Tag: "federal"

Posted May 3, 2019 by Katie Kienbaum

Last November, we reported on a change to the tax code that is deterring rural telephone and electric cooperatives from leveraging government funding to expand broadband access. We were alerted to the issue by the office of Senator Tina Smith (D-MN), who sent a letter to Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and IRS Commissioner Charles Rettig requesting that they remedy the issue and announcing her intention to introduce corrective legislation.

Federal elected officials have introduced such a measure, called the Revitalizing Underdeveloped Rural Areas and Lands (RURAL) Act. Senator Smith together with Senator Rob Portman (R-OH) introduced the Senate version of the bill, S. 1032, in early April, followed by Representatives Terri Sewell (D-AL) and Adrian Smith (R-NE), who introduced a companion bill, H.R. 2147, in the House a few days later. The RURAL Act would ensure that co-ops, which are many rural communities’ only hope for better connectivity, could take full advantage of federal and state funding for broadband networks.

Addressing Legal Ambiguity

As we explained last year, a tax policy change included in the 2017 Tax Cuts and Jobs Act carelessly put rural co-ops at risk of losing their tax-exempt status if they accepted government funding for broadband projects or disaster relief, among other things. Traditionally, these government grants were excluded from the requirement that electric and telephone cooperatives obtain at least 85 percent of their income from members (often referred to as the member income test) to maintain their tax exemption. The 2017 law threatened this precedent by changing the tax code so that “any contribution by any governmental entity or civic group” is now included in a corporation’s gross income. This has made some co-ops hesitant to apply for programs like the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s ReConnect Pilot Program for fear of jeopardizing their...

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Posted February 12, 2019 by Lisa Gonzalez

Harvard Professor, author, and broadband champion Susan Crawford has been incredibly busy ever since she released her latest book Fiber: The Coming Tech Revolution — And Why America Might Miss It. Fortunately for us and our listeners, she hasn’t been too busy to take some time for Community Broadband Bits listeners. She’s here this week to talk about the book, her experiences researching it, and discussing policy recommendations aimed at bringing better connectivity to rural and urban areas.

The conversation between Christopher and Susan is one of our best podcasts. They touch on technology, competition, and how we’ve come to the point when local communities are leading the charge to bring high-quality Internet access to their residents and businesses. Susan shares some of the stories she encountered — both favorable and not so favorable — of places where local leaders are either working to hard to put broadband infrastructure in place or barely moving the dial on getting their communities better connected. 

She’s travelled all across the world to learn about how other countries approach fiber connectivity and how they’re reaping the benefits. Now, she wants to share some of those policies and ideas to help Americans realize that if we don’t adjust our mindset, we could miss out on fiber’s potential.

Order Susan's book online at Indiebound.org. Learn more about the book by reading Christopher's review.

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

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Posted February 11, 2019 by Lisa Gonzalez

*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 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 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 Hannah Trostle

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 Lisa Gonzalez

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 Lisa Gonzalez

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 Lisa Gonzalez

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 25, 2018 by Lisa Gonzalez

Everybody likes to watch a good film and if it involves drama, government at its highest level, and the deep pockets of corporate America, there's sure to be intrigue. We've found an independent film project that people interested in telecommunications policy and the Internet should consider backing. "The Network," a documedia project directed by Fred Johnson will take a look at how the Internet has come to be controlled by only a small number of large and powerful corporate entities.

There are only a few days left to contribute to the IndieGoGo account so this project can move forward and we encourage you to consider adding "independent film producer" to your resume. We occasionally produce videos and have worked with Fred, so we know that he is committed to a quality result. And, hey, a movie about Internet policy? How cool is that, amIright?

And check out this cool trailer!

From Fred:

We have interviews lined up with former FCC Commissioners, Nick Johnson and Michael Copps, former FCC Special Counsel Gigi Sohn, writer and professor, Fred Turner, author of From Counterculture to Cyberculture and The Democratic Surround, and activist Anthony Riddle, Senior VP of Community Media, BRIC TV, Brooklyn. More to come.

The Trump Federal Communications Commission’s decision to do away with Net Neutrality protections makes it very clear we are in the midst of real crisis in U.S. communications policy: the underlying public interest agreements between the public, government and U.S. commercial communications corporations have broken down. The Facebook hearings in Congress marked the moment when the failed free market communications policies of the last 4 decades have revealed their ultimate logic: we now have monopoly social media platforms surveilling our networks, and unregulated monopolies (that are really utilities) selling us overpriced access to our networks. With no government oversight of any significance.

I know you are probably thinking we are knee deep in crises right now, but, if we can't find a way to control our communications infrastructure as a utility, it's going to be far more...

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