Tag: "congress"

Posted February 6, 2020 by Katie Kienbaum

At the end of 2019, Congress passed the Revitalizing Underdeveloped Rural Areas and Lands (RURAL) Act, fixing a tax law change that threatened to raise rates and delay the expansion of broadband for rural cooperative members across the country.

Passage of the RURAL Act ensures that cooperatives can accept federal funds for broadband deployment, disaster relief, and other efforts without risking their nonprofit tax exempt status. A change in the 2017 tax law would have labeled these funds as revenue for the first time, potentially causing co-ops to exceed the allowable percentage of non-member income they must maintain to remain tax exempt.

After Senators Tina Smith (D-Minn.) and Rob Portman(R-Ohio) and Representatives Adrian Smith (R-) and Terri Sewell (D-Ala.) introduced the bipartisan bill in April, it attracted 55 additional cosponsors in the Senate and more than 300 in the House. It was eventually incorporated into the consolidated appropriations act and signed into law in December.

“Obstacles From the Federal Government”

We described the possible impact of the 2017 tax law change on rural cooperatives over a year ago, when Senator Smith first brought the issue to our attention.

Failure to remedy it would have forced some co-ops to choose between continuing with desperately needed broadband and disaster recovery projects and increasing their members’ rates. Northwestern Electric Cooperative CEO Tyson Littau described the difficulty of that decision to the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association (NRECA):

Do we rebuild and try to strengthen our distribution system and pay the taxes, or do we delay the mitigation project that would improve 1,200 miles of line throughout our territory? I think we have a responsibility to the membership to improve the system for the future.

Gulf Coast Electric Cooperative was another co-op faced with the prospect of raising electric rates to...

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Posted January 30, 2020 by lgonzalez

As federal, state, and local leaders increasingly recognize the need to make Internet access universal, they are also realizing that adoption is a separate issue. Programs such as the ReConnect and Connect America Funds I and II Auction have helped to expand infrastructure, but even in places where Internet access has been available for years, 100 percent of households do not subscribe. In an effort to better understand digital equity, the House Subcommittee on Communications & Technology of the Committee on Energy and Commerce recently sat down to listen to experts on digital equity. They discussed common misconceptions, hurdles that make wide-scale adoption difficult, and offered policy recommendations to help us achieve digital equity.

Not Only a Rural Problem

Angela Siefer, Executive Director of the National Digital Inclusion Alliance (NDIA) described how her experience as a digital equity warrior has changed from working with people to learn the basics of computer use to the additional problem of helping people get online. Angela's statement addressed some of the most common myths associated with the digital divide that NDIA, through boots-on-the-ground research, has discovered, including:

The digital divide is a rural problem: Census results show that populations in urban areas do not have Internet access subscriptions of any kind; these are often low-income households.

5G will bridge the digital divide: Lack of infrastructure and devices deployed in areas where existing problems with digital inclusion continue with regards to this new technology.

People don't subscribe because they don't think the Internet isn't valuable: Accomplishing day-to-day tasks often require access to the Internet, which is a fact not lost on those who don't subscribe, but the cost is out of reach for many of those same people.

Read Angela's statement here...

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Posted January 11, 2019 by Hannah Bonestroo

While 97 percent of Georgia’s urban population has access to broadband, the urban-rural digital divide in the state remains stark and only 70.9 percent of the rural population has that access. Considering estimates are based on self-reported data from incumbent providers and determined broadly by census block, the data overstates the reality on the ground. Representative Doug Collins from Georgia’s 9th congressional district is now leading the charge to mitigate this disparity, not only in his home state but in rural regions throughout the country. In a recent “Dear Colleague” letter, the top Republican on the House Judiciary Committee stated his intentions of introducing the CAF (Connect America Fund) Accountability Act at the start of the 116th Congress. Collin, a Republican representing Georgia's 9th District, introduced H.R. 427 on January 10th. If passed, the bill will create stricter requirements for the Federal Communications Commission (FCC)’s broadband infrastructure funding under CAF.

Reaching for Accountability

CAF was designed to subsidize network deployments in unserved rural areas, which have often been overlooked due to the high expense of constructing infrastructure for few and scattered populations. While many providers that have received this funding have used it properly, as Collins stated, “others have taken taxpayer dollars but failed to fulfill their obligations to their consumers… instead using taxpayer dollars ineffectively or inappropriately – turning their backs on those families at the last mile.”

Currently, CAF recipients are required to provide speeds of at least 10 Mbps download and 1 Mbps upload. While this threshold is well below the current FCC definition of “broadband” service of at least 25 Mbps/3 Mbps, Collins noted that in his home district of Northeast Georgia, a region where a majority of ISPs are CAF recipients, consumers report speeds that are “consistently abysmal, sometimes not even reaching 3 Mbps downstream and 1 Mbps.”

...

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Posted November 9, 2018 by Katie Kienbaum

For many rural Americans, the local electric or telephone cooperative is their best hope for finally obtaining modern-day connectivity. With the support of government funding, rural cooperatives have brought electricity, telephone service, and more recently broadband access to some of the most rugged and sparsely populated places in the country.

