Tag: "va hb 2108"

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...

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Posted February 13, 2017 by lgonzalez

Virginia publication, Bacon’s Rebellion, recently published an opinion piece written by Christopher on HB 2108, a bill introduced by Del. Kathy Byron. If passed, the bill will make it even more difficult for local communities to take control of their own connectivity. We’ve reproduced the op-ed here:

Virginia Is for Lovers, Not Lobbyists

Pop quiz: Should the state create or remove barriers to broadband investment in rural Virginia? Trick question. The answer depends very much on who you are – an incumbent telephone company or someone living every day with poor connectivity.

If you happen to be a big telephone company like CenturyLink or Frontier, you have already taken action. You wrote a bill to effectively prevent competition, laundered it through the state telephone lobbying trade organization, and had it sponsored by Del. Byron, R-Forest, in the General Assembly. That was after securing tens of millions of dollars from the federal government to offer an Internet service so slow it isn’t even considered broadband anymore. Government is working pretty well for you.

If you are a business or resident in the year 2017 without high quality Internet access, you should be banging someone’s door down – maybe an elected official, telephone/electric co-op, or your neighbor to organize a solution. You need more investment, not more barriers. Government isn’t working quite as well for you.

Rural Virginia is not alone. Small towns and farming communities across America are recognizing that they have to take action. The big cable and telephone companies are not going to build the networks rural America needs to retain and attract businesses. The federal government was essential in bringing electricity and basic phone service to everyone. But when it came to broadband, the big telephone companies had a plan to obstruct and prevent and plenty of influence in D.C.

When the Federal Communications Commission set up the Connect America Fund, they began giving billions of dollars to the big telephone companies in return for practically nothing. By 2020, these companies have to deliver a connection doesn’t even qualify as broadband. CenturyLink advertises 1000/1000 Mbps in many urban areas but gets big subsidies to deliver 10/1 Mbps in rural areas. Rural America has been sold out.

If you are a big cable or telephone company, you have a lot of influence in the federal and state capitals. But at the...

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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...

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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...

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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....
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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...

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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...

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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.”

...
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Posted January 25, 2017 by lgonzalez

"Byron’s Bad Broadband Bill" has been criticized from City Council meeting rooms, at Boards of Supervisors meetings, and from Mayors’ offices across the state. Last Wednesday, January 18th, opponents of the bill took their grievances to Richmond for a press conference hosted by the Friends of Municipal Broadband. In addition to several Delegates and Senators opposed to HB 2108, local officials and a representative from an Internet Service Provider appeared to describe why they believe the bill is bad for Virginia.

The News & Advance covered the press conference in which Del. Sam Rasoul described missed opportunities:

Some businesses pass on Roanoke Valley locations because company officials discover they can’t get internet service, Rasoul said. Then, there are other Roanoke businesses like the software company Meridium that want access to multiple service providers.

“Internet and access to high-speed internet is a basic human right now because it’s just that link to education, it’s that link to information, it’s that link to peoples’ livelihoods and that’s why we’re so passionate about it,” Rasoul said.

Nicholas Pascaretti, Executive Director of Eastern Shore Of Virginia Broadband Authority, described how municipal networks attract providers to rural areas where national companies won’t invest:

Scott Robertson, Executive Director and Secretary of the Rockbridge Area Network Authority (RANA), described incredible savings and access to unprecedented capacity in local schools in Rockbridge County:

Ray Ferris, Roanoke City Councilman and local attorney, describes HB 2108 as a shining...

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