Tag: "lobbying"

Posted February 13, 2017 by lgonzalez

Virginia publication, Bacon’s Rebellion, recently published an opinion piece written by Christopher on HB 2108, a bill introduced by Del. Kathy Byron. If passed, the bill will make it even more difficult for local communities to take control of their own connectivity. We’ve reproduced the op-ed here:

Virginia Is for Lovers, Not Lobbyists

Pop quiz: Should the state create or remove barriers to broadband investment in rural Virginia? Trick question. The answer depends very much on who you are – an incumbent telephone company or someone living every day with poor connectivity.

If you happen to be a big telephone company like CenturyLink or Frontier, you have already taken action. You wrote a bill to effectively prevent competition, laundered it through the state telephone lobbying trade organization, and had it sponsored by Del. Byron, R-Forest, in the General Assembly. That was after securing tens of millions of dollars from the federal government to offer an Internet service so slow it isn’t even considered broadband anymore. Government is working pretty well for you.

If you are a business or resident in the year 2017 without high quality Internet access, you should be banging someone’s door down – maybe an elected official, telephone/electric co-op, or your neighbor to organize a solution. You need more investment, not more barriers. Government isn’t working quite as well for you.

Rural Virginia is not alone. Small towns and farming communities across America are recognizing that they have to take action. The big cable and telephone companies are not going to build the networks rural America needs to retain and attract businesses. The federal government was essential in bringing electricity and basic phone service to everyone. But when it came to broadband, the big telephone companies had a plan to obstruct and prevent and plenty of influence in D.C.

When the Federal Communications Commission set up the Connect America Fund, they began giving billions of dollars to the big telephone companies in return for practically nothing. By 2020, these companies have to deliver a connection doesn’t even qualify as broadband. CenturyLink advertises 1000/1000 Mbps in many urban areas but gets big subsidies to deliver 10/1 Mbps in rural areas. Rural America has been sold out.

If you are a big cable or telephone company, you have a lot of influence in the federal and state capitals. But at the... Read more

Posted February 8, 2017 by lgonzalez

On February 7th, the Virginia House of Delegates voted 72 - 24 to pass HB 2108, otherwise known as "Byron’s Bad Broadband Bill." The text of the bill was a revised version substituted by Del. Kathy Byron after Governor Terry McAuliffe, local leaders across the state, and constituents very handily let her know that they did not want the bill to move forward. The bill now moves to the Senate.

Byron’s original “Broadband Deployment Act” has been whittled down to a bill that still adheres to its main purpose - to protect the telephone companies that keep Byron comfortable with campaign cash. There is no mention of deployment in the text of the new draft, but it does dictate that information from publicly owned networks be made open so anyone, including national providers, can use it to their advantage.

According to Frank Smith, President and CEO of the Roanoke Valley Broadband Authority (RVBA), 

...Virginia Freedom of Information Act stipulations already codified in the Wireless Services Authority Act are sufficient and the new requirements in Byron’s bill could require the broadband authority to reveal proprietary information about its customers.

...

“There’s nothing hidden under the table,” Smith said. “The Wireless Services Authority Act is sufficient because you all did your job in 2003.”

The broadband authority’s rates, books and board meetings already are open to the public.

Private providers would never be required to publicize information that could jeopardize their operations. The objective here is to discourage public private partnerships and prevent local governments from investing in the type of infrastructure that would attract new entrants into the region.

Not "Us" vs. "Them"

At a time when everything seems political, both... Read more

Posted February 3, 2017 by lgonzalez

Republican Delegates in the Virginia House Labor and Commerce Committee advanced HB 2108 yesterday, despite opposition from constituents, local leaders, and members of the telecommunications industry. A revised version of Byron’s Bad Broadband Bill now heads to the House Floor today for a vote from the entire body.

A bill titled the “Virginia Broadband Deployment Act” by its sponsor now contains nothing about “deployment” but retains provisions forcing publicly owned networks to reveal proprietary information that limit competition. In the hearing yesterday, President and CEO of the Roanoke Valley Broadband Authority (RVBA) testified that this bill is overkill:

In front of the committee, Smith argued the Virginia Freedom of Information Act stipulations already codified in the Wireless Services Authority Act are sufficient and the new requirements in Byron’s bill could require the broadband authority to reveal proprietary information about its customers.

Under this bill, the broadband authority could have been forced to reveal information about Meridium — that GE Digital was planning to purchase the Roanoke-based company for $495 million, Smith said.

“There’s nothing hidden under the table,” Smith said. “The Wireless Services Authority Act is sufficient because you all did your job in 2003.”

The broadband authority’s rates, books and board meetings already are open to the public.

Our Christopher Mitchell noted that the attempt to force publicly owned networks into a state of "ultra-transparency" was also a thinly veiled attempt to ward off competition from potential public-private partnerships:

The opening of potentially proprietary information under the Virginia Freedom of Information Act regarding pricing, rates, and fees is something the private sector does not have to deal with and would strenuously object to. This is particularly harmful to potential public-private partnerships where I fear an incumbent would seek to punish the partner of a rival by constantly seeking... Read more

Posted February 1, 2017 by lgonzalez

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.... Read more
Posted January 30, 2017 by lgonzalez

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... Read more

Posted January 30, 2017 by lgonzalez

As bills in Virginia and Missouri state legislatures are up for review this year, take a few minutes to listen to Christopher Mitchell and Lisa Gonzalez discuss state preemption, past, present, and future in episode 10 of the Building Local Power podcast

John Farrell from the Institute for Local Self-Reliance talks to them about the power of lobbying at the state level and how large national providers aim to control the market by using state laws. We’ve seen it happen in about 20 states and now local authority advocates are fighting to prevent HB 2108 ("Byron’s Bad Broadband Bill") in Virginia and a repeat of last year’s battle in Missouri with SB 186. If those state restrictions are allowed to become law, better connectivity for rural communities will be even more difficult to achieve because municipal networks will be all but stamped out. 

