Tag: "legislation"

Posted March 3, 2017 by lgonzalez

Earlier this legislative session, we followed legislation in Virginia, which would have negatively impacted municipalities’ ability to use their publicly owned infrastructure to improve connectivity. We’re now watching a bill in Missouri that’s been resurrected from legislation that died last year. Another state bill just appeared on our radar in Georgia that interferes with local community authority by prescribing stringent rules on permitting and applications.

The Wrong Direction

When our Christopher saw it, he said: 

This is based on the false notion that cities are the barrier to better networks rather than recognizing the power of pole owners and existing attachers as a far more significant barrier.

The bill, HB 336 or the Broadband Strategy for All of Georgia Act, allows communities to be certified as “broadband ready,” which may allow providers that serve those communities eligible for state tax incentives. In order for a community to be certified as a “broadband ready community,” it must comply with a specific model ordinance, created by the state that dictates the process for reviewing applications for broadband projects.

The bill starts out all wrong, by defining broadband as 10 Megabits per second (Mbps) download by 1 Mbps upload. 10:1 not broadband.jpg Clearly that indicates that its point of origin is the incumbent telephone companies who want to make it easier to provide their slow DSL, rather than encourage upgrades to the FCC definition of “broadband.” As a reminder, the federal government considers broadband to be 25 Mbps / 3 Mbps.

The process proposed in HB 336 assumes that local communities that are trying to protect their public spaces are the bad guys and any DSL or cable company who wants to insert their lines or equipment in public space is but a poor victim. The bill applies to any “public rights of way, infrastructure and poles, river and bridge crossings, or any other physical assets owned or controlled by the political subdivision.”

The Heavy Hand Of The State

HB 336 caps application...

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Posted February 28, 2017 by lgonzalez

Reincarnated from last year’s anti-muni bill in Missouri, SB 186 was heard in the Senate Local Government and Elections Committee on St. Valentine’s Day. The sweetheart’s gift to the national cable and DSL companies, however, didn’t come until today. The committee held its executive hearing, voted the bill “do pass,” then sent it on its merry way. According to a very helpful staff member at the Missouri State Legislature, the bill will now be put on the informal Senate calendar and can be picked up at any time by Senate leadership for a vote by the full Senate.

As we reported in January, SB 186 fattens the state’s existing laws that insert state government between a local community and its ability to make its own choices about its broadband future. Just like last year’s HB 2078 (this bill’s dead twin), SB 186 makes it extremely difficult for municipalities and local governments to use their own infrastructure to work with private sector partners. The bill comes from lobbyists representing large incumbents who want to ensure their monopoly positions, even if it means sacrificing rural peoples’ ability to participate in the modern economy.

If you live in Missouri, take a moment to call or email your Senator and tell them that, if this bill comes before you on the Senate floor, you want them to push the red button to kill it. Even if you live in an area where you already have high-quality Internet access, consider the principal that state government calls the shots on an issue that should be determined by local people. This bill impinges on local decision-making authority.

If you don’t live in Missouri you can still contact State Senators to let them know that the bill is harmful to rural areas, antithetical to the competitive spirit, and should be done away with as soon as possible.

Posted February 23, 2017 by lgonzalez

While people in rural Washington State continue to limp long on DSL, satellite, and even dial-up, two bills in the state legislature that would have allowed public utility districts (PUDs) to offer retail services stalled in committee. 

Rural Areas Need Retail Service From The PUDs

State law requires PUDs to adhere to the wholesale-only model so rural residents and businesses can't obtain the connectivity they need because national providers don't offer high-quality Internet access in those regions. If no providers are interested in working with the PUDs to lease fiber infrastructure to serve rural areas, potential subscribers in the hardest to reach areas are just out of luck. These two bills would have filled the gaps by allowing PUDs to directly serve customers.

One Step Forward

HB 1938 was reviewed and there was some testimony in the House Technology & Economic Development Committee, but no vote. The Senate companion, SB 5139, was never picked up in the Senate Energy, Environment & Telecommunications Committee. In order for the bills to advance, they needed to pass out of their referred committees by February 17th.

Even though these bills failed to move forward, the fact that they were introduced and one obtained attention from committee members is encouraging. If you live in rural Washington, you understand how difficult it is to obtain fast, affordable, reliable connectivity. You don’t need to wait until a bill has been introduced to contact your elected officials to let them know you support state policies like HB 1938 and SB 5139; they want to hear from you all year.

Posted February 21, 2017 by lgonzalez

While Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam’s “Tennessee Broadband Accessibility Act” has been in the news, several other Legislators have introduced companion bills earlier this month that deserve attention.

A Few Gems

SB 1058 and HB 0970, from Senator Janice Bowling and Representative Dan Howell, would allow municipal electric utilities, such as Chattanooga’s EPB, Tullahoma Utilities Board, or Jackson Energy Authority to expand beyond their electric service area. SB 1045 and HB 1410 reclaims local authority for municipalities that want to offer telecommunications service either alone or with a partner.

HB 0970 has been assigned to the House Business and Utilities Committee; SB 1058 was referred to the Senate Commerce and Labor Committee.

