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HB 2108 Up For Committee Hearing Jan. 26th in VA House
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
Ars Technica on Tech Giants Coming Out Against Virginia Barrier Bill
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.
Byron's Conflicts In VA: How Deep Do They Go?
Conflicts of interest have been front and center in federal politics this election cycle, but there is another place where we see a grey cloud of impropriety: the Virginia General Assembly. More specifically, above the head of Republican Delegate Kathy Byron, who last week introduced HB 2108, the “Broadband Deployment Act.”
We noticed Byron is inclined to accept sizable campaign donations from big cable and DSL corporate friends, but Phil Dampier’s excellent article on Stop the Cap! took a deeper look at her dubious connections. Tracing campaign dollars from state legislators who sponsor these bills back to companies like Verizon ($36,100 for Byron), Comcast ($3,000), AT&T ($9,250), and CenturyLink ($3,500) is no surprise. Finding similar connections to their state lobbying groups such as the Virginia Cable Telecommunications Association is also typical (a generous $15,000). For people like Dampier and us, it's kind of par for the course.
Campaign contributions call into question a legislators motivations but Byron has other connections that her constituents, colleagues in the General Assembly, and other Virginians need to examine as they consider HB 2108 and her role as a policy maker in state government:
From Stop the Cap!:
Since 2008, Stop the Cap! has reviewed industry-sponsored municipal broadband ban bills, and none to date have illustrated the level of conflict of interest we see here. We call on Virginian officials to carefully investigate the ties Ms. Byron has to cable and phone companies and the ethical concerns raised from her involvement in key state bodies that can make or break rural broadband in Virginia. Byron increasingly exposes an agenda favoring incumbent phone and cable companies that just happen to contribute to her campaign — companies she seems willing to protect at any cost.
Just What is the Internet? Community Broadband Bits Podcast 216
The Internet is one of those things that is right there in front of our face but can be hard to define exactly. Community Broadband [no-glossary]Bits[/no-glossary] Episode 216 answers that question and picks up right where episode 213 left off with Fred Goldstein, Principal of Interisle Consulting Group. Having already discussed the regulatory decisions that allowed the Internet to flourish, we now focus on what exactly the Internet is (hint, not wires or even physical things) and spend a long time talking about Fred's persuasive argument on how the FCC should have resolved the network neutrality battle. We also talk about why the Internet should properly be capitalized and why the Internet is neither fast nor slow itself. These are core concepts that anyone who cares about getting Internet policy correct should know -- but far too few do. Not because it is too technical, but because it does require some work to understand. That is why this is such a long conversation - probably our longest to date in over 200 shows.
This show is 40 minutes long and can be played on this page or via Apple Podcasts or the tool of your choice using this feed.
We want your feedback and suggestions for the show-please e-mail us or leave a comment below.
Listen to other episodes here or view all episodes in our index. See other podcasts from the Institute for Local Self-Reliance here.
Thanks to Roller Genoa for the music, licensed using Creative Commons. The song is "Safe and Warm in Hunter's Arms."
Minnesota Broadband Grant Program Gets Funded, Issues Remain
The Minnesota Legislature has just approved $35 million for the Border-to-Border Broadband Development Grant program for fiscal year 2017, the largest annual appropriation in the initiative’s two-year-old history.
But the Legislature’s action still falls short of dramatically helping bring universal, high-speed Internet connectivity to all non-metro Minnesotans. Try to find a Representative or Senator that doesn’t talk about how important rural Internet access is, but compare that list to those who are actually voting for solutions. The Blandin on Broadband website captured a glimpse of this dynamic in a recent post.
Nice Gains And Noticeable Failures
The Legislature headed in the right direction this year to increase overall funding for broadband development. But we believe the Legislature’s action, which is moving at a snail’s pace, won’t help thousands of residents and businesses in Minnesota’s non-metro communities hurdle over the connectivity chasm.
