawmakers such as Republican Rep. David Lewis has put broadband development among the top of their priorities list. In a letter to constituents, Lewis wrote:

High-speed Internet access has transitioned from a luxury to a necessity of our 21st-century economy...It is needed for economic growth in North Carolina, yet many rural communities throughout the state do not have access to broadband services because of their under-developed infrastructure.

In order to get fiber out to people across the state, governments — federal, state, county and local — should be able to invest in fiber infrastructure, and in turn, lease them to the service providers who sell access to the consumer. We have to do something so that the people of this state can be connected to our ever-evolving world.

Cooper, a Democrat, presented broadband deployment in rural areas at the top of his agenda during the State of the State Address. According to a WRAL.com report, both Republican and Democrats strongly supported the proposal with intense applause. The positive bipartisan reaction to his comments reveals that policy makers from both sides of the aisle recognize the critical nature of high-quality Internet access for their constituents.

Last year, the state developed the Growing Rural Economies and Access to Technology (GREAT) Program, which made $10...

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Posted March 1, 2019 by lgonzalez

In the past year, communities and cooperatives in Texas have been making gallant efforts to better connect local residents and businesses with high-quality Internet access. Now, they may get a little help from the State Legislature.

Helping Co-ops

Earlier in this session, Senator Robert Nichols introduced SB 14, a bill that will allow electric cooperatives that hold easements obtained for electric service infrastructure the ability to extend those easements to broadband infrastructure. The bill replicates the FIBRE Act, a 2017 Indiana bill that opened up possibilities for rural cooperatives in that state.

Nichols told KLTV that he has high hopes for his bill:

“I’m getting a lot of support because all of the other plans for broadband that have been proposed use subsidies,” said Nichols. “This one asks the state for nothing, it asks the federal government for nothing.”

He also told KLTV that the Governor’s office has expressed support for the proposal.

Read the text of the bill.

Similar to Indiana’s FIBRE Act, the extension of the easement applies to those that already exist. By enacting making the change, cooperatives that already have infrastructure in place will save time in deploying fiber optic networks because they won’t need to obtain a second set of easements from members who’ve already granted them for electricity infrastructure.

In addition to offering broadband to members sooner, cooperatives who are able to take advantage in the change in the law will also save financially. Personnel costs, filing, and administrative fees add up when a co-op must obtain multiple, sometimes dozens or hundreds, of legal easements. Occasionally, a property owner doesn’t consent to an easement right away. This change in the law will prevent hang-ups in deployment due to uncooperative property owners that can jeopardize a project.

Back Home Again in Indiana

Several Indian electric cooperatives have announced Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) deployments since the FIBRE Act took effect....

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Posted February 27, 2019 by lgonzalez

Earlier this month, we learned about a Senate bill in the Arkansas State Legislature that, in it’s original form, would have rescinded state restrictions preventing many municipalities from improving local connectivity. After amendments, SB 150 lost most of its effectiveness, but the bill that became law this week is still a small step in the right direction for a state where the rate of broadband connectivity is some of the lowest in the country.

Beginning Promise

For years, Arkansas has been one of the states that doesn’t allow government entities from providing broadband services to the public. The ban specifically disallowed “directly or indirectly, basic local exchange, voice, data, broadband, video, or wireless telecommunication service.” There has always been an exception to the ban for communities that have their own electric or cable utilities and want to offer telecommunications services. No municipality may offer basic exchange service, interpreted as telephone service.

Only a few communities have taken advantage of the legal exception, such as Paragould, Clarksville, and Conway. In recent years, electric cooperatives are deploying in rural areas, but many of the state’s rural residents rely on DSL, fixed wireless, and satellite. In the few more populous communities, there may also be scattered cable connections available. 

seal-arkansas.png Even though large incumbent ISPs have collected federal grant funding in the past, deployment in Arkansas has been inadequate to connect all Arkansans. According to the FCC, connectivity to households is near the bottom of the list.

SB 150 is one of several bills introduced by the Republican Woman’s Legislative Caucus as part of their “Dream Big” initiative. Other bills in the initiative...

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Posted February 11, 2019 by lgonzalez

*Update: After amending the bill significantly, SB 150 passed through the Arkansas Senate to the House. We were initially excited because the original version of the bill reinstated local authority to develop publicly owned broadband networks. The amendment adopted in Committee, however, changed the bill to only allow communities that apply for and receive grants and loans to invest in community networks and only to specific areas and at the speeds defined in those grants and loans. We still consider it a step in the right direction, but the move forward is miniscule. Read the amended bill here.*

 

This session, a new force in the Arkansas State Legislature — the Republican Women’s Legislative Caucus — has decided that they’ll take on the issue of poor connectivity. As part of their “Dream Big” initiative, they’ve introduced SB 150, a bill to restore local telecommunications authority.

"Dreaming Big" Means Bigger Broadband

The bill was introduced on January 23rd along with a suite of four other bills aimed at a variety of issues, including juvenile justice and education. Senator Breanne Davis of Russellville is the lead sponsor of SB 150, which would repeal restrictions preventing communities from developing broadband networks. Current law has an exception for communities that have a municipal electric utility but if SB 150 is adopted, any government entity will be able to offer high-quality connectivity.  

