Tag: "states"

Posted April 25, 2012 by christopher

Community Broadband networks are increasingly getting the attention they deserve as an option for communities that want better, more accountable connections to the Internet.

We have long been warning about an AT&T-pushed bill in South Carolina to make it even harder for communities in that state to build the infrastructure AT&T has long neglected. But now The New Republic has also noticed -- in "Why are Telecom Companies Blocking rural America from Getting High-Speed Internet?"

The story starts by discussing rural and impoverished Orangeburg County, which received a stimulus award to help build the telecom infrastructure they need to succeed in the modern economy.

In an effort to improve the area’s economic prospects, county officials have worked in recent years to secure funding to refurbish roadways and sewer systems—but they also know that, in a globalized marketplace, old-school infrastructure is not nearly enough. That’s why, in 2009, Orangeburg County applied for, and received, $18.65 million in stimulus money to finally give the area access to high-speed broadband internet. County Administrator Bill Clark and his colleagues envisioned a municipal, or muni, network that could reach roughly a quarter of Orangeburg’s rural population, including just over three thousand households and one hundred businesses.

...

But the titans of telecom aren’t operating on quite the same wavelength. Since last January, AT&T, CenturyLink, and Time Warner have contributed just over $146,000 to politicians in South Carolina who back legislation that would cripple networks like Orangeburg’s. It’s only one example of a broader campaign by telecom companies to protect their cartel at all costs—even at the expense of keeping the country’s poorest on the wrong side of the digital divide for many years to come.

Same story, different state. We've seen the same efforts across the U.S., which is why nineteen states have created barriers to community broadband.

Meanwhile, the source of a lot of those barriers -- the American Legislative Exchange Council -- or ALEC has been getting attention for the many bad bills...

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Posted April 24, 2012 by christopher

In most states, telephone companies are required to serve everyone and when there are problems with the service, the state can mandate that the company fix them. But AT&T and ALEC are leading the charge to let these massive companies decide for themselves who should have access to a telephone, taking state regulators out of the loop.

These big companies use several arguments we are well familiar with - that mobile wireless is already available (in many rural areas, it actually is not available) and there is plenty of competition. If only that were the case.

I was thrilled to see David Cay Johnston cover this in a column on Reuters:

AT&T and Verizon, the dominant telephone companies, want to end their 99-year-old universal service obligation known as "provider of last resort." They say universal landline service is a costly and unfair anachronism that is no longer justified because of a competitive market for voice services.

The new rules AT&T and Verizon drafted would enhance profits by letting them serve only the customers they want. Their focus, and that of smaller phone companies that have the same universal service obligation, is on well-populated areas where people can afford profitable packages that combine telephone, Internet and cable television.

What happens when the states hand over authority to these companies? David has an answer:

AT&T and Verizon also want to end state authority to resolve customer complaints, saying the market will punish bad behavior. Tell that to Stefanie Brand.

Brand is New Jersey's ratepayer advocate whose experience trying to get another kind of service - FiOS - demonstrates what happens when market forces are left to punish behavior, she said. Residents of her apartment building wanted to get wired for the fiber optic service (FiOS) in 2008. Residents said, "We want to see your plans before you start drilling holes, and Verizon said, 'We will drill where we want or else, so we're walking,' and they did," Brand told me.

Verizon confirmed that because of the disagreement Brand's building is not wired. And there's nothing Brand can do about it. Verizon reminded me the state Board of Public Utilities no longer has authority to resolve complaints over FiOS.

Better broadband is not just about...

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Posted March 26, 2012 by lgonzalez

A little less than a year ago, the 88th Arkansas General Assembly created HB 2033, later known as Act 1050 [pdf]. The law made a few changes to the Telecommunications Regulatory Reform Act of 1997 and, while “a few changes” may not sound like much, they don’t need to be much in order to have a significant effect on the prospect of municipal broadband in Arkansas. The language gets specific about municipal broadband, related services, and alters the possibilities in Arkansas.

WHO AND WHAT...

Prior law prohibited any government entity from offering, directly or indirectly, basic exchange services. So, an Arkansas town couldn’t create its own telephone company that offered the traditional concept of telephone service, as defined in statute.

Act 1050 expands the prohibition to data, broadband, video, and wireless. With the exception of those owning municipal electric utilities or cable television systems, Arkansas towns are now prohibited from offering broadband services to nonpublic entities.

EVERYBODY EXCEPT…

Prior law allowed an exception for government entities owning municipal electric systems or television signal distribution systems to be able to make telecommunications capacities associated with the facilities available to the public. Offering basic local exchange services was still prohibited.

Act 1050 actually opens up the uses of those networks that may have been created for the use of the electric system or television signal distribution system. The new language adds permission to use those capacities to provide, directly or indirectly, voice, data, broadband, video, and wireless. There is even an insertion that allows for like use in future constructed or acquired facilities. Reasonable public notice and a hearing are required, which is the normal course of action before making new investments.

SOME SPECIAL CONSIDERATIONS…

Prior law allowed exceptions to the restrictions for some government entities’ ability to create their own networks for specific purposes. Emergency,...

