Tag: "lobbying"

Posted August 11, 2021 by Sean Gonsalves

The bipartisan infrastructure bill, which includes $65 billion for expanding access to reliable, high-speed Internet service, passed in the U.S. Senate yesterday. The full text of the bill, posted on U.S. Sen. Krysten Sinema’s (D-Arizona) website, appears to be identical to the draft of the bill detailed here by the law firm Keller & Heckman.

For those of us who favor local Internet choice, the bill is a mixed bag filled with The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly. Let’s start with …

The Good

Of the $65 billion allocated in the bill, $42 billion of that is to fund the deployment of broadband networks in “unserved” and “underserved” parts of the country. The good part of that is the money will be sent to the states to be distributed as grants, which is better than handing it over to the FCC for another reverse auction. The FCC’s track record on reverse auctions is less than encouraging, and state governments are at least one step closer to local communities who have the best information on where broadband funding is needed.

In a nod to community broadband advocates and general common sense, the bill requires States to submit a “5-year action plan” as part of its initial proposal that “shall be informed by collaboration with local and regional entities.” It goes further in saying that those initial proposals should “describe the coordination with local governments, along with local and regional broadband planning processes,” in accordance with the NTIA’s “local coordination requirements.”

And the bill specifically says that when States award the grant money, they “may not exclude cooperatives, nonprofit organizations, public-private partnerships, private companies, public or private utilities, public utility districts, or local governments from eligibility for such grant funds.”

...

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Posted August 9, 2021 by Jericho Casper

Between the U.S. Treasury clarifying that American Rescue Plan (ARP) funds are eligible to be spent on middle-mile infrastructure and the U.S. Senate’s proposed infrastructure bill directing NTIA to establish a $1 billion grant program to support the deployment of middle-mile networks, federal assistance aiming to improve middle-mile access is imminent. 

Cities and states across the U.S. have already committed portions of their federal relief funds to boost access to middle-mile infrastructure. City officials of Brownsville, Texas approved a plan in July to use $19.5 million of ARP funds to construct a 95-mile-long middle-mile broadband network. In Suffolk, Virginia, city council members set aside $5 million of relief funds for the first phase of a regional project to construct an open access, middle-mile fiber ring. 

The Governor and State Legislature of California recently settled on a $3.25 billion agreement to build statewide public middle-mile infrastructure, “one of the largest state investments in public fiber in the history of the United States,” reports Ernesto Falcon for EFF.

The sudden surge in middle-mile investment may bring about confusion over what middle-mile infrastructure is and give rise to questions over the necessity of such investments. A new fact sheet from the California State Association of Counties (CSAC) clarifies commonly held misbeliefs about investing in public middle-mile infrastructure. Read CSAC’s new fact sheet here [pdf].

Investments in Public Middle-Mile Needed to Confront Monopolies

Upon State Governor Gavin Newsom introducing his plan...

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Posted July 26, 2021 by Jericho Casper

Snapshot

New Jersey establishes state committee to strategize deployment of community broadband networks

Louisiana Senate amends bill, opening state grant program to municipally-owned providers

Washington laws expanding municipal authority to provide retail service take effect

The State Scene

New Jersey 

New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy, on July 7, enacted legislation (A.B. 850) establishing a new state committee tasked with evaluating where community broadband networks should be established across the state, by surveying areas where public networks would be most feasible to deploy.

The 19-member Broadband Access Study Commission “will consider the logistics of deploying community broadband networks and report on its findings to the Governor and the Legislature,” reports ROI NJ. “The mission includes completing a comprehensive study of the success and failures of similar networks around the nation, the costs of constructing and maintaining networks, and the costs to subscribers for monthly access.” 

The Commission will also evaluate impediments to broadband access in the state, including those related to physical access, affordability, and digital literacy. After submitting recommendations to the state Governor and Legislature, the committee will dissolve within a year of its first meeting. 

Louisiana 

Louisiana Governor John Bel Edwards recently signed a bill (H.B. 648) allocating $180 million of incoming federal relief funds toward establishing a grant program - open to both public and private broadband providers - aimed at jumpstarting the buildout of Internet infrastructure to unserved communities across the Bayou State. 

Before the bill passed the Louisiana Senate, it was amended to remove an exclusion that would have required local governments using the grants to contract with...

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Posted July 21, 2021 by Sean Gonsalves

As Senators involved in the Bipartisan Infrastructure Framework are negotiating over legislative language on how to spend $65 billion aimed at expanding high-speed Internet connectivity in “unserved” and “underserved” parts of the country, a new joint report has been published by Common Cause and the Communications Workers of America (CWA) that details the massive influence Big Telecom has on Congress.

The 21-page report – Broadband Gatekeepers: How ISP Lobbying and Political Influence Shapes the Digital Divide – examines the political spending and lobbying efforts of the nation’s largest Internet Service Providers (ISPs), as well as their trade associations, and connects the dots on how some of the most despised companies in America have helped create the digital divide.