However, recent tax code changes might prevent co-ops from connecting more rural communities. Cooperatives could potentially lose their tax exempt status if they accept government grants for broadband expansion and disaster recovery — an unintended yet foreseeable consequence of the Republican “Tax Cuts and Jobs Act” passed late last year. In a press release, Senator Tina Smith called attention to the oversight, noting, “This uncertainty has caused cooperatives significant concern and frozen some of their grant applications.”

Who’s Ready for Some Tax Policy?

As nonprofit membership corporations, rural electric and telephone cooperatives are exempted from paying taxes under section 501(c)(12) of the Internal Revenue Code (IRC). To maintain this tax exempt status, cooperatives must derive at least 85 percent of their income from members (e.g., from selling electricity). This is sometimes referred to as the the member income test or the income source test.

Not all sources of non-member income are included when calculating this percentage. Revenue from utility pole rentals, for instance, is exempted. In the past, rural cooperatives also excluded federal and state grants from the member income test, based on assorted rulings from the Internal Revenue Service (one example is Rev. Rul. 93-16, 1993–1 C.B. 26, which held that a federal grant given to an airport should not be considered income for tax purposes). As long as co-ops treated the government funding as a source of capital, not income, they could accept as much grant money as they wanted without the...

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Posted May 16, 2018 by lgonzalez

It’s May 16th and today is the day the Senate will vote on whether or not to reverse last December’s repeal of network neutrality rules by FCC Chairman Ajit Pai and other Republican FCC Commissioners. As a reminder, we thought this was a good day to pull out the maps we created that illustrate how that decision to repeal the federal policy put at least 177 million Americans at risk. Without network neutrality protections in place, these folks are limited to obtaining broadband Internet access only from providers that have violated network neutrality or have admitted that they plan to violate network neutrality tenets in the future.

Visualizing the Risks

Back in December 2017 when the current FCC made it’s misguided decision, we decided to take a look at the data and create visualizations to paint a picture of what they had done. We used Form 477 data, which tends to overstate coverage, so the problem in the field is likely more severe than the maps indicate. The results aren’t pretty.NationalMap_Legend_2017_12_Updated_1.png

 

At least 129 million people have only a single provider from which they can subscribe to broadband Internet access. The FCC defines broadband as 25 Mbps download and 3 Mbps upload. Out of those 129 million Americans, about 52 million must turn to a company that has violated network neutrality protections in the past and continues to do so.

In some places, the situation is a little better. There are 146 million Americans with the ability to choose between two providers, but 48 million of those Americans must choose between two companies that have a record of violating network neutrality.

For a larger image, download this version [18 MB png]. 

Download Net Neutrality Repeal By The Numbers, U.S.A. Edition, fact...

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Posted April 20, 2018 by lgonzalez

At the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, we recognize the power of small businesses in local communities. As federal lawmakers consider where they stand on the issue of network neutrality protections, small businesses can join forces to let Congress know that they need network neutrality to stay strong. Fight For The Future (FFTF) has launched a campaign that takes advantage of “Small Business Week” and its proximity to a crucial vote involving the Congressional Review Act (CRA).

Sign, Host, Deliver, Speak

FFTF encourages business owners to express their support for network neutrality by signing a short letter they’ve prepared that succinctly addresses the issue for small businesses:

Dear Member of Congress,

We are companies who rely on the open Internet to grow our business and reach customers online. We are asking Congress to issue a “Resolution of Disapproval” to restore net neutrality and the other consumer protections that were lost when the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) voted to repeal the 2015 Open Internet Order in December 2017.

Users and businesses need certainty that they will not be blocked, throttled or charged extra fees by Internet service providers. We cannot afford to be left unprotected while Congress deliberates.

We will accept nothing less than the protections embodied in the 2015 order. Please ensure the FCC keeps its tools to protect consumers and business like ours.

Thank you for considering our views.

Sincerely,

Fight for the Future

Thousands of businesses have already signed on to the letter to be delivered to members of Congress on May 2nd, the high point of “Small Business Week.”

FFTF also offers suggestions, resources, and media materials for local folks who want to attend an event happening in their area or who want to organize a local event. If you want to organize a letter delivery, FFTF offers a package of resources that includes steps to take, graphics and media for outreach, recruitment ideas, and points to consider when talking to the press. It’s all you need in one place — you add the energy.

With strong...

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Posted February 22, 2018 by lgonzalez

Maple syrup, the Green Mountains, and network neutrality. On February 15th, Vermont Governor Phil Scott signed Executive Order No. 2-18, the Internet Neutrality in State Procurement, following closely the actions of four other Governors over the past few weeks. You can read the E.O. here.

States Take A Stand 

Like similar actions in Montana, New York, Hawaii, and New Jersey, Vermont’s executive order applies to contracts between ISPs and state agencies. The order directs the state Agency of Administration to change its procedures so that any ISP it contracts with doesn't throttle, engage in paid prioritization, or block content. The Agency of Administration has until April 1st to make the changes to Vermont’s procedures. 