Legislators are focusing on opportunities for local communities to partner with private sector ISPs as a way to solve some of the poorest access to broadband in the country. They're also emphasizing that, if no partner wants to work with a government entity, this bill will allow a city, town, or county to invest on their own.

In a recent conversation with Talk Business & Politics, Davis described the impetus and goal of the bill: 

“About 40% of Arkansans don’t have access to broadband as defined by the FCC, so we decided to change that,” she said. “Our bill simply lifts the ban on cities and counties being able to either partner in a public-private partnership or go out on their own when no one will partner with them and apply...

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Posted February 7, 2019 by lgonzalez

Big cable and telecom lobbyists managed to locate a legislative vehicle for the components of last December's bill to fund rural broadband, locking out some of the state's most promising opportunities to bring better connectivity to those who need it the most. There’s still time for Michiganders to express displeasure and the result and possibly influence change. You can file a public comment online through February 15th.

The Problems

When we reported on Michigan’s HB 5670 in December, it was set to appear before the House Communications and Technology Committee. Prior to the hearing, however, Chair Michele Hoitenga removed it from the agenda. Regular readers will remember Hoitenga, whose support from cable and telecom companies has inspired her to introduce anti-muni legislation in the past.

The bill, dubbed the “Broadband Investment Act,” established a fund to provide grants for infrastructure deployment, but specifically locked out municipalities and other government entities from eligibility. Consequentially, local ISPs that might want to provide services via publicly owned fiber were also stifled from projects because this provision essentially ended the possibility of public-private partnerships or any competition with large incumbents.

According to the language of HB 5670, “broadband” was defined as 10 Megabits per second (Mbps) download and 1 Mbps upload. While we have seen state broadband legislation from several years ago falling back upon this outdated definition of “broadband,” Michigan condemns rural residents to slow, unreliable, last-century technology. It indicates a thinly veiled attempt to hand over state funds to telecom companies with no interest in providing anything better than what they already offer in rural Michigan — DSL or satellite Internet access.

Language in the bill also goes to extreme lengths to ensure that funds will only go to projects that have not received funding from any other source. What will prevent many projects from ever receiving funds, unless those projects are being developed by big corporate incumbents, is the fact that funds can’t be awarded to projects in places where...

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Posted January 11, 2019 by Hannah Bonestroo

While 97 percent of Georgia’s urban population has access to broadband, the urban-rural digital divide in the state remains stark and only 70.9 percent of the rural population has that access. Considering estimates are based on self-reported data from incumbent providers and determined broadly by census block, the data overstates the reality on the ground. Representative Doug Collins from Georgia’s 9th congressional district is now leading the charge to mitigate this disparity, not only in his home state but in rural regions throughout the country. In a recent “Dear Colleague” letter, the top Republican on the House Judiciary Committee stated his intentions of introducing the CAF (Connect America Fund) Accountability Act at the start of the 116th Congress. Collin, a Republican representing Georgia's 9th District, introduced H.R. 427 on January 10th. If passed, the bill will create stricter requirements for the Federal Communications Commission (FCC)’s broadband infrastructure funding under CAF.

Reaching for Accountability

CAF was designed to subsidize network deployments in unserved rural areas, which have often been overlooked due to the high expense of constructing infrastructure for few and scattered populations. While many providers that have received this funding have used it properly, as Collins stated, “others have taken taxpayer dollars but failed to fulfill their obligations to their consumers… instead using taxpayer dollars ineffectively or inappropriately – turning their backs on those families at the last mile.”

Currently, CAF recipients are required to provide speeds of at least 10 Mbps download and 1 Mbps upload. While this threshold is well below the current FCC definition of “broadband” service of at least 25 Mbps/3 Mbps, Collins noted that in his home district of Northeast Georgia, a region where a majority of ISPs are CAF recipients, consumers report speeds that are “consistently abysmal, sometimes not even reaching 3 Mbps downstream and 1 Mbps.”

...

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Posted December 26, 2018 by lgonzalez

We left our crystal ball, tarot cards, and astrology charts at home, but that won’t stop us from trying to predict what will happen in 2019 for this week’s annual predictions podcast. Each year, we reflect on the important events related to publicly owned broadband networks and local connectivity that occurred during the year and share our impressions for what we expect to see in the next twelve months. As usual, the discussion is spirited and revealing.

This year we saw the departures of Research Associate Hannah Trostle and Communications Manager Nick Stumo-Langer as both decided to head off to grad school. This year, you’ll hear our new Communications Specialist Jess Del Fiacco and Research Associate Katie Kienbaum keeping those seats warm. Hannah and Nick take time out of their schedules to offer some predictions of their own at the end of the show.

In addition to recaps of last year's predictions for state legislation, cooperative efforts, and preemption, we get into our expectations for what we expect to see from large, national incumbent ISPs, local private and member owned providers, and governments. We discuss federal funding, local organizing efforts and issues that drive them, concentration of power, our predictions for digital equity, efforts in big cities, open access, rural initiatives, and more. This podcast is packed with good stuff!

