Tag: "legislation"

Posted February 15, 2017 by lgonzalez

On February 13th, the Virginia Senate Labor and Commerce Committee held a hearing on HB 2108, previously called the "Virginia Broadband Deployment Act" and now named the "Virginia Wireless Services Authority Act." Delegate Kathy Byron offered an amendment to the bill, it was accepted, and the bill passed. It is now headed for the full Senate where it may or may not be put on the calendar for a vote.

FOIA Language Removed

The bill came to the Senate after a revised version of the original bill passed in the House 72 - 24. The committee amendment removed a FOIA Exemption, which was the last piece of language remaining that local groups strongly opposed. In a press release, President and CEO of Roanoke Valley Broadband Authority said:

“With the removal the FOIA Exemption clause this afternoon, HB 2108 no longer poses a threat to local and municipal broadband authorities. Instead it merely reasserts the very same laws and procedures in the Code of Virginia to which we all already operate and gladly adhere and abide,”

Moving Ahead With Caution

With the exception of the Committee Chair, Sen. Frank Wagner, the vote to pass as amended was unanimous; there was one abstention. Wagner, who is running for Governor, announced his opposition to the original bill at a press conference in January. While advocates of publicly owned Internet infrastructure remain cautiously optimistic, it’s important to remember that the process is not over. The bill could still be amended in a manner that impedes local investment in better connectivity.

Working Despite State Obstruction

Even though State Legislators introduce bills that discourage better rural connectivity, local Virginia communities are doing their best to serve themselves. They realize that waiting is too risky and that the longer they have horrible connectivity, the farther behind they fall.

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We reported earlier in the legislative session that we knew of ten communities...

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Posted February 14, 2017 by lgonzalez

On Monday the Colorado Senate Business, Labor and Technology Committee heard SB 42, a bill to repeal the state’s requirement for referendum to reclaim local telecommunications authority. The committee of seven Senators voted 4 - 3 to postpone the bill indefinitely, leaving it in legislative purgatory. We've provided the audio above, but we missed the first minute or so of the recording.

Ample Support

A number of testifiers came to Denver to support the bill and also testified remotely from several locations around the state. Several testified that local investment in Internet infrastructure is the only hope they have for necessary high-quality connectivity. 

Elected officials from communities that have already invested shared stories of how they had approached big national providers and were dismissed. They went on to describe how the state imposed referendum causes missed funding opportunities and the ability to partner with private providers is also at risk when communities have to jump through hoops.

Overwhelming Opt Outs

Sponsors of the bill pointed out that all communities that have held the required referendums have chosen to reclaim local authority by huge margins. Nevertheless, several lawmakers continued to attempt to tie the referendums to community debt and competition with local providers. As our readers know, passing the referendum is an opt out of state law and a number of communities don’t take any other steps.

For some, their purpose is only to have the ability to work with private providers because national providers have already denied the services local communities need. As several testifiers stated at the hearing, local communities don't typically invest in publicly owned Internet infrastructure because they want to be providers - they invest because no one else will do it for them.

It Wouldn't Be A Hearing Without Them

Big providers opposed to the competition and the bill sent lobbyists to testify also. In true form, they advanced the false narrative that local publicly owned network infrastructure competes unfairly with big providers. What they really mean is that they don’t want new entrants to partner with local governments and establish a new model that would threaten their standing as...

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Posted February 13, 2017 by lgonzalez

Virginia publication, Bacon’s Rebellion, recently published an opinion piece written by Christopher on HB 2108, a bill introduced by Del. Kathy Byron. If passed, the bill will make it even more difficult for local communities to take control of their own connectivity. We’ve reproduced the op-ed here:

Virginia Is for Lovers, Not Lobbyists

Pop quiz: Should the state create or remove barriers to broadband investment in rural Virginia? Trick question. The answer depends very much on who you are – an incumbent telephone company or someone living every day with poor connectivity.

If you happen to be a big telephone company like CenturyLink or Frontier, you have already taken action. You wrote a bill to effectively prevent competition, laundered it through the state telephone lobbying trade organization, and had it sponsored by Del. Byron, R-Forest, in the General Assembly. That was after securing tens of millions of dollars from the federal government to offer an Internet service so slow it isn’t even considered broadband anymore. Government is working pretty well for you.

If you are a business or resident in the year 2017 without high quality Internet access, you should be banging someone’s door down – maybe an elected official, telephone/electric co-op, or your neighbor to organize a solution. You need more investment, not more barriers. Government isn’t working quite as well for you.

Rural Virginia is not alone. Small towns and farming communities across America are recognizing that they have to take action. The big cable and telephone companies are not going to build the networks rural America needs to retain and attract businesses. The federal government was essential in bringing electricity and basic phone service to everyone. But when it came to broadband, the big telephone companies had a plan to obstruct and prevent and plenty of influence in D.C.

When the Federal Communications Commission set up the Connect America Fund, they began giving billions of dollars to the big telephone companies in return for practically nothing. By 2020, these companies have to deliver a connection doesn’t even qualify as broadband. CenturyLink advertises 1000/1000 Mbps in many urban areas but gets big subsidies to deliver 10/1 Mbps in rural areas. Rural America has been sold out.