The state’s elected leaders also made changes to the program – some good and some bad – in the way projects are selected and the challenge process.
First, the funding fizzle. In its first two years, the state awarded about $30 million to 31 Border-to-Border projects. But that has been a miniscule appropriation compared with the Governor’s Task Force on Broadband’s estimate that Minnesota’s unmet broadband need is $900 million to $3.2 billion.
And the Legislature’s $35 million funding for the broadband grant program for the upcoming fiscal year seems particularly paltry given that the state has a projected $900 million budget surplus.
“We are disappointed with the [broadband funding] number and the incredibly restrictive language” on eligibility for grants, said Dan Dorman, executive director of the Greater Minnesota Partnership, (GMNP), a non-metro economic development group established in 2013 that successfully lobbied for the creation of the Broadband Development Grant program.
MO Fight Not Over 'Til It's Over: Time To Call
The direct assault stalled but now anti-muni legislators in Missouri are going for the flank.
If The Bill Ain't No Good...
In February we learned about Missouri bill HB 2078, the latest legislative attack on municipal networks. Since our story, it has [no-glossary]passed[/no-glossary] through the House committees on Utility Infrastructure and the Select Committee on Utilities. The bill seems to have lost momentum since mid-March but its sponsor, Rep. Lyndall Fraker, is taking another approach to make sure his bill gets [no-glossary]passed[/no-glossary], come hell or high water. Session ends May 13th, so he is now banking on procedural tricks, rather than the substance of his legislation.
On May 2nd, when a bill relating to traffic citations, SB 765, came before the body, Fracker proposed to amend it with language from HB 2078. Some of the amended language is even more destructive than the original proposal in HB 2078.
SB 765 had already passed the Senate with a 32 - 0 vote.
Advocates in Missouri report that, even though a number of Democrats wanted to strike the language as not germane to the substance of the bill, the Republican leadership presiding over the session would not recognize them so they could not move to strike the amendments. Fraker’s amendments were [no-glossary]passed[/no-glossary] by only four votes, even though the House is controlled by an overwhelming majority of Republican Representatives.
Now, SB 765 goes back to the Senate for further approval after the Fraker amendments. Considering the outcome in the House, it's possible that an expression from voters can influence the ultimate outcome of this bill. This is the time when a phone call to your elected official can change the course of connectivity.
Change.org Petition: CA Lawmakers, Vote for Greater Local Authority, Don't Abandon Copper Yet
The California State Assembly will soon vote on three bills that have significant implications for rural Internet access initiatives in the Golden State. An online Change.org petition is asking you to urge lawmakers to give local communities the authority to determine their own Internet access needs.
On April 20th, 2016, the State Assembly will vote on a bill to provide state funding for community-based efforts aimed at improving broadband access in rural areas. And during the current session this week, California Represenatives will vote on two additional bills, drafted by lobbying groups working for the telecom industry, which seek to give incumbent providers even greater power to control the quality and price of Internet access options that are available in these rural communities.
From the petition:
Bill AB1758 was drafted by rural broadband activists and sponsored by assemblymen Mark Stone, Eduardo Garcia, Marc Levine, and Mike McGuire. It extends state funding and grant programs to local agencies and consortiums to plan and build community based internet solutions in communities throughout the state that have been ignored by big telcom. The bill requires a super majority to move from committee to vote. Committee members need to hear from people around the state to move this bill forward. If it dies in committee, funding will cease, and rural communities around the state will be at the mercy of AT&T, Comcast, Time Warner, etc. AB1758 comes to discussion on April 20th, 2016.
The petition describes two other bills up for consideration, AB2130 and AB2395, which will greatly influence the use of California Advanced Services Funds, allowing large corporate cable and telecom incumbents access to those funds. Local communities will have very little opportunities to obtain those same grants under the proposed changes.
