Tag: "federal"

Posted November 9, 2018 by Katie Kienbaum

For many rural Americans, the local electric or telephone cooperative is their best hope for finally obtaining modern-day connectivity. With the support of government funding, rural cooperatives have brought electricity, telephone service, and more recently broadband access to some of the most rugged and sparsely populated places in the country.

However, recent tax code changes might prevent co-ops from connecting more rural communities. Cooperatives could potentially lose their tax exempt status if they accept government grants for broadband expansion and disaster recovery — an unintended yet foreseeable consequence of the Republican “Tax Cuts and Jobs Act” passed late last year. In a press release, Senator Tina Smith called attention to the oversight, noting, “This uncertainty has caused cooperatives significant concern and frozen some of their grant applications.”

Who’s Ready for Some Tax Policy?

As nonprofit membership corporations, rural electric and telephone cooperatives are exempted from paying taxes under section 501(c)(12) of the Internal Revenue Code (IRC). To maintain this tax exempt status, cooperatives must derive at least 85 percent of their income from members (e.g., from selling electricity). This is sometimes referred to as the the member income test or the income source test.

Not all sources of non-member income are included when calculating this percentage. Revenue from utility pole rentals, for instance, is exempted. In the past, rural cooperatives also excluded federal and state grants from the member income test, based on assorted rulings from the Internal Revenue Service (one example is Rev. Rul. 93-16, 1993–1 C.B. 26, which held that a federal grant given to an airport should not be considered income for tax purposes). As long as co-ops treated the government funding as a source of capital, not income, they could accept as much grant money as they wanted without the...

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Posted May 30, 2018 by htrostle

The definition of “broadband” has changed over the years to reflect the way we use the Internet. From a mere 200 kilobits per second (Kbps) in download speed in 1996 to 25 megabits per second (Mbps) in 2015, it’s also important to remember that download speed is only part of the definition. While lobbyists for big ISPs argue the 25/3 standard is too high,  25 Mbps (download) and 3 Mbps (upload) is a reasonable minimum standard for broadband in 2018.

#1 /Turn off that video! I need to make a phone call!/ 
Back in the day, we used to accept that accessing the Internet meant we couldn’t make phone calls. Technology has advanced, and now that seems ridiculous. In 2018, general household Internet use requires at least a 25 Mbps download capacity so that we can all use the Internet without disrupting each other. 

Here’s the Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC) handy chart:

 

...
  Light Use
(Basic functions: email, browsing, basic video, VoIP, Internet radio)
Moderate Use
(Basic functions plus one high-demand application: streaming HD video, multiparty video conferencing, online gaming, telecommuting)
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Posted May 21, 2018 by lgonzalez

Network neutrality protections are scheduled to disappear on June 11th. In an effort to reverse the FCC’s decision that will put millions at risk by eliminating market protections, 52 Senators voted in favor of a Resolution of Disapproval on May 16th. The vote was enough to pass the Resolution and send it on to the next step under the Congressional Review Act (CRA).

Heading to the House

In addition to the full roster of Democrats, Republican legislators, Republicans Susan Collins of Maine, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, and John Kennedy of Louisiana, voted in favor of the bill. Last February, citizen groups in Louisiana joined together to show support for network neutrality, staging rallies in four cities and visiting Senator Kennedy with thousands of signatures on a petition urging him to support the Resolution.

Now that the measure has passed in the Senate, it faces a tougher time in the House, however, where passage requires more votes to obtain the necessary majority. Advocates are busy organizing citizens, businesses, and entities to express their support for the policy and demand that Representatives take the same route as the Senate.

“We will continue to fight for net neutrality in every way possible as we try to protect against erosion into a discriminatory internet, with ultimately a far worse experience for any users and businesses who don’t pay more for special treatment,” said Denelle Dixon, chief operating officer at Mozilla.

The Congressional Review Act

Unlike in the Senate, there is no fast-track option from the House Committee to the House Floor. If the House Committee fails to report, however, a majority can force a vote. Like in the Senate, a simple majority in favor of the Joint Resolution is required for passage — 218 votes in the House.

Let your Representatives know that you support...

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Posted May 17, 2018 by lgonzalez

Vermont was one of the first states to take decisive action to try to curb the harmful consequences from the repeal of network neutrality. It’s only fitting that Senator Bernie Sanders recently released a video on network neutrality featuring one of the country’s experts on connectivity — our own Christopher Mitchell.

The video details how the FCC’s decision to eliminate federal network neutrality protections will harm rural America. Christopher describes the lack of competition as it exists today and how services and prices will change to the detriment of subscribers if we move forward without network neutrality in place. 

“We can’t expect competition in rural areas, [they] are, in many cases, only going to have one high-quality network provider,” says Mitchell. “Losing net neutrality means that the cable and telephone companies are going to be able to set up toll booths and charge more money on the networks they’ve already created.”

