Tag: "lobbying"

Posted October 25, 2017 by Lisa Gonzalez

With their back against the wall, Comcast is pulling out it’s well manicured, sharp claws in Fort Collins, Colorado. Voters will be asked to approve measure 2B on November 7th, which would allow the city to take steps toward establishing their own municipal telecommunications utility. In order to preserve the lack of competition, incumbent Internet access providers are on track to spending more during this election than has been spent on any other issue in Fort Collins’ history.

Behind The Name Of "Citizen"

As we’ve come to see time and again, when a local community like Fort Collins takes steps to invest in the infrastructure they need for economic development, incumbents move in to prevent municipal efforts. Comcast and CenturyLink aren’t offering the types of connectivity that Fort Collins wants to progress, so the city has decided to ask the voters whether or not they feel a publicly owned broadband utility will meet their needs.

logo-comcast.png In keeping with the usual modus operandi, out of the woodwork emerge lobbying groups that not-so-artfully mask incumbents like Comcast and CenturyLink. These groups are able to contribute large sums of money to whatever organization has been established, often in the form of a “citizens group,” to bombard local media with misinformation about municipal networks to try to convince voters to vote against the initiative. In Fort Collins, the “citizens group” happens to call itself Priorities of Fort Collins (PFC).

A closer look at who is funding PFC’s website and professional videos takes one to the recently filed campaign report. The City Clerk’s Office has a copy of this document on file and shows that PFC has only three contributors, none of whom are individual “citizens” but are associated with big telecom:

  • $125,000 from the Colorado Cable Telecommunications Association (CCTA): This organization was the same mask Comcast used back in 2011 when it spent approximately $300,000 to stop a similar...
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Posted September 29, 2017 by Lisa Gonzalez

California Legislators have turned on their constituents living in rural areas who want to participate in the 21st century online economy. What began as a move in the right direction - allocating substantial resources to funding high-speed Internet infrastructure - has become another opportunity to protect big incumbents. It’s twice as nice for Frontier and AT&T, because they will be paid big bucks to meet a low Internet access bar.

Discretionary Fund

Democrat Eduardo Garcia, the main author on Assembly Bill 1665, represents the Coachella Valley, a rural area in the southern area of the state near Palm Springs. Democrat Jim Wood coauthored with eight others. Wood represents coastal areas in the northern part of the state, which was passed during the eleventh hour of the 2017 legislative session. Wood’s district and region has obtained several grants from the California Advanced Services Fund (CASF) that have helped to improve local connectivity. 

The CASF is much like CAF; both programs are funded through a surcharge on revenue collected by telecommunications carriers from subscribers. Since 2007, when California authorized the CASF, the legislature has amended the rules and requirements several times. Early on, CASF awards went primarily to smaller, local companies because large corporations such as AT&T and Frontier did not pursue the grants. Now that those behemoths have their eyes on CASF grants, they’ve found a way to push out the companies who need the funds and have shown that they want to provide better services to rural Californians.

AB 1665 allocates $300 million to Internet infrastructure investment and an additional $30 million to adoption and related local programs. Policy experts have criticized the legislation on several fronts. Consultant Steve Blum told CVIndependent:

The incumbents (large corporate ISPs) including AT&T, Frontier and the California Cable and Telecommunications Association jumped in and said, ‘We want the bill to be X, Y and Z.’ … Assemblymember Eduardo Garcia took it and started adding language that reflected the desires of these cable and telephone company incumbents.

“The bill went through three revisions, and each time,...

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Posted August 28, 2017 by Staff

This is the transcript for episode 267 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast. Michael Anderson from Spiral Internet joins the show to explain how this small ISP is building next-generation networks in rural California. Listen to this episode here.

Michael Anderson: If there's an existing incumbent nearby, and they claim that area, then they can say, "No, you can't fund that, we'll challenge it," and then they don't really have to give you a timeframe as to when they are going to provide that service, so it is a real show stopper.

