Tag: "states"

Posted March 29, 2017 by Lisa Gonzalez

West Virginia rural communities struggle with access to broadband but a bill in the state legislature is taking some first steps to encourage better connectivity. HB 3093 passed the House with wide support (97 - 2) and has been sent on to the Senate for review. The bill doesn’t appropriate any funding for Internet infrastructure projects around the state, but adopts some policies that may help local communities obtain better connectivity.

Revenue Neutral And Popular

The state is facing a $500 million budget deficit and lawmakers don't have the appetite to appropriate finds for Internet infrastructure projects. As in most states, policy bills do well during times of financial strife. Elected officials still want to do what they can to encourage better broadband so, according to at least one lawmaker, the revenue neutral nature of the bill has contributed to its success in the legislature. Delegate Roger Henshaw, one of the bill's co-sponsors, told Metro News:

“Notice this is a revenue-neutral bill,” Hanshaw said. “That’s in fact one of the reasons we’re rolling it out now. We have other bills here in both the House and Senate that are not revenue-neutral bills that were on the table for consideration.

“But with the clock ticking on us, it became clear that we probably ought to be looking at options to advance service that didn’t even have the possibility of a financial impact. This bill does not.”

Check out the 3-minute interview with Hanshaw on Soundcloud.

The Broadband Enhancement Council

West Virginia’s Broadband Enhancement Council was created in a previous session and receives more authority and responsibility under HB 3093. They are tasked with the authority to, among other things, gather comparative data between actual and advertised speeds around the state, to advise and provide consultation services to project sponsors, and make the public know about facilities that offer community broadband access. 

HB 3093 briefly addresses the creation of the “Broadband Enhancement Fund," and addresses how the funds should be spent. For now, the fund remains dry...

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Posted February 6, 2017 by Kate Svitavsky

Publicly owned Internet infrastructure is typically funded with revenue grants, interdepartmental loans, or through avoided costs at the local level. Part of the planning and infrastructure costs, however, can sometimes be covered by state and federal grants known as Community Development Block Grants (CDBG). Nelson County, Virginia, leveraged CDBG to expand their fiber network and maximize benefits to the community. 

CDBG funds, are distributed to 1,200 units of state and local government by the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and can go toward a variety of infrastructure and development purposes. When communities consider ways to use CDBG funding, they can get long-term valuable benefits by directing those funds toward Internet infrastructure.

Nelson County Broadband 

Currently, the network has 39 miles of middle mile fiber and laterals. Nelson County began preparing for the network in 2007, when it received an initial planning grant of CDBG funds. The grant allowed the county to develop a project which improved their eligibility for federal funding from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA).

They applied and in 2010 for stimulus funding and received a $1.8 million grant from the Broadband Technology Opportunities Program (BTOP) to build out a middle mile network. In the first phase of their construction, the county used the BTOP funding and approximately $456,000 in required local matching funds to deploy 31 miles of fiber backbone. The second phase added another eight miles to the network in 2015, funded in part by $200,000 of CDBG funding; the community has also contributed about $690,000 in other local funds. 

“It becomes a win-win for residents and businesses and for service providers,” said Alan Patrick, Chair of the Nelson County Broadband Authority. “Residents and businesses have an opportunity to receive broadband access, which may have not been available prior to the county building infrastructure in the area, and it is also a benefit to the service providers.”

As of November 2016, 240...

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Posted February 1, 2017 by Lisa Gonzalez

The next time you’re attending a city council meeting, a local broadband initiative committee meeting, or just chatting with neighbors about better local connectivity, take a few copies of our Why Local Solutions? fact sheet.

Our new one-pager addresses three main reasons why local telecommunications authority is so important:

  • State and federal government won’t solve the problem - local residents, businesses, and elected officials know what they need, right?
  • Large telecom companies refuse to invest in rural areas - we've seen over and over how their promises to improve Internet access go unfulfilled.
  • Local leaders can best resolve local issues - they are accountable to the people they see every day and they experience the same reality.

In addition to providing some basic talking points to get the conversation moving, the fact sheet offers resources to guide you to more detailed information on publicly owned Internet networks. This resource is well paired with our other recent fact sheet, More than just Facebook. You've already started to get people interested in all the advantages of high-quality connectivity, now show them how local self-reliance it the most direct route to better access.

Download Why Local Solutions? fact sheet.

