Tag: "lobbying"

Posted December 6, 2022 by Karl Bode

After years of efforts, the telecom industry and a range of independent broadband experts are making progress in a quest to make broadband grants tax exempt, a move industry players large and small say is necessary if the federal government wants the historic round of new federal broadband funding to benefit as many un- and under-served Americans as possible. 

During previous broadband grant programs, such as the (Broadband Technology Opportunities Program) BTOP and (Broadband Initiatives Program) BIP grants in 2010, the Internal Revenue Service had the authority to unilaterally exempt some grants from taxation. 

The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA) required that broadband grants be treated as taxable income. As a result, telecom industry watchers have been warning since March that upwards of 21 percent of new grant awards would need to be paid back to the United States government in the form of taxation, complicating project financing and scale. 

“Entities expecting to receive grant funds would need to budget for the tax bill, potentially requiring a reduction in the scope of their project,” Casey Lide of the law firm Keller & Heckman wrote in a post detailing the implications. “Entities might also consider structuring a project so that grant funds are received by tax-exempt entities.”

With more than $50 billion in Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA) and American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funding waiting in the wings, industry players large and small are working to reverse the changes imposed in 2017 before the tax man comes knocking. 

Enter the Broadband Grant Tax Treatment Act; legislation introduced last September by a bipartisan coalition of U.S. Senators including Mark Warner (D-VA) Jerry...

Read more
Posted October 26, 2022 by Sean Gonsalves

Today marks a full year since Gigi Sohn was nominated to fill the fifth and final seat on the Federal Communications Commission (FCC). Since her nomination, Sohn has gone through two confirmation hearings and a constant barrage of right-wing attacks pushed by the big cable and telecom monopolies. 

With the lame duck session of Congress just weeks away, an array of public interest groups are ramping up a campaign to push Sen. Chuck Schumer and the White House to schedule a vote to confirm her nomination before the end of the year.

Time is Running Out

Dozens of press releases are being issued today to bring attention to the apparent foot-dragging of the U.S. Senate and White House that has left the FCC in a 2-2 deadlock for nearly two years.

Public Knowledge issued a statement today calling on Senate leaders to confirm President Biden’s nominee:

The agency has not had a full five-member commission for the entire Biden administration, which has effectively stalled key consumer protection priorities as well as our nation’s work to provide high-speed broadband to those on the wrong side of the digital divide. Public Knowledge urges Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) to call the vote confirming Gigi Sohn to the FCC to get the nation’s broadband agenda back on track.

Free Press issued “an 'F' in FCC for failing to confirm” such a well-regarded public-interest advocate. In a statement released today, Free Press Action Internet Campaign Director Heather Franklin said:

Gigi Sohn has been in limbo for a year now, preventing a deadlocked agency from passing crucial policies that would help people in the United States connect and communicate. This senseless delay is harming millions of people, especially working families trying to pay their rising monthly bills and those in Black...

Read more
Posted August 23, 2022 by Sean Gonsalves

Although disappointing for advocates of local Internet choice weary of monopoly providers working to stifle competition, what we are seeing coming out of Montana’s state broadband grant program, Connect MT, shouldn’t be all that surprising.

Last week we learned that the state’s Department of Administration had recommended that nearly half of the Connect MT funding – $126 million – be awarded to Charter Communications, which has been aggressively lobbying Montana legislators (and funding campaigns in opposition to community broadband proposals in other states).

It did not go unnoticed by Montana Free Press deputy editor Eric Dietrich who recently reported that the recommended award to Charter “has plowed into rocky ground as (the state) considers a list of recommended projects this month.”

‘Not Perfect by Any Means’

The story raises questions about the state’s ranking system for proposed projects and notes that the lion’s share of grant money being recommended for Charter “has drawn the ire of smaller, Montana-based companies that want more support for their own networks.”

In hearings this month, Department of Administration Director Misty Ann Giles, the committee’s vice-chair, described the $258 million program as a learning experience for the state government, which hasn’t previously managed a large broadband program. The scoring system the department used to rank applications, she said at an Aug. 2 meeting, ‘is not perfect by any means.’

‘This is a first-in-kind program for the state of Montana, so there’s definitely some lessons learned,’ Giles said.

Giles and committee chair Sen. Jason Ellsworth, R-Hamilton, have also said the state will have the chance to fine-tune its awards process and fund additional projects as it works through additional federal broadband money it expects to receive through the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act.

After passage of the American Rescue Plan Act, the Republican-controlled Montana Legislature established advisory committees to make recommendations to the governor about how the state’s Rescue Plan funds should be spent on infrastructure, including broadband.

...

Read more
Posted May 12, 2022 by Sean Gonsalves

There is a long-term solution to the broadband affordability gap that can be found in America’s first gig city. Thanks to Chattanooga’s wildly successful municipal broadband network, EPB Fiber, and its partnership with The Enterprise Center and Hamilton County Schools, over 15,000 low-income students in 8,500 households in Hamilton County are already getting a decade of free high-speed Internet service at no cost through a program known as HCS EdConnect.