The report begins by noting how “major broadband providers, both telecom and cable, have chosen not to build their networks to areas they deem less profitable and not to upgrade many existing customers left behind by outdated technology. These choices entrench the far too wide digital divide and mean Americans pay some of the highest prices for service. At the same time, the largest ISPs have used their outsized influence in Congress to block any legislation that would undermine their stranglehold over the broadband marketplace. In the 116th Congress alone, these corporations spent an astounding $234 million on lobbying and federal elections.”

That’s an average of more than $320,000 a day, seven days a week, as the report’s authors note.

America’s ‘Most Hated’ Companies Lobby to Maintain Monopoly Power

Although policymakers have proposed reforms that would close the digital divide, the report says, “the (telecom) industry is on Capitol Hill spending hundreds of millions of dollars to fight against legislation that would fund the deployment of future-proof networks, promote competition, mandate higher minimum speed...

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Posted July 19, 2021 by Jericho Casper

Snapshot

Maine broadband authority redefines statewide broadband as symmetrical 100/100 Mbps connection

California Legislature and Governor reach $5.25 billion agreement on statewide middle-mile network

New Hampshire matching grant initiative aiming to promote partnerships signed by Governor

The State Scene 

Maine

The Maine Senate recently enrolled a bill (L.D. 1432) amending the Municipal Gigabit Broadband Access Fund to only allow communities, municipalities, and regional utilities access to grants through the program. The bill became law without State Governor Janet Mills’ signature on June 24. 

The legislation removes limits placed on the number of grants able to be awarded per project, but limits the amount of funds that may be distributed per project to 50 percent of total costs. The bill, aiming to support the deployment of municipal gigabit fiber optic networks, also requires the ConnectMaine (ConnectME) Authority to establish minimum upload and download speed definitions to foster widespread availability of symmetric high-speed Internet access, beginning in 2025. 

Members of the ConnectME Authority are one step ahead of state legislators. During a June virtual emergency meeting, the ConnectME Authority voted (5 yes-1 abstention) to set the statewide definition of what constitutes “broadband” as a symmetrical 100/100 megabit per second (Mbps) Internet connection. The public board also moved (5 yes-1 no) to redesignate what “underserved” means, defining it as areas which lack access to Internet connections at 50/10 Mbps. 

Before...

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Posted June 4, 2021 by Jericho Casper

Since it was first introduced in Congress in March, the Community Broadband Act of 2021 has gained widespread support from over 45 organizations representing local governments, public utilities, racial equity groups, private industry, and citizen advocates. 

The legislation -- introduced by U.S. Representatives Anna Eshoo, Jared Golden, and U.S. Senator Cory Booker -- would authorize local communities to build and maintain their own Internet infrastructure by prohibiting laws in 17 states that ban or limit the ability of state, regional, and local governments to build broadband networks and provide Internet services. 

The Act also overturns state laws that restrict electric cooperatives' ability to provide Internet services, as well as laws that restrain public agencies from entering into public-private partnerships.

States have started to remove some long-standing barriers to public broadband on their own. In the last year, state lawmakers in both Arkansas and Washington removed significant barriers to municipal broadband networks, as high-quality Internet with upload speeds sufficient for remote work, distance learning, telehealth, and other online civic and cultural engagement has become essential. 

Community broadband networks offer a path to connect the unconnected to next-generation networks. State barriers have contributed to the lack of competition in the broadband market and most communities will not soon gain access without public investments or, at the very least, the plausible threat of community broadband.

The Many Benefits of Publicly-Owned Networks

Despite the tangle of financial restrictions and legislative limitations public entities face, over 600 communities across the United States have deployed public broadband networks. (See a summary of municipal network success stories...

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Posted May 25, 2021 by Jericho Casper

Closing the homework gap has been a top priority for Federal Communications Commission (FCC) acting Chair Jessica Rosenworcel. She has a long track record advocating for Wi-Fi-enabled school buses, lamenting viral images of school children completing homework in fast food parking lots, and making the case that no child should be left offline. At the onset of the pandemic, she pledged to use her influence at the agency to fight to increase the flexibility of the E-Rate program, saying “every option needs to be on the table.”

When the American Rescue Plan Act established the Emergency Connectivity Fund (ECF) in March, a $7 billion program to connect students and library patrons to the Internet at off-campus locations, Rosenworcel had an opportunity to follow through on those promises. She could have seized the moment to steer the program in the direction of allowing schools and libraries to build, own, and operate their own school and community networks (what the federal government refers to as self-provisioned networks). Many schools serving areas with poorly connected students already do this, but without much help from the E-rate program.

But when the rules on how to spend the money were finalized on May 10th, the FCC’s Report and Order declared that schools and libraries could not use Connectivity Funds to build self-provisioned networks, but instead could only use the funds to purchase Wi-Fi hotspots, modems, routers, and connected devices, such as laptop computers and tablets. The one exception in which schools and libraries can use Connectivity Funds to build self-provisioned networks is in “areas where no service is available for purchase,” based on data self-reported by private ISPs. 