Other Fact Sheets At Your Fingertips

Fact sheets are a useful tool for getting your point across without overloading the recipient with too much information. They can easily be digested and carried to meetings with elected officials and often are just the right amount of information to pique someone's curiosity.

Check out our other fact sheets.

Posted February 1, 2017 by Lisa Gonzalez

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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Posted January 30, 2017 by Lisa Gonzalez

Even after constituent calls and emails, and a threat from Governor McAuliffe to veto her bad broadband bill, Del. Kathy Byron is trying to shove through her anti-competitive HB 2108. The legislation will prove fatal for local telecommunications authority if it passes. The revised bill is up for a vote in the House Labor and Commerce Committee on Thursday, February 2nd; Byron is Vice-Chair of the Committee.

Here's The New Bill; Same As The Old Bill

If you’re curious to see the text of the new draft, it is now available on Virginia’s Legislative Information System (LIS). If you’re expecting something better than the original text, you will be disappointed. This version holds on to provisions that Byron’s influential friends in the telecommunications industry need to intimidate and lock out competition.

The revised bill still dictates rules on pricing for municipal networks and imposes heavy-handed transparency rules that put any proposal at a disadvantage. The aim is to discourage potential private sector partners who may wish to work with local governments. The new draft maintains broad enforcement provisions, which large, anti-competitive providers exploit as a delay tactic to bury a publicly owned project before it even starts.

Like it’s predecessor, it’s painfully obvious that this version of HB 2108 is a AT&T sponsored tool to scare off any competition.

Another Bad Review

On Friday, the Virginia Pilot joined a growing number of state media outlets, local governments, companies, and industry associations condemning the bill. Like others across Virginia who want every option to improve connectivity, the Pilot recognizes that municipal networks an important possibility. They also recognize that large corporate providers, such as AT&T, obtain a certain amount of protection from legislators like Byron, which is reflected in the...

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Posted January 25, 2017 by Lisa Gonzalez

On January 26th, one half hour after the House adjourns, the Virginia House Commerce and Labor Committee will hear HB 2108, known around our office as “Byron’s Bad Broadband Bill.” We encourage you to contact members of the committee to let them know that the bill is not good for bringing better connectivity to Virginia, especially in rural areas. It’s another piece of legislation written by big cable and telco lobbyists aimed at blocking competition.

If you live in Virginia or one of the Delegates on the Committee represents your district, be sure to mention that you vote. 

Members of the House Commerce and Labor Committee and their contact information are listed on the Committee website. They provide email and phone numbers all in one place.

This Bill...Not Our Kind Of Bill

As we noted when we first reported on the bill, Byron is Vice-Chair of this committee. We’ve also reflected on her position as Chair of the Virginia Broadband Advisory Council and why on earth she would introduce bills that are counter productive to the mission of the Council - to offer advice and solutions aimed at improving broadband access across the state. The chemistry between the citizen members of the Council and the Legislative members assigned to the committee call into question the reasoning behind the content of HB 2108. Phil Dampier recently wrote a compelling article on the situation in Stop the Cap.

Keep It Simple

The bill has been the subject of much derision in the local and national press, but if Virginia House Republicans are determined to test it in Committee, they should be prepared for constituent phone calls and emails. As a reminder, contact with Legislators about their bills are most effective when they focus on the content of the bill and...

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Posted January 20, 2017 by Lisa Gonzalez

Conflicts of interest have been front and center in federal politics this election cycle, but there is another place where we see a grey cloud of impropriety: the Virginia General Assembly. More specifically, above the head of Republican Delegate Kathy Byron, who last week introduced HB 2108, the “Broadband Deployment Act.” 

Policy Payola?

We noticed Byron is inclined to accept sizable campaign donations from big cable and DSL corporate friends, but Phil Dampier’s excellent article on Stop the Cap! took a deeper look at her dubious connections. Tracing campaign dollars from state legislators who sponsor these bills back to companies like Verizon ($36,100 for Byron), Comcast ($3,000), AT&T ($9,250), and CenturyLink ($3,500) is no surprise. Finding similar connections to their state lobbying groups such as the Virginia Cable Telecommunications Association is also typical (a generous $15,000). For people like Dampier and us, it's kind of par for the course.