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

This show is 45 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...

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Posted December 5, 2018 by lgonzalez

Update: HB 5670 was removed from the agenda prior to the committee hearing.

Representative Michele Hoitenga from Michigan is at it again. Last year as Chair of the House Communications and Technology Committee, she attempted to pass a bill to discourage her state’s self-reliant municipalities from improving local connectivity. Deja vu as her committee’s agenda for tomorrow, December 6th, picks up HB 5670, a bill sponsored by a different lawmakers and deceivingly titled the “Broadband Investment Act.”

View the language of the bill.

Money is Good, Who Gets it Matters

The bill, sponsored by Mary Whiteford (R - Laketown Township) establishes a fund that will provide grants for broadband infrastructure deployment; the fund will be created by the state treasury. The bill doesn’t specify a dollar amount, which likely would vary from year to year. Recognizing that the state needs to make a financial investment in rural Internet infrastructure deployment is certainly a step forward, but the details in HB 5670 will end up doing more harm than good for people living beyond urban centers.

Municipalities and other government entities are specifically denied eligibility for grants. Not only does the restriction prevent local communities the ability to offer Internet access to the general public, but without an equal opportunity at state funding for infrastructure, municipalities and counties can’t pursue a public-private model. In short, by locking out local governments from state funding, the bill is harming both local citizens and the local ISPs that tend to offer services via publicly owned infrastructure.

10/1 Isn’t Broadband!

Michigan’s State Legislators are considering a bill that uses the term “broadband” to describe minimum service as 10 Megabits per second (Mbps) download and 1 Mbps upload. The FCC increased the standard to 25 Mbps/3 Mbps back in 2015 and it remains today. HB 5670 will siphon money from the state treasury to Frontier, AT&T, and any other telco that refuses to invest in anything better than DSL in rural Michigan. Fail. Needs improvement.

The vague language of the bill would also thrust satellite and mobile Internet access into the “served” parameters...

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Posted November 30, 2018 by lgonzalez

When it comes to high-quality Internet access, the big corporate ISPs have failed rural Mississippi. Other states with similar digital divide issues are starting to see rural electric cooperatives make efforts to connect members. In some places, legislatures have adjusted state laws that complicated co-ops' ability to deploy fiber optic infrastructure. Now, the Public Service Commission (PSC) in Mississippi has formally requested that state lawmakers update an antiquated statute to allow rural electric cooperatives to expand high-quality Internet access.

Waiting for Action

When Magnolia's State Legislators convene in January, they’ll have a unanimous resolution waiting for them from the state’s PSC. The resolution requests that lawmakers take action to adjust Miss. Code 77-5-205 to allow electric cooperatives the authority to offer Internet access. 

James Richardson, Policy Director and Counsel from the Office of Commissioner Brandon Presley, explained that the law currently only allows electric cooperatives the authority to form “…for the purpose of promoting and encouraging the fullest possible use of electric energy…” — electric cooperative are precluded from operating for any other purpose. The law was passed in the 1930s when cooperatives formed across the state to bring electricity to the many farmers in rural Mississippi. The matter has been tested and confirmed at the state Supreme Court

The PSC asks that the State Legislature create an exception in statute in order to allow rural electric cooperatives the the ability to also offer Internet access. Earlier this month, the three Commissioners on the PSC approved the resolution requesting the law change.

logo-ms-psc.jpg Presley has been...

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Posted August 30, 2018 by lgonzalez

Shortly after Republican FCC Commissioners repealed federal network neutrality protections late in 2017, state lawmakers began introducing legislation to protect their constituents. California’s AB 1999, introduced as one possible antidote to the FCC failure in judgment, passed the General Assembly on August 29th and is on its way to Governor Jerry Brown.

Read the final version of the bill and the Legislative Counsel Digest here.

Let the People Serve the People

As local communities have investigated ways to protect themselves from throttling, paid prioritization, and other activities no longer banned, they’ve looked at investing in publicly owned infrastructure. Rural communities where national Internet service providers are less motivated to deploy have always struggled to attract investment from the same large companies known to violate network neutrality tenets. Assembly Member Ed Chau’s AB 1999 addresses rural communities’ need for better connectivity, solutions that can preserve network neutrality, and challenges in funding broadband infrastructure.

California’s community service districts (CSDs) are independent local governments created by folks in unincorporated areas. CDSs provide services that would otherwise be provided by a municipality. Residents usually join together to form a CSD and do so to establish services such as water and wastewater management, garbage collection, fire protection, or similar services. A CSD also has the ability to create an enhanced infrastructure financing district (EIFD) in order to finance the development of a broadband network.

The EIFD statute granting the authority allows communities, including CSDs, to join together regional projects for a range of financing purposes. Tax Increment Financing (TIF) and various bonding mechanisms are a few examples.

The law currently on the books, which AB 1999 will change, requires CSDs to first determine that no private entity or person is willing to offer broadband in their sector before they are allowed to invest to do so. If they manage to get past the requirement but an entity or person enters the picture and is willing to provide those services, the...

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