Tag: "virginia"

Posted February 16, 2017 by htrostle

In 2008, the counties of Accomack and Northampton created the Eastern Shore of Virginia Broadband Authority (ESVBA) to serve local needs and boost economic development. NASA provided key funding to build the backbone of the regional network. Today, the ESVBA has already improved wireless services in several communities and is at work on a Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) test project.

The space agency played a key role in bringing high-speed connectivity to rural communities on the Eastern Shore of Virginia. Wallops Flight Facility on Wallops Island, Virginia, employs 1,100 people, launches rockets, and features a visitor center. Government agencies, local schools, and healthcare institutions on the shore all needed reliable connectivity for their programs.

Internet Service Like Lightspeed

The FTTH test project started last September in Harborton, Virginia, as part of the Town Broadband Initiative Project. The landscape is typical of rural Virginia with little density as houses and businesses spread out into the woods. They have recently signed up the first few customers; this small town on the eastern shore has about 100 homes.

Community Effort: Local Seed Funding

In 2008, the counties of Accomack and Northampton created the public, not for profit entity through the Virginia Wireless Service Authorities Act to solve a growing problem on the shore. The lack of connectivity was having a negative impact on local rural communities. The counties provided an initial sum of about $270,00 to ESVBA to plan the network. 

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Then the ESVBA went in search of further funding. They received about $8 million in federal and state support - nearly half of which came from NASA - to build the middle mile backbone. Funding for the last mile to residential properties and small businesses came from the communities themselves, with about $... Read more

Posted February 15, 2017 by lgonzalez

On February 13th, the Virginia Senate Labor and Commerce Committee held a hearing on HB 2108, previously called the "Virginia Broadband Deployment Act" and now named the "Virginia Wireless Services Authority Act." Delegate Kathy Byron offered an amendment to the bill, it was accepted, and the bill passed. It is now headed for the full Senate where it may or may not be put on the calendar for a vote.

FOIA Language Removed

The bill came to the Senate after a revised version of the original bill passed in the House 72 - 24. The committee amendment removed a FOIA Exemption, which was the last piece of language remaining that local groups strongly opposed. In a press release, President and CEO of Roanoke Valley Broadband Authority said:

“With the removal the FOIA Exemption clause this afternoon, HB 2108 no longer poses a threat to local and municipal broadband authorities. Instead it merely reasserts the very same laws and procedures in the Code of Virginia to which we all already operate and gladly adhere and abide,”

Moving Ahead With Caution

With the exception of the Committee Chair, Sen. Frank Wagner, the vote to pass as amended was unanimous; there was one abstention. Wagner, who is running for Governor, announced his opposition to the original bill at a press conference in January. While advocates of publicly owned Internet infrastructure remain cautiously optimistic, it’s important to remember that the process is not over. The bill could still be amended in a manner that impedes local investment in better connectivity.

Working Despite State Obstruction

Even though State Legislators introduce bills that discourage better rural connectivity, local Virginia communities are doing their best to serve themselves. They realize that waiting is too risky and that the longer they have horrible connectivity, the farther behind they fall.

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We reported earlier in the legislative session that we knew of ten communities... 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 6, 2017 by KateSvitavsky

Publicly owned Internet infrastructure is typically funded with revenue grants, interdepartmental loans, or through avoided costs at the local level. Part of the planning and infrastructure costs, however, can sometimes be covered by state and federal grants known as Community Development Block Grants (CDBG). Nelson County, Virginia, leveraged CDBG to expand their fiber network and maximize benefits to the community. 

CDBG funds, are distributed to 1,200 units of state and local government by the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and can go toward a variety of infrastructure and development purposes. When communities consider ways to use CDBG funding, they can get long-term valuable benefits by directing those funds toward Internet infrastructure.

Nelson County Broadband 

Currently, the network has 39 miles of middle mile fiber and laterals. Nelson County began preparing for the network in 2007, when it received an initial planning grant of CDBG funds. The grant allowed the county to develop a project which improved their eligibility for federal funding from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA).

They applied and in 2010 for stimulus funding and received a $1.8 million grant from the Broadband Technology Opportunities Program (BTOP) to build out a middle mile network. In the first phase of their construction, the county used the BTOP funding and approximately $456,000 in required local matching funds to deploy 31 miles of fiber backbone. The second phase added another eight miles to the network in 2015, funded in part by $200,000 of CDBG funding; the community has also contributed about $690,000 in other local funds. 

“It becomes a win-win for residents and businesses and for service providers,” said Alan Patrick, Chair of the Nelson County Broadband Authority. “Residents and businesses have an opportunity to receive broadband access, which may have not been available prior to the county building infrastructure in the area, and it is also a benefit to the service providers.”

As of November 2016, 240... Read more

Posted February 6, 2017 by lgonzalez

The Friends of Municipal Broadband and Frank Smith of the Roanoke Valley Broadband Authority sent out a request this morning to Virginians who are concerned about improving connectivity:

Virginia Municipal Broadband Stakeholders

Good Morning,

Quick but urgent request: Please call as many VA House Delegates as you can this morning before today’s session starts at 11am. Let them know you STILL OPPOSE HB 2108!

A defense of our position is attached for reference. 

Bill Status: 

Last week HB 2108 passed the Labor and Commerce Committee last Thursday and will have its first full reading on the floor of the House this morning. The full House vote is scheduled for tomorrow. If the bill passes the House vote tomorrow it will Crossover to the Senate on Wednesday.

Things are moving fast and we really need your help to protect our local broadband authorities and the future growth potential of Virginia’s economy. Please start making calls and ask your staff and administration to do the same.

The more voices the representatives hear from the more seriously they’ll take this issue.

Thanks again for all you’ve done to get us this far.

The bill had its first reading on Friday and is being fast tracked.

The handout is available here.

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

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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 26, 2017 by lgonzalez

Governor Terry McAuliffe is one of a many voices that are speaking out against Del. Kathy Byron’s Bad Broadband Bill, reports the Roanoke Times. According to a spokesman for the Governor, the original text of the bill would have faced certain veto.

The bill was on the January 26th agenda for the House Labor and Commerce Committee, but Del. Byron chose not to present it after all. Instead, it will be on the February 2nd agenda.

The bill was altered before today’s hearing, but the changes still don’t make it worth passing. As it was before, HB 2108 remains the latest big telephone and cable lobbyists' attempt to restrict municipalities from exercising their own local authority. The purpose is to body-block any current or future competition from publicly owned networks and stop public-private partnerships. They want to maintain existing monopolies. 

Governor McAuliffe recognized it and his staffer Brian Coy told the Times via email:

“The Governor is working hard to expand access to broadband Internet across the Commonwealth,” Coy wrote. “That goal requires fostering competition, not stifling it.”

McAuliffe echoed the sentiments of a long list of experts, private companies, and associations who joined together and drafted a letter to the Chair and Members of the Committee. In the letter, they explained why HB 2108 would harm Virginia’s efforts to improve access to fast, affordable, reliable connectivity, especially in the rural areas.

Even those staunch free-market advocates are poo-pooing HB 2108. The Daily Yonder quoted conservative blogger Susan Sili about the bill:

“This is completely frustrating from a local perspective where we have spent years trying to convince citizens in Caroline [County] to vote for less government and free enterprise in a blue county. This kind of U-turn from our creed certainly isn’t helping.”

... Read more

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