The Report and Order indicates the agency was not...

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Posted May 25, 2021 by Jericho Casper

Snapshot

North Carolina Governor budgets $1.2 billion of Rescue Plan funds towards closing the digital divide

Vermont Senate includes private ISPs in what was a community-based solution to universal access

Alabama Governor approves $17 million in broadband grants, some to Comcast and Charter Spectrum

The State Scene

North Carolina 

North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper released a budget proposal last Wednesday that anticipates using $1.2 billion of incoming federal COVID-19 relief funds towards broadband infrastructure, affordability initiatives, and expanding digital literacy. With North Carolina set to receive a total of $5.7 billion in federal American Rescue Plan funds, Gov. Cooper is dedicating nearly one-fifth of the incoming relief to closing the digital divide. 

Next, the State House, Senate, and the North Carolina General Assembly will create their proposals for how to spend the relief funding. Then, they'll have to rectify any differences. Each chamber's plans could look similar to the governor's or vastly different. 

Gov. Cooper’s proposal specifically allocates [pdf]:

  • $600 million towards expanding broadband infrastructure, including: $350 million for the state’s existing last-mile grant program (GREAT grants), $150 million for competitive bidding which will allow county governments to leverage the funds for public-private partnerships, and $100 million towards stop gap solutions “to address local infrastructure needs and connect underserved households not likely to get fiber for three to four years.”

  • $420 million towards affordability initiatives which will subsidize low-income service plans.

  • $165 million for digital literacy, including: $40 million towards device support to provide computers to 96,000 households which currently lack them; $30 million towards break/fix services to replace devices for over 275,000 North Carolinians; and $95 million towards community-based digital literacy campaigns.

The plan aims to connect 100 percent of North Carolina households with children to high-speed Internet access by 2025, and anticipates the affordability initiatives in the proposed budget will provide 380,000 individuals with a $50/month subsidy for four years. 

Although some of North Carolina’s...

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Posted May 11, 2021 by Jericho Casper

Snapshot

Florida Legislature rewrites utility pole bill to include language backed by municipal electric utilities

North Carolina’s County Broadband Authority Act includes clause drawing criticism from electric co-ops

Oklahoma Governor signs mapping bill, vetoes measure adding Tribal representation to state broadband council

The State Scene

Florida

A Florida bill, which included provisions that would have forced Florida’s municipal electric utilities and their ratepayers to pay private Internet Service Providers’ utility pole make-ready costs, was significantly revised before passing the State House by a unanimous vote of 115-0 on April 28.

H.B. 1239, which no longer includes the make-ready costs provisions, initially read like a regulatory wishlist for incumbent cable monopolies until it was redrafted to become a legislative package aimed at improving broadband deployment across the state. The revised bill now heads to the State Gov. Ron DeSantis for approval.

The final version of the bill establishes additional duties for Florida’s Office of Broadband, creates a state broadband grant program, and requires the Office to conduct mapping of unserved and underserved areas of the state -- a significant deviation from the version that was first introduced in February.

The initial version was sponsored by the Florida Internet and Television Association, of which Charter and Comcast are members, capitol insiders noted. Proponents of the initial language argued that lowering the costs municipal electric utilities charge private ISPs for attaching to their utility poles was a necessary prerequisite to attract private investment in rural communities, and would have required electric utilities statewide to provide private ISPs with access to their poles at a capped rate. The stripped-out portion of the bill had also included tax exemptions on the majority of equipment private ISPs purchased.

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Posted April 27, 2021 by Jericho Casper

Snapshot

Washington Governor pledges to sign Public Broadband Act

Maine hearing will reveal State Legislature’s willingness to introduce competition to incumbent ISPs

California bill amended to remove bond initiative backing public infrastructure projects of local communities 

The State Scene

Washington

Two pieces of legislation aimed at expanding public broadband authority, H.B. 1336 and S.B. 5383, have been delivered to Washington Gov. Jay Islee to consider signing into law. Rep. Drew Hansen, the primary sponsor of H.B. 1336 recently told GeekWire that he “expects the governor to sign both.”

H.B. 1336 would give Washington’s cities, towns, counties, district ports and Public Utility Districts (PUDs) unrestricted authority to provide Internet services directly to end-users, while S.B. 5383, as a result of a series of amendments, deals largely with what information PUDs and ports have to provide to the state broadband office before offering service in unserved regions. 

There will be a meeting between the governor and the sponsors of the two bills on Thursday, which will likely determine their fate. Although arguments about how the two bills will interplay are continuing throughout the halls of the State Legislature in Olympia, the prevailing legal interpretation is that the finalized versions of the bills do not conflict. If both bills are signed, and discrepancies are later discovered to be an issue, it will prompt the State Legislature to convene in the future to standardize differences between the legislation. 

Provisions previously included in S.B. 5383 clashed with the objective of H.B. 1336. Before S.B. 5383 was amended, it included a challenge process that gave existing broadband service providers...

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