“These big cable and telephone companies are against competition,” says Chris Mitchell. “For them, they’ve grown up in monopoly environments. They are opposed to private-sector competition and public-sector competition.”

During the interview, Christopher and Lisa share examples of cost savings, economic development, and improved quality of life in communities where the big providers could not justify investment. Learn more about the who, what, and why companies like AT&T, Comcast, and CenturyLink spend millions on lobbying efforts in state capitols.

Building Local Power Podcast

logo-Building-Local-Power-Podcast.png

This is episode 10 of the Building Local Power podcast, a series that shares the work of staff at the Institute and focuses on local initiatives. With the current state of affairs so uncertain at the federal level, taking action in your own community is more important than ever. New episodes air every other week.

Check out... Read more

Posted January 27, 2017 by lgonzalez

Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam doesn’t want the public’s money to pay for publicly owned Internet infrastructure. He has no problem, however, writing a $45 million check backed by taxpayers and payable to the likes of AT&T in Tennessee.

"A Little Song, A Little Dance, A Little Seltzer Down Your Pants"

On Wednesday, Haslam introduced the “Tennessee Broadband Accessibility Act,” another state sponsored handout to the national Internet Service Providers who have made countless broken promises to expand to rural areas. The bill contains some provisions dressed up to look like measures that make big strides for the state, and will be helpful, but it's not ground breaking.

The bill lifts existing state restrictions on electric cooperatives that may wish to offer retail Internet access to members. The state restrictions on co-ops are dubious anyway and could be challenged under federal law. For the state’s electric cooperatives that reach all over the rural areas, the bill is welcome, but communities near Chattanooga’s EPB gets the short end of the stick.

EPB, Chattanooga’s Municipal Electric Utility, has advocated for several years to expand beyond their service territory. Neighboring communities, such as Bradley and Polk Counties, need better connectivity because the national providers don’t consider their regions a good investment. Nevertheless, state law prohibits EPB from expanding to them and this legislation won't change that.

"Don't Confuse The Conversation"

State Sen. Janice Bowling, R-Tullahoma, where the local municipal network has jump started economic development and improved the quality of life, pointed out the problem in Haslam’s shell game legislation:

Bowling said the measure only goes halfway in removing regulatory limits that she said now limit fiber optic service in much of Tennessee "and keeps too many rural citizens from participating in the 21st century digital economy."

"I'm certainly glad that electric co-ops will be able to retail fiber services under this measure and I think that will be significant," she... Read more

Posted January 26, 2017 by lgonzalez

As SB 186 sits patiently in committee, advocates of better broadband from the private and public sectors are banding together to share their thoughts on the bill. They believe that the bill will stifle attempts to improve connectivity throughout the state. In a recent letter to the Chair and members of the the Missouri Senate Local Government and Elections Committee, they laid out the other reasons why SB 186 should not advance.

"Harmful...Stifling...Hampering"

The Coalition for Local Internet Choice (CLIC) organized the letter and signed on with 14 other companies and associations. It wouldn’t be the first time - Missouri is an all too common battle ground in the fight to protect remaining potential for municipal networks and public private partnerships.

They describe the bill as:

“…[H]arming both the public and private sectors, stifling economic growth, preventing the creation or retention of jobs around the State, particularly in rural areas, hampering work-force development, and diminishing the quality of life in Missouri.”

This is the third time in as many years that Missouri State Legislators have tried to push through legislation that would benefit large cable and DSL incumbents. The goal of the bill this year as before is to lock out any possibility of competition now or in the future. Last year, HB 2078 saw some drama when its author tried to slip in the foul language within the text of a public safety bill that had nothing to do with telecommunications. Luckily, sharp advocates were paying attention and had already educated Members who were on the conference committee. Those in favor of local authority stripped out the language and when anti-muni Members tried to amend it into a third bill, the author moved to have it removed under threat of filibuster.

Don't Make A Rough Situation Worse

Missouri already imposes restrictions on municipal networks. In the letter, the signatories refer to local authority as a key in solving Missouri's poor connectivity problems:

These are fundamentally local decisions that should be made by the communities themselves, through the processes that... Read more

Posted January 25, 2017 by lgonzalez

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... Read more

Posted January 25, 2017 by Nick

Ars Technica - January 25,2017

Google and Netflix join fight against municipal broadband restrictions

Written by Jon Brodkin

Google and Netflix joined a handful of advocacy groups and other companies lobbying against a proposed Virginia state law that would make it far more difficult for municipalities to offer Internet service.

As we previously reported, the "Virginia Broadband Deployment Act" would prohibit municipal broadband deployments except in very limited circumstances. For example, localities wouldn't be allowed to offer Internet service to residents if an existing network already provides 10Mbps download and 1Mbps upload speeds to 90 percent of potential customers. Even if that condition is met, municipalities would have to jump through several legal hoops before being allowed to build a network.

...

"A number of local governments have already passed resolutions condemning the legislative attack on their right to make local telecommunications decisions and we expect to see more," the Institute for Local Self-Reliance's Community Networks project wrote Monday. The 10Mbps/1Mbps speeds specified in the legislation are "reminiscent of antiquated DSL," the group said.

...

Read the full story here.

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