Bowling has also introduced SB 1045, a bill that allows municipal electric utilities and electric cooperatives the ability to offer telecommunications services either on their own or with private sector partners. SB 1045 and it’s companion, HB 1410, sponsored by Terri Lynn Weaver in the House, specifies that there are to be no geographic limits to the service area. SB 1045 and HB 1410 are also in the same committees as SB 1058 and HB 0970.

Correcting Existing Problems

The EPB challenged restrictive state law in 2015; the FCC determined that the law was inconsistent with federal goals. The agency preempted both Tennessee and North Carolina's laws that inhibit municipal electric utilities from expanding. When Tennessee and North Carolina appealed the FCC decision, however, the appellate court determined that that states had the right to impose those laws on local communities and reversed the preemption.

Tennessee's current state law prevents municipal electric utilities that offer Internet access and/or video within their electric service area to expand beyond those geographical limits. These new bills propose removing the restrictions; they also contain a clause...

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Posted February 20, 2017 by lgonzalez

In January, Governor Bill Haslam announced that he and Senator Mark Norris would introduce legislation to provide grant funding and tax credits to private companies in order to expand rural connectivity in Tennessee. In a recent Knoxville News Sentinel, Christopher took another look at more subsidies to large private providers and how that strategy has worked out so far.

We've reprinted the op-ed here:

Christopher Mitchell: State needs better broadband, not subsidies

If you were tasked with improving the internet access across Tennessee, a good first start would be to examine what is working and what’s not. But when the General Assembly debates broadband, it frequently focuses on what AT&T and Comcast want rather than what is working.

Broadband expansion has turned into a perennial fight between Tennessee’s municipal broadband networks and advocates of better connectivity on one side and AT&T and Comcast on the other. On one side is a taxpayer-subsidized model, while the other depends solely on the revenues of those who choose to subscribe. But which is which?

AT&T has received billions of taxpayer dollars to build its networks, whereas Chattanooga, Tullahoma and Morristown, for example, financed their fiber-optic networks by selling revenue bonds to private investors and repaying them with revenues from their services. The big telephone companies are massively subsidized, whereas municipal networks have generally not used taxpayer dollars.

It is true that after it began building, Chattanooga received a Department of Energy one-time stimulus grant for $111 million, but that was actually less than AT&T is getting from just one federal program in Tennessee alone – over $125 million from the Connect America Fund. And most of the money to Chattanooga went into devices for its smart grid that have since led to massive job gains.

These community networks offer modern connectivity. Chattanooga offers 10,000 Mbps to anyone in its territory. AT&T is getting enormous checks from Uncle Sam to deliver 10 Mbps. Comcast will soon offer 1,000 Mbps, but only for downloads. If you are a small business trying to upload lots of data, Comcast won’t get you there.

According to a 2016 Consumer Reports study, Comcast and AT&T were among the most hated companies across the board. Chattanooga’s Electric...

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Posted February 17, 2017 by Nick

FierceTelecom - February 15, 2017

Telco, cable-backed Missouri bill could limit municipal broadband growth, opposition group says

 

Written by Sean Buckley

A new broadband battle is brewing in Missouri as the state’s largest telcos and cable operators are backing a new bill to limit municipal broadband.

The new bill, SB 186, which was introduced by Senator Ed Emery, R-Lamar, seeks to limit the power of municipalities to provide competition to entrenched incumbent service providers.

SB 186, according to the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, imposes restrictions on local governments to provide retail and wholesale bandwidth services.

“This legislation is trying to cut off communities at every turn by limiting any sort of ‘competitive service,’ whether it comes from public broadband infrastructure investment or a public-private partnership” said Christopher Mitchell of the Institute for Local Self-Reliance in a statement. “Missouri should be encouraging investment and local Internet choice, not working with monopoly lobbyists to prevent it.”

...

Read the full story here.

Posted February 16, 2017 by lgonzalez

Two Washington state bills in separate committees would allow public utility districts (PUDs) to offer retail communications services. HB 1938 and SB 5139 are the kind of legislation that would allow local communities to improve connectivity. Now, PUDs are restricted to the wholesale-only model, but businesses and residents in rural areas question the wisdom of the restriction.

Unfortunately, big incumbent providers have sent their lobbyists to fight against the two bills and the efforts to pass them are having a difficult time competing. A few representatives from local public utility districts testified in the House committee hearing, but the telecom industry sent out its army in full force.

In order for this bill to go anywhere this session, it needs to be passed by the House Technology & Economic Development Committee and the Senate Energy, Environment & Telecommunications Committee this week. While the bill has had some attention in the House Committee, it has yet to be voted on. It isn’t on the Senate Committee’s agenda, so it doesn’t look likely to move in that body.

Nevertheless, this is an opportunity for Washington constituents to call their state elected officials and let them know that, even if this bill doesn’t go anywhere this session, this is the type of legislative change they want for better connectivity.

You can contact House Committee and Senate Committee members and also touch base with your own Representatives and Senators and express your desires to see more legislation like this. Even if the bill doesn’t go anywhere this session, lay the groundwork for future change.

Video from the brief discussion of the bill in the House Committee:

 
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.

seal-alexandria-va_0.png

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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