Check out the video and share it widely:

Trying to Fix The Mistake

When FCC Chairman Ajit Pai and the other Republican Commissioners voted to repeal network neutrality last December, advocates mobilized. The decision put more than 170 million Americans at risk of losing market protections. By using the Congressional Review Act (CRA), Democrats in Congress hope to reverse the Commission’s decision. The repeal formally goes into effect on June 11th.

On May 16th the Senate voted to reverse the FCC decision, 52 - 47; the next step in the process requires the House to take up the measure. Groups such as Fight for the Future are prepared and have started campaigns to convince the House to vote on the same issue. You can sign their...

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Posted May 16, 2018 by lgonzalez

It’s May 16th and today is the day the Senate will vote on whether or not to reverse last December’s repeal of network neutrality rules by FCC Chairman Ajit Pai and other Republican FCC Commissioners. As a reminder, we thought this was a good day to pull out the maps we created that illustrate how that decision to repeal the federal policy put at least 177 million Americans at risk. Without network neutrality protections in place, these folks are limited to obtaining broadband Internet access only from providers that have violated network neutrality or have admitted that they plan to violate network neutrality tenets in the future.

Visualizing the Risks

Back in December 2017 when the current FCC made it’s misguided decision, we decided to take a look at the data and create visualizations to paint a picture of what they had done. We used Form 477 data, which tends to overstate coverage, so the problem in the field is likely more severe than the maps indicate. The results aren’t pretty.NationalMap_Legend_2017_12_Updated_1.png

 

At least 129 million people have only a single provider from which they can subscribe to broadband Internet access. The FCC defines broadband as 25 Mbps download and 3 Mbps upload. Out of those 129 million Americans, about 52 million must turn to a company that has violated network neutrality protections in the past and continues to do so.

In some places, the situation is a little better. There are 146 million Americans with the ability to choose between two providers, but 48 million of those Americans must choose between two companies that have a record of violating network neutrality.

For a larger image, download this version [18 MB png]. 

Download Net Neutrality Repeal By The Numbers, U.S.A. Edition, fact...

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Posted April 16, 2018 by lgonzalez

The Broadband Deployment Advisory Council (BDAC), established by the FCC in January 2017, has caused concern among groups interested in protecting local authority. On April 12th, the Coalition for Local Internet Choice (CLIC) voiced those concerns in a precisely worded letter to Ajit Pai’s FCC that spelled out the way the BDAC is running roughshod over local rights.

Read the letter here.

Leaving Out The Locals

As CLIC states in the beginning of their letter, the lack of local representation on the BDAC indicates that the FCC has little interest in hearing from cities, towns, and other local government. There’s plenty of representation on the Council, however, from corporations and private carriers. 

From CLIC’s letter:

The audacity and impropriety of the process is clear from the fact that this entity, comprised primarily of corporate and carrier interests, is empowered by the Commission to develop model codes that could potentially impact every locality and state in the United States without any serious input from the communities it will most affect.

This group of individuals has been tasked with developing model codes that may be adopted at the local level; local input is not only necessary to create policies that are consider the needs of local folks, but that will work. To achieve productivity, BDAC needs to understand the environments in which their proposals may be adopted, otherwise their goal to be increasing broadband deployment may be compromised. Omitting a broad local perspective is not only improper it’s counterproductive.

Work Product

logo-fcc.PNG The BDAC has already released a draft model state code, which has stirred up resistance and CLIC explains why. A key problem with the legislation is that it doesn’t appear to be backed up with anything other than philosophies, ideals, or self-interest, writes CLIC. Policy this important should be based on data.

They lay out eight specific and definable reasons why the proposed legislation falls flat for local communities.

1. The...

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Posted February 13, 2018 by lgonzalez

After the FCC chose to overturn federal network neutrality protections on December 14th, 2017, open Internet advocates and elected officials that favor network neutrality have sought avenues past the Commission to reinstate the policy. In Louisiana, four groups of citizens organized together to form Team Internet and stage Louisiana rallies in four cities in January. Their goal was to bring attention to the overwhelming opinion that network neutrality benefits Internet users and to convince Senator John Kennedy that he should vote to block the harmful FCC decision.

Fight for the Future (FFTF), Free Press Action Fund, and Demand Progress worked together to form Team Internet, which organized protests in Lafayette, Shreveport, Baton Rouge, and New Orleans at Kennedy’s offices. At the Lafayette office, a group of advocates led by Layne St. Julien presented petitions with more than 6,000 signatures to Kennedy’s deputy state director, Jay Vicknair. The petitions urged Sen. Kennedy to use his vote to overturn the FCC action.

According to Vicknair, constituents have called and emailed the office in numbers rivaled only by last year’s healthcare debates.

Advocate Tool, The CRA

Proponents of network neutrality — mostly people, companies, and entities that aren’t big ISPs — consider the FCC’s order harmful. In order to regain network neutrality protections, which would remove the threat of paid prioritization and better ensure an open exchange of ideas online, advocates hope to use the Congressional Review Act (CRA). Under the CRA, Congress can reverse the FCC decision within 60 legislative days of it being published in the Federal Register as long as there is a majority vote. At last count, 50 Senators had committed to supporting a reversal. Public Knowledge has created a quick video describing the process:

At the recent Team Internet protest, attendees called on Kennedy to “be a hero” and be the 51st.

