Tag: "lobbying"

Posted April 14, 2017 by lgonzalez

When state legislators in Tennessee recently passed the Broadband Accessibility Act of 2017, tech writers quoted our Christopher Mitchell, who pointed out that the proposal has some serious pitfalls.

Christopher's statement appeared in several articles:

"Tennessee taxpayers may subsidize AT&T to build DSL service to Chattanooga's [rural] neighbors rather than letting the Gig City [Chattanooga] expand its fiber at no cost to taxpayers. Tennessee will literally be paying AT&T to provide a service 1,000 times slower than what Chattanooga could provide without subsidies."

Motherboard

Motherboard noted that the Tennessee legislature had the opportunity to pass a bill, sponsored by Senator Janice Bowling, to grant municipal electric utilities the ability to expand and serve nearby communities. Nope. Legislators in Tennessee would rather pander to the incumbent providers that come through year after year with generous campaign contributions:

logo-motherboard.jpgTo be clear: EPB wanted to build out its gigabit fiber network to many of these same communities using money it has on hand or private loans at no cost to taxpayers. It would then charge individual residents for Internet service. Instead, Tennessee taxpayers will give $45 million in tax breaks and grants to giant companies just to get basic infrastructure built. They will then get the opportunity to pay these companies more money for worse Internet than they would have gotten under EPB's proposal.

The Motherboard reporter quoted Bowling from a prior article (because, like the movie "Groundhog Day," she keeps finding herself in the same situation year after year):

"What we have right now is not the free market, it's regulations protecting giant corporations, which is the exact definition of crony capitalism," she said.

TechDirt Gets Personal

... Read more

Posted April 6, 2017 by lgonzalez

When Alabama State Sen. Tom Whatley from Auburn spoke with OANow in late March, he described his bill, SB 228, as a “go-to-war bill.” The bill would have allowed Opelika Power Services (OPS) to expand its Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) services to his community. On Wednesday, April 5th, his colleagues in the Senate Transportation and Energy Committee decided to end the conflict in favor of AT&T and its army of lobbyists.

The final vote, according to the committee legislative assistant, was 7 - 6 against the bill. She described the vote as bipartisan, although the roll call isn’t posted yet, so we have not been able to confirm.

According to Whatley:

“AT&T has hired 26 lobbyists to work against me on that bill. It really aggravates me because I have boiled one bill down to where it only allows Opelika to go into Lee County. It cuts out the other counties.”

Whatley has introduced several bills this session and in previous legislative sessions to allow OPS to expand beyond the state imposed barriers to offer services in Lee County. Alabama law doesn’t allow OPS, or any other municipal provider, to offer advanced telecommunications services outside city limits. SB 228 would allow Opelika and others (described as a “Class 6 municipalities”) to offer services throughout the counties in which they reside. A companion bill in the House, HB 375, is sitting in the House Commerce and Small Business Committee.

Rep. Joe Lovvorn, who introduced HB 375 agrees with Whatley:

“If it doesn't make sense for a large corporation to go there, that's OK that's their choice,” he said. “But they don't have the right to tell, in my opinion with my bill, the city of Opelika they can't serve them either.”

AT&T’s lobbyists aren’t the only big... Read more

Posted March 10, 2017 by lgonzalez

Minnesotans are known for their penchant for politics, their belief in strong local communities, and their love of getting together. As high-quality connectivity becomes a critical component of every day life, people who live in rural areas of Greater Minnesota are coming together in St. Paul on March 15th. The Minnesota Broadband Coalition is sponsoring the first Rural Broadband Day on the Hill.

A Panel And A Press Conference

Registration for citizen lobbyists filled quickly, but there will be a Broadband Issues Legislator Panel at 9:15 central time in Room N 500 of the State Office Building. It will include Representatives Layman, Garofalo, Baker, and Johnson, Senator Simonson, DEED Office of Broadband Development Director Danna MacKenzie and will be moderated by Steve Kelley, Sr Fellow Humphrey School of Public Affairs.