Lisa Gonzalez: This is episode 267 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast, from the Institute for Local Self-Reliance. I'm Lisa Gonzalez. This week, Michael Anderson from Spiral Internet, and Christopher, talk about the California company, their history, and their approach. They also discuss what it's like to work in an environment where national providers do all they can to pretend competition from ISPs like Spiral. Some of those efforts are playing out right now, as the state legislature reviews funding that has traditionally been used to expand Internet access in rural areas. Before we start the interview, we want to remind you that this commercial-free conversation is not free to produce. Please take a moment to contribute at ILSR.org. If you've already contributed, thanks. Now here's Christopher and Michael Anderson from Spiral Internet.

Christopher Mitchell: Welcome to another edition of the Community Broadband Bits podcast. I'm Chris Mitchell with the Institute for Local Self-Reliance up here in Minneapolis. Today I'm talking with Michael Anderson, the Chief Information Officer for Spiral Internet, all the way out there in California. Welcome to the show.

Michael Anderson: Thank you, Chris.

Christopher Mitchell: So, you are in California, but in a place called Nevada City, I believe, which confuses me every single time I talk to you or one of your folks from Spiral Internet. Can you tell us a little more about your company?

Michael Anderson: Whenever you hear Nevada City, California, people still think that we are in the state of Nevada, which is not the case. Actually, Nevada City had the name "...

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Posted August 23, 2017 by Christopher Mitchell

With the right policies and local investment, Spiral Internet could bring high quality Internet access to much of northern California. Spiral is a small private company and its CIO, Michael Anderson, talks with us today for episode 267 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast. 

We discuss Spiral's enthusiasm for open access fiber networks and how the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) is funding some rural Internet investment. In particular, we get a sense of how Spiral is making the transition from reselling DSL to fighting for open fiber networks in rural California. 

One of the larger challenges today is an effort in the California Legislature to modify the rural broadband subsidy program to essentially give AT&T veto power over the CPUC grants. As we have discussed many times before, AT&T and some of the cable companies want a right of first refusal to grants, a policy that would dramatically disrupt the process for the smaller companies that are actually investing in high quality connectivity in areas poorly served by the incumbents. 

Read the transcript of this show here.

We want your feedback and suggestions for the show-please e-mail us or leave a comment below.

This show is 28 minutes long and can be played on this page or via iTunes or the tool of your choice using this feed.

You can download this mp3 file directly from here. Listen to other episodes here or view all episodes in our index.

Thanks to Arne Huseby for the music. The song is Warm Duck Shuffle and is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution (3.0) license.

Posted July 24, 2017 by Lisa Gonzalez

People who live in rural America have known for a long time that urban areas have better access to Internet services. Recently, however, the issue has become a hot topic of conversation and analysis by policy experts, lawmakers, and the telecommunications industry. In a recent editorial by Virginia’s Roanoke Times, the outlet's leadership explained why “Third World standards” for Internet access won’t do for people who, by choice or circumstance, live in rural areas.

"Third World Connectivity"

The editors at the Times point to reporting done by the Wall Street Journal (reprinted here by MSN Money) that describes how rural America’s lack of high-quality Internet access puts it on the same economic footing as “the new inner city.” The Times quotes the WSJ:

Keep in mind the Journal is not some liberal organ typically associated with calling for more government intervention; editorially, this is the conservative voice of the nation’s business community. Its view (like ours) is purely an economic one: “Counties without modern Internet connections can’t attract new firms, and their isolation discourages the enterprises they have . . . Reliance on broadband includes any business that uses high-speed data transmission, spanning banks to insurance firms to factories.”

While the urban areas of the state average connectivity higher than the national average, much of the state - the rural areas - must contend with speeds that compare with countries like Ecuador, Costa Rica, and Nigeria.

countryside.jpg The editors at the Times point out that, much like in the 1930s when President Franklin D. Roosevelt vowed to electrify every rural community, private firms don’t venture where lack of profit doesn’t justify an investment. "This points the way to one possible fix that even the Journal highlights: Government intervention," writes the Times editors.

But they understand the hurdles that exist today that weren't so high when Roosevelt was working his plan to light up the farms. Public...

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Posted April 14, 2017 by Lisa Gonzalez

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

...

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Posted April 6, 2017 by Lisa Gonzalez

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...

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Posted March 10, 2017 by Lisa Gonzalez

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...

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Posted March 4, 2017 by Lisa Gonzalez

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 Lisa Gonzalez

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.

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