In A Net Neutrality Zone

Kennedy’s Lafayette office where St. Julien and other activists met Kennedy’s staff, operates in a community where the...

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Posted December 7, 2017 by lgonzalez

The FCC is scheduled to decide the fate of Internet access on Thursday, Dec 14. Will anyone anywhere in the U.S. be able to pay one basic fee to access information on the Internet from the most popular to the most arcane content providers? If all indications are correct, probably not. ISPs will increasingly decide on what terms we access the content we want. Prepare for your bills to go up. 

You might wonder why the FCC is so focused on rolling back such an overwhelmingly popular policy in favor of giving more power to the most hated corporations in America. It isn't because the most recent rules to codify the long-standing principle of non-discrimination has harmed investment. It hasn't

But something struck us about the lobbying campaigns around this issue. This graphic from the Sunlight Foundation shows just how hard the top telecommunications companies and their lobbying associations have focused on defeating network neutrality. The image shows lobbying reports generated by lobbyists and whether or not the entity is opposed (red) or in favor of (green) network neutrality. As you can see, the amount of red coming from the ISPs that serve most of America vastly outstrips the green.

Lobbying-Reports-Mentioning-NN.png

Seeing Red

Since the Sunlight Foundation published this graphic in 2013, the landscape has changed in important ways. The two top firms supporting network neutrality were taken over by big monopolists that oppose maintaining an open Internet.

In 2015, Verizon acquired AOL for $4.4 billion and CenturyLink recently completed its acquisition of Level 3. CenturyLink, which sued the FCC over Title II reclassification, does not support network neutrality. The next strongest net neutrality supporter was Google, which took a quieter position in the 2015 debate over Title II but has...

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Posted October 30, 2017 by lgonzalez

This fall, nonprofits and other organizations with an interest in constructive broadband policy have worked to help the new administration’s FCC through the public comment process. We’ve let readers know about opportunities to share their thoughts with the Commission and we’ve submitted comments separately and with other likeminded groups.

Modernizing the Form 477 Data Program

The Commission asked for comments on the method in which it collects data regarding where broadband is accessible. ISPs provide information to the FCC based on which census blocks they serve. We’ve often criticized this approach because it grossly overstates where coverage is available, especially in rural areas where census blocks tend to be large. 

Read our ideas for improvements to the Form 477 data collection, which include obtaining more detailed geographic information, minimum and maximum speeds, and pricing information.

Connect America Funding Phase II Bidding Procedures and Program

In order to help bring better connectivity to rural areas, the FCC distributes Connect America Funds (CAF) to entities such as companies and cooperatives to build broadband infrastructure. The process involves bids from these entities. The FCC is considering changes to the current process and bidding procedures, including what types of projects qualify for funding. The Commission asked for comment after proposing a long list of possible changes.

We recently spoke with Jon Chambers of Connexon, who provided more detail about the program and offered his thoughts on CAF and the possible changes.

Read our Reply Comments, that address issues we feel need attention, including the Carrier of Last Resort guarantee, more opportunities for rural cooperatives, and our concern that the FCC will attempt to equate subpar satellite and mobile broadband with high-quality connectivity. We filed our Reply Comments with Public Knowledge, Appalshop, and a long list of other organizations concerned about Internet access in rural America.

Deployment of Advanced...

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Posted August 22, 2017 by htrostle

Cell phones as a substitute for home Internet service? That’s what the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) suggested in an August 2017 document. Buried within the Notice of Inquiry for the Section 706 Report, the FCC quietly proposed that mobile service could be considered broadband deployment.

In a recent article, Jon Brodkin at Ars Technica dove into why that suggestion is laughable. Mobile Internet service, especially at speeds less than 25 Megabits per second (Mbps) download and 3 Mbps upload, is not equivalent to high-speed home Internet service. 

This proposal also raises concerns for rural communities exploring funding options.

Overstating Rural Connectivity Has Consequences

If the FCC treats mobile Internet access as broadband deployment, rural areas will suddenly look better connected. On paper, the FCC statistics will show that rural America has sufficient Internet access, but the reality in the trenches will remain as it is today - poor connectivity in many rural communities.

A similar situation has already happened in Iowa, where the inclusion of satellite Internet service is now considered broadband access. The interactive FCC 2016 Broadband Deployment Map clearly shows that almost all of Iowa has high-speed Internet access via satellite. One can use satellite service to browse the web, but it has significant limitations, especially when uploading data.

screenshot of Iowa

[Screenshot from August 2017 of FCC June 2016 Deployment Data of Iowa: Yellow = 25 Mbps/3 Mbps Internet access. Full map here.]

Despite the near-universal coverage shown by the FCC, rural communities in Iowa are still building fiber networks because they consider themselves lacking the connectivity they need to compete. In Iowa, it’s important to make sure that the agriculture community gets the high-speed...

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