AT&T Celebrates, Tennessee Families Go Another Year Without Internet Hope
On Tuesday at the state Capitol in Nashville, a platoon of lobbyists and executives, including AT&T Tennessee President Joelle Phillips, were present in the House hearing room or watching on a video screen as Brooks presented the bill and the amendment. ... It failed on the 5-3 [committee] vote with Rep. Marc Gravitt, R-East Ridge, voting for Brooks' amendment and Rep. Patsy Hazlewood, R-Signal Mountain, a one-time AT&T executive, voting against it.Eight people voted on the bill. AT&T and Comcast formed the majority of the 27 lobbyists fighting against the bill according to Karl Bode. People in Bradley County have either no service or poor access from companies like AT&T - but Chattanooga's EPB is not allowed to expand due to a state law pushed by the cable and telephone companies nearly 20 years ago to prevent competition. These are people whose children have to go to libraries or fast food restaurants every day to do their homework. These are businesses that can barely compete in the digital age because AT&T doesn't view modern connectivity in the region an investment that would garner a fat return.
Colorado Bill Aims To Hinder Opt-Out, Restrict Local Authority Even More
When local elected officials in Colorado put the issue before constituents last fall, voters in almost 50 communities chose overwhelmingly to reclaim local telecommunications authority. Colorado's state law that strips away local authority, SB 152, permits opt-out through referendum. Referendums are expensive for local communities, but at least they are a way to reclaim the power to decide their own future.
That ability to opt out will get more expensive and more burdensome if a new bill becomes law. Even though the state removed local authority with SB 152, this bill demonstrates that the legislature can still find a way to strip away more local control when big corporate providers feel threatened.
Local Leaders Concerned
SB 136, sponsored by Kerry Donovan, was introduced on March 4th under the guise of "modernizing" the dreaded SB 152. The bill is now waiting for a hearing in the Senate State, Veterans, and Military Affairs Committee. According to the Aspen Daily News, Pitkin County Commissioners are wary of the bill's consequences. So are we. Ninety-two percent of Pitkin County voters approved the opt-out of SB 152 last November, thereby reclaiming authority. The county has already completed a needs assessment and is obtaining bids for telecommunications infrastructure; they don't want this bill to derail their efforts.
Kara Sillbernagel, Pitkin County analyst, shared her interpretation with the Board of County Commissioners (BOCC):
...[A] concern is SB 136 could open the door to potential litigation in the opt-out process.
Silbernagel added that, in her opinion, the language complicates the issue away from the simple opt-out solution, and introduces terms which have left governments that opted out “feeling vulnerable.”
“[Concerns are that] it actually seems to be more restrictive for counties moving forward,” she said.
"Modernized" Language = "Modernized" Barriers
Missouri's HB 2078 Advances
Dear Readers: Since I first wrote this story with my attempt to analyze this bill, I have revisited my earlier interpretation. If you read this bill analysis before, you will notice some changes.
It is starting to become an annual pilgrimage to Jefferson City. Each year, House and Senate leaders on the telecom industry dole, introduce the same anti-competition bill.
This year the bill we are watching is HB 2078 in the House, yet another AT&T bill. We briefly introduced you to it in January when we requested you call Republican Representative Lyndall Fraker and the other Members of the House Utility Infrastructure Committee. Fraker is Chair of the Committee, often an indication that the committee will hear the bill.
AT&T donated $20,000 to the House Republican Campaign Committee, reports Ars Technica. Even though the check was deposited on February 15, 2016, Ars learned it was actually donated in September 2015, before session began. Regardless of when the money was donated, it is notable that AT&T contributed a total of $62,500 to political committees in Missouri, a place where the incumbent does not shy away from flexing its lobbying influence.
Last year, HB 437 was introduced and, after opposition from a number of private entities and public sector representatives, stalled in the House. Many of HB 437's anti-competitive characteristics are resurrected this year in HB 2078.
There are many things we don't like about this bill because it forces local governments to hold expensive referendums, dictates how they spend local revenue, and decrees cryptic rules that discourage partnerships with private providers.