It was borne out of the community’s response to the pandemic as local leaders looked to leverage an existing community asset to allow students to participate in distance learning, enable educators to expand educational opportunities outside the classroom, and support parents in pursuing their own professional and personal goals.

It’s an example of the one of the many benefits of having a locally-controlled, publicly-owned broadband network in which the infrastructure is seen as a public good like roads or a water system. It’s an approach that sees broadband infrastructure as something that should be accessible to everyone in the community and not used as a tool to simply benefit those who can afford it.

We wanted to visually document the power that HCS EdConnect has had in transforming the lives of program participants by weaving together a compilation of video diaries that will give you a glimpse of how a visionary municipal network made this Tennessee county more resilient in the face of the pandemic and ensured no one in their community was left on the wrong side of the digital divide.

Big Telecom Band-Aid or Local Long-Term Solution?

The short video below, produced and edited by our multimedia specialist Henry Holtgeerts, stands in stark contrast to the Presidential press conference...

Read more
Posted May 9, 2022 by Sean Gonsalves

The Biden Administration is poised to celebrate the nation's largest telecommunications monopolies today even as these companies do the bare minimum for digital equity while undermining his administration's broadband agenda.

Christopher Mitchell, Director of the Community Broadband Networks Program at the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, had this to say today about the undue influence of Big Telecom and its effort to block the confirmation of GiGi Sohn as an FCC commissioner: 

As we enter the third year of a pandemic that has supposedly redefined the crucial importance of broadband, the Federal Communications Commission has failed to update the definition of broadband it set in 2015. Few expect the FCC to publish accurate maps of where broadband is until 2023. It might help if President Biden seated his third commissioner. 

The Biden Administration took a painfully long time to nominate the most obvious candidate for the position - Gigi Sohn - and has done precious little to have her confirmed in a reasonable time frame. Though it would be easy to blame Republican opposition, the truth is that it simply does not appear to be a priority for the Administration.

We join the effort to praise all companies that are helping move toward digital equity, but if simply discounting the cost of service from cable and telephone providers were sufficient, we might have less of a problem now, 11 years after Comcast launched Internet Essentials. To actually connect everyone, we will need an effective FCC as well as local engagement. However, some of the very companies being praised by the President today are spending millions in lobbying and ad-blitzes to prevent Gigi Sohn from being confirmed and to stop needed investments.

If they succeed in blocking Gigi, they will have confirmed something else: that they are the actual regulator of telecom services and the Biden Administration is not serious about the lofty goals it set in 2021. 

We support the work of countless people within the executive branch who are making the rules to spend the various funds appropriated by Congress to expand broadband access. And, while the low-cost...

Read more
Posted May 4, 2022 by Sean Gonsalves

With an unprecedented opportunity for local communities to build their own ubiquitous high-speed Internet infrastructure, a new national organization has been formed to advocate on behalf of municipal broadband initiatives and to give local governments a seat at the table as federal and state officials craft legislation and grant programs to close the digital divide.

Today, at the Broadband Communities Summit 2022 in Houston, the group’s founding members held a press conference to announce the birth of the American Association of Public Broadband (AAPB).

“We were formed by a group of municipal officials in order to advance advocacy efforts for public broadband and to make sure they have a voice in Washington and in all 50 states,” said AAPB board member Bob Knight.

Knight went on to explain that while AAPB will be advocating for municipal solutions to local connectivity challenges, “we are model agnostic, whether you want to partner with a large ISP (Internet Service Provider), build your own network, or form a public-private partnership.”

A ‘Voice in the Conversation’

Noting that AAPB will work closely with ally organizations and industry groups, AAPB was founded primarily “because municipal networks didn’t have much of a voice in the conversation around broadband funding in the American Rescue Plan Act or the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act,” even as there was significant lobbying efforts on behalf of the big telecom companies.

AAPB Secretary Kimberly McKinley added that lawmakers are often assailed with stories about municipal broadband failures but that it was important for lawmakers to hear the whole story.

There are a lot of cities out there who run these networks successfully. And we want to be a place where local officials can go and learn the do’s and don’ts, the missteps, and challenges. We are not advocating that you can only do muni broadband, but that there should be an option. Ultimately, it’s about giving communities the option to take local control.

AAPB raised $50,000 in funding commitments from government agencies and private donors within the first half-hour of announcing the...

Read more
Posted April 6, 2022 by Sean Gonsalves

With an unprecedented amount of federal funds to build broadband networks flowing into individual states, lawmakers in some states are doing the bidding of the big monopoly Internet Service Providers and potentially blowing a once-in-a-generation chance to invest in the locally-accountable infrastructure that offers the best chance to bridge the broadband gap for millions of families once and for all.  

Two weeks ago we wrote about the anti-competition broadband legislation making its way through the State Legislatures in Illinois and New York as state lawmakers across the nation establish high-speed Internet grant programs.

That trend looks like it’s continuing in Michigan where Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and the state’s GOP-dominated Legislature recently reached a deal to pass a nearly $5 billion spending bill.