There will also be a press conference at 10 a.m. moderated by Steve Fenske, from the Minnesota Association of Townships. Speaking at the press conference will be several rural Minnesotans, including local broadband leaders:

  • Mark Erickson - Mark was instrumental in establishing the RS Fiber Cooperative
  • Joe Buttweiler - Joe is at Consolidated Telecommunications Cooperative now, but he was one of the leaders on the Arrowhead Electric Cooperative infrastructure in Cook County
  • Marc Johnson - He’s with the East Central Minnesota Educational Cable Cooperative (ECMECC) now and has extensive experience in education and the connectivity needs of anchor institutions
  • Chuck Novak - As Mayor of Ely, Chuck’s priorities are economic development and high-quality connectivity in his city
  • Sophia Stading - Sophia attends 6th grade in rural Lake Crystal, Minnesota
  • Sammie Garrity - Sammie is also in 6th grade and lives in Lutsen. He attends school in Grand Marais.

For more on the speakers and the agenda, check out... Read more

Posted March 4, 2017 by lgonzalez

Tennessee State Senator Janice Bowling, a Republican from Tullahoma, has once again introduced legislation that would help bring high-quality connectivity to rural residents and businesses. The bill is not complicated and would allow municipal electric utilities that offer broadband connectivity to expand beyond their electric service area. In a video from 2015 Senator Bowling takes a few minutes to explain her proposal - to eliminate the restriction and allow places like Tullahoma, Chattanooga, and Clarksville to serve neighboring communities.

This year, the bill that eliminates the restriction is SB 1058 and its House companion is HB 0970 from Representative Dan Howell. For now, her bill is in the Senate Commerce and Labor Committee waiting to be heard. Sen. Bolling has also introduced similar bill that allows municipal electric utilities to offer telecommunications service with no geographical limitations.

Senator Bolling gets it. She understands that the people of her district and the rest of rural Tennessee need high-quality connectivity to keep pace with areas that already have such access. We’d like to see more legislators like her who put the needs of their constituents before the interests of the big cable and telephone companies.

In the video Senator Bolling describes why the bill, which she has introduced several times, has not passed. She explains what the bill does legally and practically, and she gives a frank assessment of what the situation is now in many rural areas of her state. Even though the video is from 2015, her comments are still relevant.

The video is short and to the point - only 4:20 - check it out and share.

Posted February 28, 2017 by lgonzalez

Reincarnated from last year’s anti-muni bill in Missouri, SB 186 was heard in the Senate Local Government and Elections Committee on St. Valentine’s Day. The sweetheart’s gift to the national cable and DSL companies, however, didn’t come until today. The committee held its executive hearing, voted the bill “do pass,” then sent it on its merry way. According to a very helpful staff member at the Missouri State Legislature, the bill will now be put on the informal Senate calendar and can be picked up at any time by Senate leadership for a vote by the full Senate.

As we reported in January, SB 186 fattens the state’s existing laws that insert state government between a local community and its ability to make its own choices about its broadband future. Just like last year’s HB 2078 (this bill’s dead twin), SB 186 makes it extremely difficult for municipalities and local governments to use their own infrastructure to work with private sector partners. The bill comes from lobbyists representing large incumbents who want to ensure their monopoly positions, even if it means sacrificing rural peoples’ ability to participate in the modern economy.

If you live in Missouri, take a moment to call or email your Senator and tell them that, if this bill comes before you on the Senate floor, you want them to push the red button to kill it. Even if you live in an area where you already have high-quality Internet access, consider the principal that state government calls the shots on an issue that should be determined by local people. This bill impinges on local decision-making authority.

If you don’t live in Missouri you can still contact State Senators to let them know that the bill is harmful to rural areas, antithetical to the competitive spirit, and should be done away with as soon as possible.

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

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