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Posted January 10, 2012 by christopher

One of the reasons community broadband networks face so many unique hurdles (often created deliberately by states in response to cable/dsl lobbying) is because of the many ways in which campaign finance corrupts our national and state governments.

Community broadband networks are focused on meeting community needs, not sending lobbyist armies into Washington, DC, and state capitals (though one of things we do at the Institute for Local Self-Reliance is offer help to those that do push pro-community agendas in these areas).

To understand why DC is so focused on furthering the corporate agendas of AT&T, Comcast, Time Warner Cable, and others, is to understand the revolving door. (Also, understanding capture -- which we have explained previously.)

In short, many of the people who make decisions about telecommunications policy in DC have worked, will work, or are presently working for the massive companies that effectively control access to the Internet in most of America's communities.

The good folks at Geke.US have created the following Comcast Venn Diagram illustrating a small piece of the DC revolving door.

Comcast and DC's revolving door Venn Diagram

Reforming this system is a deep, seemingly intractable problem. But for those looking for answers, a good place to start is with the work of Lawrence Lessig. I just finished his Republic, Lost, which offers a grand tour of the problems resulting from the present system of campaign finance.

You can also see a number of his presentations here.

His organization, the Rootstrikers aim to get to the root of problems rather than being distracted by trying to fix symptoms of deeper problems. This is precisely what we do with our focus on community networks.

Many focus solely on resolving digital divide issues, improving rural access to the Internet, lowering the cost of broadband, or the various other problems that result from narrowly-focused private corporations owning and controlling essential communications infrastructure with...

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Posted September 23, 2011 by christopher

An interesting article earlier this week on Boston.com says a number of Massachusetts towns are studying muni electric plants after the privately owned electrical company took too long restoring power in the aftermath of Hurricane Irene.

“We are at the very beginning. We want to see if municipal control is even possible,’’ said Norwell Town Administrator James Boudreau.

“We want a faster response. This was a tropical storm. What if it was a category 2 hurricane? What if it was the winter?’’ he said, noting the efficient restoration of power in towns with electric utilities under municipal control, such as Hingham, Hull, and Braintree.

Braintree's municiple utility also runs a broadband network for the community. If these communities are looking at am uni utility, they should ceratinly consider improving their broadband access at the same time. As we have covered previously, Wired West (on the other side of the state) is a collection of many communities that recently formed municipal "light plants" (in the parlance of Massachuesetts) as a legal structure for building a community fiber network.

As we have observed time and time again, local control tends to improve the quality and response time of customer service. And in those cases where it doesn't, at least they have no one to blame but themselves. It is well within their power to fix it.

Curiously, National Grid was formed by combining privatized former muni electric utilities -- a warning to communities that may look to privatize their community broadband networks over time due to the mistaken notion that community ownership was only necessary to establish the network rather than ensure it continues operating for the benefit of the community. Community broadband is about far more than technology, it is about ownership by an entity with the right incentives to operate essential infrastructure.

The company's response to this movement is fascinating:

National Grid offers a different opinion. Communities are “best served by a company with established practices, resources, and programs that can serve them in an evolving, challenging energy environment,’’ said Deborah Drew, a spokeswoman for the utility.

Say what? When presented...

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Posted August 31, 2011 by christopher

Craig Settles sits down, across the country, to interview Maryland's Lori Sherwood, the Program Director for One Maryland. One Maryland is a stimulus-funded project bringing fiber-optic broadband to every county in the state. We have written about several counties using these connections to start building muni fiber networks (see our stories tagged with Maryland). One of the partners is the Maryland Broadband Cooperative, which focuses on middle mile connections also.

Listen to the interview:

Listen to internet radio with cjspeaks on Blog Talk Radio

This project is expected to start saving the state some $30 million a year while greeting increasing the capacity to essential community institutions. Many of these institutions will undoubtedly be moving away from incumbent T1 and similar connections that have been...

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Posted June 8, 2011 by christopher

Tony Evers, the Wisconsin State Superintendent, has voiced concerns about a provision in Wisconsin' budget bill that we discussed yesterday. It would force Wisconsin to return tens of millions in broadband stimulus awards intended to connect schools and libraries in a few communities while also raising prices for most local governments, libraries, and schools around the country by killing the coop that connects the communities. Evers wrote the following letter on June 7 in response.

I am extremely concerned and alarmed by the telecommunications provisions which passed the Joint Finance Committee Friday night and their impact on Wisconsin’s public libraries, public and private schools, the university system, technical colleges, and WiscNet. These provisions will have a devastating impact on the University of Wisconsin System campuses and our schools and public libraries. This language was introduced very late in the legislative process and there was no time for any public review, comments or feedback from those impacted by these provisions.

From the UW perspective, this will require it to return the $39 million in broadband grants to the federal government. In addition, it will prohibit any UW campus from participating in advanced research networks linking research institutions worldwide. You cannot have a renowned research institution, like the UW-Madison, without having access to such networks.