While the “Building Michigan Together Plan” is being “celebrated” by the governor’s office as a way to “grow the economy, create jobs, and benefit families in every region of the state,” the main supplemental spending bill, known as Senate Bill 565 (SB 565), may sink some hope community broadband advocates have for leveraging the windfall of federal funds the Great Lakes State is getting from the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) and the forthcoming funds in the Infrastructure Investment & Jobs Act (IIJA).

Protecting Incumbents from Competition

The legislation allocates nearly $251 million for a statewide broadband grant program to be overseen by the newly created Michigan High-Speed Internet Office (MIHI), a subdivision of the state’s Department of Labor and Economic Opportunity (LEO). But, buried in Section 359 of the bill, paragraph (3), it stipulates that Michigan's “infrastructure grants must only be allocated...

Read more
Posted March 24, 2022 by Sean Gonsalves

Now that the fight over federal funding to expand broadband access has been largely settled with the passage of the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) and the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA), states and local communities are preparing to put those funds to work.

The Biden Administration had initially hoped to tip the scales in favor of building publicly-owned broadband networks as the best way to boost local (more affordable) Internet choice, and inject competition into a market dominated by monopoly incumbents. And while the Treasury rules on how Rescue Plan money can be spent does give states and local governments the ability to do just that, the rules for how the IIJA’s Broadband Equity, Access, and Deployment (BEAD) program can be spent have yet to be finalized by the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA), the agency in charge of allocating those funds to the states.

Predictably, the big monopoly incumbents are focusing their lobbying efforts on state lawmakers as states funnel those federal funds into state broadband grant programs. In some states, Big Telco is getting the desired result: the shunning of publicly-owned network proposals to shield monopoly providers from competition. Of course, we expected some states – especially those with preemption laws that either erect barriers to municipal broadband or outright ban such networks – to shovel most of their federal broadband funds to the big incumbents, even though they have a long track record of over-promising and under-delivering

But while we might expect Florida and Texas to favor the private sector and stealthily move to shut out projects that are publicly-owned, we’re surprised that the first place it’s happening is actually Illinois and New York.

Illinois Lawmakers Thumb Nose at Federal Law

In January,...

Read more
Posted February 18, 2022 by Sean Gonsalves

Welcome to In Our View. From time to time, we use this space to explore new ideas and share our thoughts on recent events playing out across the digital landscape, as well as take the opportunity to draw attention to important but neglected broadband-related issues.

As federal funds to expand high-speed Internet access began to flow to states and local communities through the American Rescue Plan Act, and with billions more coming under the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, Big Telecom is beginning to mount its expected opposition campaign designed to discourage federal (and state) decision-makers from prioritizing the building of publicly-owned networks.

Predictably, a centerpiece of this anti-municipal broadband campaign is the trotting out of well-worn - and thoroughly debunked - talking points, arguing that federal funding rules should not “encourage states to favor entities like non-profits and municipalities when choosing grant winners” because of their “well-documented propensity to fail at building and maintaining complex networks over time.” That’s what USTelecom, a trade organization representing big private Internet Service Providers (including the monopolies) wrote in a memo sent last week to President Biden, the FCC, cabinet secretaries, House and Senate members, Tribal leaders, as well as state broadband offices. 

Part of the impetus, no doubt, was the flood of responses to the NTIA’s Notice and Request for Comment (including ours) documenting the need for community-driven solutions in this once-in-a-generation investment that could close the digital divide forever. That’s if we don’t just give billions in taxpayer dollars to huge monopolies in the hope that they’ll suddenly decide to build connections to the households in their territory that they’ve been ignoring for years despite getting billions of dollars already via the...

Read more
Posted November 3, 2021 by Sean Gonsalves

Broadband was on the ballot as voters went to the polls for Election Day in many areas. Here’s a quick run-down of what happened.

Colorado

The Colorado state law (SB-152) that bans local governments in the Centennial State from establishing municipal broadband service suffered another defeat at the ballot box. Since the law was passed nearly two decades ago, more than 150 Colorado communities have opted out. That number continues to grow and we can now add the town of Windsor to the list of municipalities in the state who have voted to restore local Internet choice.

At the polls yesterday, 77 percent of Windsor voters said yes to Ballot Question 3A, which asked “shall the Town of Windsor, without increasing taxes by this measure, be authorized to provide high-speed Internet services (advanced services), telecommunications services, and/or cable television services … either directly or indirectly with public or private sector partners?”

The passage of the ballot question allows Windsor to opt out of SB-152, although as reported by The Colorodoan, town leaders do not intend to establish a new municipal broadband utility as Loveland, Fort Collins, and Estes Park have done in the Front Range region of the state. Rather, Windsor will “pursue a public-private partnership with Highline Internet to bring high-speed Internet and phone service to the town … Highline would build, own and operate the network, though Windsor has the option of contributing money or assets (with voter approval) in exchange for a share of revenue.” Highline Internet is a company operating in multiple states that we have not often come across before.

In Milliken, just 16 miles...

Read more

Pages

Subscribe to lobbying