If you are a big cable or telephone company, you have a lot of influence in the federal and state capitals. But at the...

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Posted February 9, 2017 by lgonzalez

A Colorado Senate committee will soon hear SB 42, a bill to repeal the requirement that local communities hold a referendum to reclaim local telecommunications authority. SB 42 is on the calendar in the Senate Business, Labor, and Technology Committee for Monday, February 13th.

Supporting This One

In preparation for the hearing, a grass roots effort to pass the bill has taken shape. In January, the Colorado Municipal League and Colorado Counties, Inc., prepared a fact sheet and talking points and asked their members to disseminate the information. They also sent out information on how interested parties can testify remotely if they can’t get to Denver.

The Economic Development Council of Colorado (EDCC) drafted a letter to the Chair and members of the committee. The letter pointed out that publicly owned networks can fill in the gaps left by national providers that don't bring service to every business and residence in the state. The Council also described how SB 152, the 2005 bill that put the referendum requirement in place, limits the rights of local communities and increases prices in Colorado.

The EDCC’s letter also pointed out the importance of high-quality connectivity to a 21st century economy and how local communities will lose people and businesses when it isn’t available. The EDCC encouraged the members of the committee to pass the bill to repeal the cumbersome and onerous referendum requirement:

As a part of the EDCC legislative platform, we believe that it is our role to help ensure access to utilities and broadband for predictable and reliable services to businesses in rural and urban areas. SB17-042 would be a significant and important piece of legislation that will help Colorado achieves that imperative economic development goal.  

Check out the full text of the EDCC letter and the talking points that support SB 42. 

Give 'Em A Call, Send 'Em An Email

If you live in Colorado and want to contribute your voice to support this bill, a list of the committee members is available...

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Posted February 9, 2017 by lgonzalez

In Missouri, the Senate Local Government and Elections Committee has quietly held on to Sen. Ed Emery’s SB 186. The legislation is another bill handed off from big corporate providers and designed to squash municipal networks. If it looks familiar, it should - it’s identical to last year’s HB 2078, that made a dramatic run through the legislature only to be withdrawn at the last moment. SB 186 will have its first hearing on Tuesday, February 14th, at 10:00 a.m.

Enough Already

As with HB 2078, this bill expands already existing laws that discourage local investment and impinge on local telecommunications authority. Missouri’s rural areas already have difficulties obtaining high-quality Internet access and some rural areas have no access at all. SB 186 prevents local communities from using their own infrastructure to partner with private providers. Large corporate incumbents, fearing public private partnerships, want to ensure that they can protect their practical monopolies from both municipal networks and new entrants.

In late January, the Coalition for Local Internet Choice (CLIC) organized a number of associations, advocacy groups, and private telecommunications companies who wanted to speak out against SB 186. They submitted a letter of opposition to the Chair and Members of the committee. The signatories described the bill as:

“…[H]arming both the public and private sectors, stifling economic growth, preventing the creation or retention of jobs around the State, particularly in rural areas, hampering work-force development, and diminishing the quality of life in Missouri.”

Call To Kill

To stop the bill before it gains momentum in the Missouri General Assembly, the best tactic is to kill it in committee. You can contact the members of the Senate Local Government and Elections Committee and tell them they should not advance the bill. Because SB 186 is now in a committee that examines the powers of local government, point out that improving...

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Posted February 8, 2017 by lgonzalez

On February 7th, the Virginia House of Delegates voted 72 - 24 to pass HB 2108, otherwise known as "Byron’s Bad Broadband Bill." The text of the bill was a revised version substituted by Del. Kathy Byron after Governor Terry McAuliffe, local leaders across the state, and constituents very handily let her know that they did not want the bill to move forward. The bill now moves to the Senate.

Byron’s original “Broadband Deployment Act” has been whittled down to a bill that still adheres to its main purpose - to protect the telephone companies that keep Byron comfortable with campaign cash. There is no mention of deployment in the text of the new draft, but it does dictate that information from publicly owned networks be made open so anyone, including national providers, can use it to their advantage.

According to Frank Smith, President and CEO of the Roanoke Valley Broadband Authority (RVBA), 

...Virginia Freedom of Information Act stipulations already codified in the Wireless Services Authority Act are sufficient and the new requirements in Byron’s bill could require the broadband authority to reveal proprietary information about its customers.

...

“There’s nothing hidden under the table,” Smith said. “The Wireless Services Authority Act is sufficient because you all did your job in 2003.”

The broadband authority’s rates, books and board meetings already are open to the public.

Private providers would never be required to publicize information that could jeopardize their operations. The objective here is to discourage public private partnerships and prevent local governments from investing in the type of infrastructure that would attract new entrants into the region.

Not "Us" vs. "Them"

At a time when everything seems political, both...

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Posted February 6, 2017 by lgonzalez

The Friends of Municipal Broadband and Frank Smith of the Roanoke Valley Broadband Authority sent out a request this morning to Virginians who are concerned about improving connectivity:

Virginia Municipal Broadband Stakeholders

Good Morning,

Quick but urgent request: Please call as many VA House Delegates as you can this morning before today’s session starts at 11am. Let them know you STILL OPPOSE HB 2108!