Campaign contributions call into question a legislators motivations but Byron has other connections that her constituents, colleagues in the General Assembly, and other Virginians need to examine as they consider HB 2108 and her role as a policy maker in state government:

From Stop the Cap!:

Since 2008, Stop the Cap! has reviewed industry-sponsored municipal broadband ban bills, and none to date have illustrated the level of conflict of interest we see here. We call on Virginian officials to carefully investigate the ties Ms. Byron has to cable and phone companies and the ethical concerns raised from her involvement in key state bodies that can make or break rural broadband in Virginia. Byron increasingly exposes an agenda favoring incumbent phone and cable companies that just happen to contribute to her campaign — companies she seems willing to protect at any cost.

The section of her bill detailing requirements for community providers seeking to expand requires them to ask permission from an entity known as the Virginia Broadband Advisory Council, which Byron disturbingly chairs. If the...

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Posted January 5, 2017 by Hannah Trostle

To improve rural Internet access, the Georgia Joint House and Senate Study Committee on High Speed Broadband Communications Access for All Georgians recommends that Georgia enable municipal networks and empower rural electric cooperatives.

The committee recently released their report on potential solutions for the lack of rural connectivity. They held six public meetings over the course of four months in 2016, consulting with stakeholders and concerned citizens.

Support of Local Government Networks 

Specifically, the report recommended that the Georgia legislature:

“Reaffirm the state’s approval of competitive telecommunication markets by continuing to permit locally-owned and operated government broadband services”

In the economic development section of the report, they detailed the positive role of community networks and the challenges in finding financing.

The report pointed to the success of two community networks, Community Network Services (CNS) and ElbertonNet. ElbertonNet is the fifteen-year-old community network of Elberton, Georgia. The report praised the community network’s “tremendous public feedback” and “exceptional customer service.”

CNS is a regional network of eight rural communities in southern Georgia. We've introduced readers to CNS in the past and shared stories of how the network has helped create jobs, improved local STEM educational opportunities, and helped one of the communities it serves reduce taxes. Initially funded by a bank loan, the network contributes over $2 million into the local general fund.  

Several statements referred to the fact that the current situation...

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Posted December 9, 2016 by Hannah Trostle

Forty-three percent of residents in Erie County, New York, do not have access to high-speed Internet access. That’s a drag on the local economy, but the situation could soon change. Erie County residents and businesses have the opportunity to comment on their needs by taking a survey on local Internet connectivity. Residents and businesses in Erie County, New York, can fill out the survey at eriecounty.crowdfiber.com.

An Ongoing Effort, State Support

The survey features a speed test and a few quick questions, which will be used to map where folks lack connectivity. Governor Andrew Cuomo’s half a billion dollar New NY Broadband Program funds the survey. In August 2016, the governor stopped at the University of Buffalo in Erie County to speak about the plan, saying, “Erie County is our first priority.” 

This survey is the next step in an ongoing effort to bring 21st century connectivity to the county. In late 2015, Erie County started looking for an organization to study the feasibility of a countywide high-speed network. With the survey results, officials will be able to choose the best path forward. On December 5, county officials hosted a public meeting to discuss the survey and how they will use the results.

There are about 1 million people living in the far western county; approximately 260,000 of them live in the county seat of Buffalo. The community has considered the potential benefits of a municipal fiber network for some time and has been doing their research. Back in early 2015, they released a report that indicated a potential 1.1 percent increase in the county's GDP (approximately $450 million annually) with better connectivity.

"I Can Barely Do Anything" 

For some folks in Erie County, high-speed connectivity can't come fast enough. In WBFO, Buffalo’s NPR news, local resident Charles Weber explained just how terrible the Internet service is:...

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Posted November 17, 2016 by Hannah Trostle

Digital learning initiatives for K-12 grades and online coursework for college programs both require high-speed connectivity in school and at home. Policymakers cannot overlook this issue when discussing municipal networks.

The Education Commission of the States addressed connectivity in the classroom and at home in a short policy report, entitled Inhibiting Connection: State policy impacting expansion of municipal broadband networks in September 2016. 

Inside the Report

Co-authors Lauren Sisneros and Brian Sponsler provide an overview of how municipal network issues intersect with state education goals. The paper covers the major arguments for and against municipal networks as well as current state laws restricting those networks:

"As state education policymakers explore options to support postsecondary access and success, they may be well served to consider their states’ policy addressing municipal broadband networks."

They also highlight our Community Networks Initiative as a resource for policymakers to access fact sheets, case studies, and videos. 

Read the entire policy report on the Education Commission of the States' website

For more information on connectivity in schools in general, check out our Institutional Networks page.

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