From the public and private school and library perspective, seventy-five percent of our public schools and ninety-five percent of our public libraries get Internet access via WiscNet - a not-for-profit network service under the auspices of the UW-Madison. The provision in this legislation will very likely make it impossible for WiscNet to continue offering Internet access. If our schools and libraries must use other Internet providers most will pay at least 2-3 times more than what WiscNet now charges. Furthermore, other Internet providers base their charges on how much bandwidth a school or library has - the higher the bandwidth, the higher the Internet costs. WiscNet’s funding formula is not based on bandwidth. Thus as schools and libraries continue to increase their bandwidth, their WiscNet costs remain the same. With our schools and libraries facing substantial budget reductions, how can anyone justify making them pay more...

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Posted June 7, 2011 by christopher

For the rest of the summer, Wisconsin could be the new battleground in the ongoing effort for big companies like AT&T and Time Warner Cable to secure their de facto monopoly positions.

In North Carolina, Time Warner Cable passed a bill effectively preventing communities from building next-generation networks offering services far superior to what TWC offered. Now AT&T and its allies in Wisconsin are trying to stop local governments, universities, libraries, and schools from using a buying coop -- called WiscNet -- to procure better connections than AT&T will provide, at lower prices than AT&T would charge. Why compete when you can outlaw the competition?

WiscNet is essentially a buying coop -- a public/private partnership connecting, among others, University of Wisconsin schools, local governments, libraries, and local public schools. As Barry Orton, Professor of Telecommunications at UW-Madison reminded me, buying coops are "great for buyers, not so great for the sellers."

In this case, sellers like AT&T want to kill the coop so local governments, schools, and libraries, are forced to buy the connections they need from AT&T or other incumbents. This will mean more tax dollars going to AT&T rather than educating students, connecting police stations, and generally allowing public sector institutions to function. From the Wisconsin State Journal:

The motion prohibits the UW System from taking part in WiscNet, the network provider for 450 organizations, including K-12 schools, libraries, cities and county governments.

No one has any doubts that AT&T and its allies are squarely behind this measure.

To be clear, this has nothing to do with last-mile connections. WiscNet is not providing connections to residents. This is a question of whether local governments can use a network they build and operate collaboratively with other public institutions like UW or whether they have to take whatever AT&T is selling (many small towns only have a single incumbent offering these dedicated access connections).

Last year, we wrote about Republican opposition to a broadband...

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Posted March 16, 2011 by ejames

Communities invest in telecommunications networks for a variety of reasons - economic development, improving access to education and health care, price stabilization, etc. They range from massive networks offering a gig to hundreds of thousands in Tennessee to small towns connecting a few local businesses.

This map tracks a variety of ways in which local governments have invested in wired telecommunications networks as well as state laws that discourage such approaches.

Our map includes more than 800 communities, of which 500 are served by some form of municipal network and more than 300 are served by a cooperative (updated January, 2019):
  • 55 municipal networks serving 109 communities with a publicly owned FTTH citywide network.
  • 73 communities with a publicly owned cable network reaching most or all of the community.
  • 196 communities with some publicly owned fiber service available to parts of the community (often a business district).
  • More than 120 communities with publicly owned dark fiber available.
  • More than 150 communities in 29 states with a publicly owned network offering at least 1 gigabit services. And at least 20 communities in 4 states with a municipal network delivering 10 gigabit services.
  • 334 communities served by rural electric cooperatives. 10 communities served by one broadband cooperative. (Communities served by telephone cooperatives will soon be on the map as well).

Nineteen states have barriers in place that discourage or prevent local communities from deciding locally if such an investment is a wise decision. We strongly believe these...

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Posted February 22, 2011 by christopher

As part of the effort to stop the bill that will codify Time Warner Cable's monopoly in North Carolina, we published a press release today (previous coverage of the bill here):

While the rest of the world is working to become more innovative and competitive, the North Carolina General Assembly is considering a bill that will stifle innovation, hurt job creation and slow economic development. The Bill, H129/S87 will effectively prevent any community from building a broadband network and impose onerous restrictions on existing networks, including Wilson’s Greenlight and Salisbury’s Fibrant. Greenlight and Fibrant are the most technologically advanced citywide networks in the state, comparative to the best available in the U.S. and international peers, according to a study released by the Institute for Local Self-Reliance (ILSR) in November, 2010.

This bill will protect the aging networks of incumbent cable companies—furthering their effective monopolies—that have refused to invest in newer, faster technologies.

“This bill is a job and competitiveness killer. I don’t know why North Carolina wants to protect old technology, but if they want to get on the information super highway in a horse and buggy—the world is going to pass them by,” said Christopher Mitchell, Director of ILSR’s Telecommunications as Commons Initiative.

The bill says it is an act to “protect jobs,” a claim that puzzles Mitchell. “Community owned networks create jobs both directly and indirectly – and there is no evidence they have resulted in the elimination of any jobs.”

You can now Sign a petition showing your support for community networks in North Carolina - please make sure this link circulates among any contacts you have in NC!

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