A defense of our position is attached for reference. 

Bill Status: 

Last week HB 2108 passed the Labor and Commerce Committee last Thursday and will have its first full reading on the floor of the House this morning. The full House vote is scheduled for tomorrow. If the bill passes the House vote tomorrow it will Crossover to the Senate on Wednesday.

Things are moving fast and we really need your help to protect our local broadband authorities and the future growth potential of Virginia’s economy. Please start making calls and ask your staff and administration to do the same.

The more voices the representatives hear from the more seriously they’ll take this issue.

Thanks again for all you’ve done to get us this far.

The bill had its first reading on Friday and is being fast tracked.

The handout is available here.

Posted February 4, 2017 by htrostle

The Colorado Senate Business, Labor, & Technology Committee will soon consider the proposed repeal of the state’s restriction on municipal networks. Under current state law, known as SB 152, local governments are not permitted to pursue a municipal network without first holding a referendum.

The Senate Business, Labor, & Technology committee will hold a hearing on the bill on February 13, 2017 at 2 p.m. The full text of the proposed repeal can be found on the Colorado General Assembly’s website.

Accepting Remote Testimony

Folks around Colorado can make their opinion heard without having to trek to the capitol. The committee will accept remote testimony on the issue. Those who wish to speak must register online in advance and choose from specific locations that have reliable connectivity. All of the remote testimony locations are colleges: Adams State, Mesa State, Fort Lewis College, Otero Junior College, and Trinidad State.  

Save Money, Restore Local Control

Senators Kerry Donovan and Lucia Guzman proposed SB 42 to repeal the onerous requirements of SB 152 and to restore local control to the city and county governments. Several communities that Senator Donovan represents have already held expensive referenda on the issue, and all have reclaimed local authority.

At this point, more than a third of all counties in the state have “opted out” of SB 152. To learn more about the state restriction and how almost one hundred communities have restored local authority, listen to the the Building Local Power podcast Episode 5

Posted February 3, 2017 by lgonzalez

Republican Delegates in the Virginia House Labor and Commerce Committee advanced HB 2108 yesterday, despite opposition from constituents, local leaders, and members of the telecommunications industry. A revised version of Byron’s Bad Broadband Bill now heads to the House Floor today for a vote from the entire body.

A bill titled the “Virginia Broadband Deployment Act” by its sponsor now contains nothing about “deployment” but retains provisions forcing publicly owned networks to reveal proprietary information that limit competition. In the hearing yesterday, President and CEO of the Roanoke Valley Broadband Authority (RVBA) testified that this bill is overkill:

In front of the committee, Smith argued the Virginia Freedom of Information Act stipulations already codified in the Wireless Services Authority Act are sufficient and the new requirements in Byron’s bill could require the broadband authority to reveal proprietary information about its customers.

Under this bill, the broadband authority could have been forced to reveal information about Meridium — that GE Digital was planning to purchase the Roanoke-based company for $495 million, Smith said.

“There’s nothing hidden under the table,” Smith said. “The Wireless Services Authority Act is sufficient because you all did your job in 2003.”

The broadband authority’s rates, books and board meetings already are open to the public.

Our Christopher Mitchell noted that the attempt to force publicly owned networks into a state of "ultra-transparency" was also a thinly veiled attempt to ward off competition from potential public-private partnerships:

The opening of potentially proprietary information under the Virginia Freedom of Information Act regarding pricing, rates, and fees is something the private sector does not have to deal with and would strenuously object to. This is particularly harmful to potential public-private partnerships where I fear an incumbent would seek to punish the partner of a rival by constantly seeking...

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Posted February 1, 2017 by lgonzalez

Friends of Municipal Broadband are asking citizens who want the state to improve connectivity in Virginia to attend a hearing of the House Commerce and Labor Committee tomorrow, Feb. 2nd. They want Virginians to speak out against HB 2108, affectionately known as “Byron’s Bad Broadband Bill.”

As we reported last week, Governor Terry McAuliffe recognized the failings of the bill that would effectively put an end to local control of high-quality Internet access options. He threatened to veto it in its original form, so its sponsor and telecom industry darling Del. Kathy Byron revised the bill and removed it from the Jan. 26th agenda. She requested the committee take up the revision at tomorrow’s hearing, scheduled for 30 minutes after the close of Session.

Meeting Prep

Friends of Municipal Broadband has kept a close eye on the bill and its movement through the legislature. They’ve prepared a press packet, made available a detailed legal analysis, and arranged a press conference so local officials and representatives from potential private sector partners could comment.

They’ve prepared some talking points on the revised edition:

The new version of HB 2108 removes ALL FOIA exemptions related to municipal broadband. It also includes a number of duplicative line items to address issues that are already covered in existing code. 

This means that:

  • We won’t be able to protect our customers proprietary information, security protocols, and expansion plans
  • Competitors in the private sector will have access to every operating detail, strategy, and growth plan for our municipal networks
  • Standard Industry Contracts will no longer be able to be negotiated on a case by case basis....
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