If a state agency cannot obtain services from an ISP that agrees to comport with network neutrality policy, the state agency can apply for a waiver. The E.O. is silent as to what would allow a waiver; presumably the Agency of Administration would need to establish criteria.

Action In The State Chambers

In early February, the State Senate passed S.289 with only 5 nays and 23 yeas. The executive order Scott recently signed reflected the intention behind the language of S.289 regarding state contracts. When Sen. Virginia Lyons introduced the bill, she described it as a necessary tool to ensure transparency in government. “We don’t want to see information held back or slowed down or deviated in any way when it relates to our state or local government,” Lyons said.

After passage, however, the secretary of the Agency of Administration, the secretary of...

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Posted February 13, 2018 by lgonzalez

After the FCC chose to overturn federal network neutrality protections on December 14th, 2017, open Internet advocates and elected officials that favor network neutrality have sought avenues past the Commission to reinstate the policy. In Louisiana, four groups of citizens organized together to form Team Internet and stage Louisiana rallies in four cities in January. Their goal was to bring attention to the overwhelming opinion that network neutrality benefits Internet users and to convince Senator John Kennedy that he should vote to block the harmful FCC decision.

Fight for the Future (FFTF), Free Press Action Fund, and Demand Progress worked together to form Team Internet, which organized protests in Lafayette, Shreveport, Baton Rouge, and New Orleans at Kennedy’s offices. At the Lafayette office, a group of advocates led by Layne St. Julien presented petitions with more than 6,000 signatures to Kennedy’s deputy state director, Jay Vicknair. The petitions urged Sen. Kennedy to use his vote to overturn the FCC action.

According to Vicknair, constituents have called and emailed the office in numbers rivaled only by last year’s healthcare debates.

Advocate Tool, The CRA

Proponents of network neutrality — mostly people, companies, and entities that aren’t big ISPs — consider the FCC’s order harmful. In order to regain network neutrality protections, which would remove the threat of paid prioritization and better ensure an open exchange of ideas online, advocates hope to use the Congressional Review Act (CRA). Under the CRA, Congress can reverse the FCC decision within 60 legislative days of it being published in the Federal Register as long as there is a majority vote. At last count, 50 Senators had committed to supporting a reversal. Public Knowledge has created a quick video describing the process:

At the recent Team Internet protest, attendees called on Kennedy to “be a hero” and be the 51st.

In A Net Neutrality Zone

Kennedy’s Lafayette office where St. Julien and other activists met Kennedy’s staff, operates in a community where the...

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Posted December 4, 2017 by Staff

This is the transcript for Episode 281 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast. Will Rinehart of the American Action Forum in Washington D.C. discusses telecommunications and economics with our host Christopher Mitchell. Listen to this episode here.

Will Rinehart: And I do think that obviously good policy is very very important and that's where you and I agree a lot. You know there's obviously some good policies that can be enacted. There's probably better conversations that could be had in this space and that's also something else that I really do really want to see. You're

Lisa Gonzalez: listening to episode 281 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast from the Institute for Local Self-Reliance. I'm Lisa Gonzales as a research organization. We here at the institute make it a habit to hear all sides of the debate along the way we make connections with people who offer perspectives on policy that differ from ours. We consider these conversations critical as we analyze factors that help us create policy recommendations and resources for local communities. This week Christopher talks with Will Rinehart from the American Action Forum. They got together at the recent broadband community's economic development conference in Atlanta. In this conversation you'll hear the two discuss a variety of topics they talk about the area of telecommunications and economics and the forum's approach. You'll also hear that these different perspectives aren't as black and white as they first appear. Now here's Christopher with Will Rinehart from the American Action Forum.

Christopher Mitchell: Welcome to another edition of the community broadband bits podcasts. I'm Chris Mitchell with the Institute for Local Self-Reliance. Coming to you from Atlanta sitting practically on a runway at the Atlanta airport with Will Rinehart the Director of Technology and Innovation Policy with the American Action Forum. Welcome to the show. Thanks Chris. Thanks for having me. We're at the broadband community's event here. We just had our second panel which is called a blue ribbon panel and general session kind of thing. And you and I are typically brought on as people who have very opposing points of view.

Will Rinehart: [laughs] To...

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Posted November 29, 2017 by lgonzalez

Christopher went to Atlanta for the Broadband Communities Economic Development Conference in early November, and while he was there, he touched base with this week’s guest Will Rinehart. Will is the Director of Technology and Innovation Policy at the American Action Forum, a DC nonprofit organization that’s been around since 2009.

Will and Christopher don’t always see eye to eye on issues that affect telecommunications and broadband policy, but both agree that it’s important to have spirited debate to share perspectives. Only by examining issues from different sides can we craft policy that creates lasting benefits.

In this interview, Will describes his organization and his work there. Chris and Will look at compelling issues such as ISP competition, government regulations, and how the FCC’s 2015 upgraded definition of broadband has reverberated in the market. The two get into franchising and ubiquitous broadband, local authority, and connectivity in rural America. It’s a spirited discussion chock-full of issues.

You can tweet to Will, he’s @WillRinehart on Twitter.

Read the transcript for this show here.

This show is 30 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.

 

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