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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.
More Virginia Communities Oppose Byron's Bad Broadband Bill
Three more Virginia communities declared opposition to the proposed state legislation that would limit municipal networks. Nelson County, Chesapeake, and Virginia Beach all have spoken out against the bill, HB 2108. We expect more communities to speak out over the next few weeks.
Last week, we reported that Franklin County and the City Council of Roanoke passed resolutions condemning Byron's bill. Roanoke is concerned that the bill will undo all the time, effort, and investment put into the Roanoke Valley Broadband Authority's open access network; Franklin County is considering ways to improve local connectivity with private partners.
Most of the resolutions and statements so far have passed with unanimous support. The Norfolk County’s Board of Supervisors are set to vote on a resolution this Tuesday, January 24th.
Statements Support Internet Access, Condemn HB 2108
The resolution from Virginia Beach specifically pointed out that the bill undermines the goals of Virginia’s Broadband Advisory Council. Del. Kathy Byron is the author of the bill and the chair of that council.
“WHEREAS, the City Council of Virginia Beach supports the mission of the Broadband [Advisory] Council (“BAC”) as organized under Va. Code 2.2-2699.3 and its purpose of expediting deployment and reducing the cost of broadband access in the Commonwealth; however, passage of HB2108 and the Act would produce results that directly conflict with this purpose;”
Read all of the statements opposing HB 2018 here:
Experts Oppose Byron's HB 2108 In VA
Private sector companies, trade organizations, and local authority advocacy groups went on record last week in opposition to HB 2108, a Virginia bill that would severely restrict local communities’ options to improve connectivity. They joined together in a letter to the Chairman of the Virginia House Commerce and Labor Committee, there the bill is now waiting for hearing, Republican Terry J. Kilgore.
Joining Local Communities To Oppose
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. Del. Kathy Byron, a legislative darling of big cable and DSL providers in Virginia, introduce the bill earlier this month. Local and national media outlets immediately caught the story, and constituents have contacted Byron's office to express their concern.
This letter from leaders in the industry underscored their concern that potential partners feel the bill is a death knell for public-private partnerships:
It would interfere with the ability of private companies to make timely sales of equipment and services to public broadband providers. It would deny private companies timely access to advanced networks over which they could offer business and residential customers an endless array of modern products and services. It would also impair economic and educational opportunities that contribute to a skilled workforce from which businesses across the state will benefit.
The authors of the letter find the slow speeds required in the bill especially troubling for rural communities. The bill sets the standards at 10 Megabits per second (Mbps) download and 1 Mbps upload - speeds reminiscent of antiquated DSL:
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.
Virginia Communities Reject State Preemption Bill
Last week, Virginia State Delegate Kathy Byron introduced a bill that, if [no-glossary]passed[/no-glossary], will cripple attempts for municipalities to improve local connectivity. HB 2108, the “Virginia Broadband Deployment Act, imposes specific requirements on municipal networks that would greatly limit whether communities could offer Internet access or work with private sector partners.
The City of Roanoke and Franklin County wasted no time in unanimously passing resolutions to oppose the Virginia bill.
Franklin County Formally Opposes HB 2108
The Franklin County Board of Supervisors swiftly drafted their resolution in order to take it to the press conference in Richmond the next day. Reprinted below is the text of the Franklin County Resolution:
WHEREAS, broadband access and reliability are essential to citizens, businesses, and non-profits in Franklin County; and
WHEREAS, citizens, businesses, and non-profits desire faster and more reliable broadband speeds; and
WHEREAS, areas of Franklin County lack broadband access; and
WHEREAS, we seek to maximize County policy and funding options to improve broadband access and reliability; and
WHEREAS, Franklin County seeks to protect the proprietary information of local businesses;
NOW BE IT THEREFORE RESOLVED, we the Franklin County Board of Supervisors do hereby formally oppose House Bill 2108, the Virginia Broadband Deployment Act.
City of Roanoke: "We Say No Way"
The City of Roanoke Council unanimously passed a similar resolution condemning the bill. Several council members specifically discussed the impact of such legislation on the new Roanoke Valley Network and on their community’s Internet access.
Local, National Media Eyes On HB 2108 In VA Legislature
When Delegate Kathy Byron introduced HB 2108, cheekily titled the “Broadband Deployment Act,” she might have not have expected so much attention from local and national reporters. Local media outlets, especially in areas directly threatened by the bill, are alerting constituents about threats to improve local connectivity. National news is also covering the story, describing how Virginia communities that can't get high-quality connectivity from national providers could fall victim to big cable and DSL lobbyists if HB 2108 [no-glossary]passes[/no-glossary]. Constituents are taking notice, but the legislative session is just getting started in Virginia.
Local Media Reaching Local Constituents
The Roanoke Valley is especially vulnerable to the perils of HB 2108. After a contentious process, the Roanoke Valley Broadband Authority (RVBA) completed an open access fiber-optic network to meet the needs of local businesses, schools and libraries, and other facilities. Byron’s bill would make it practically impossible for the RVBA to expand to nearby counties by preventing them from obtaining high-quality connectivity and the benefits that accompany it. Without the ability to serve more customers, the RVBA faces a tenuous future. Smith told WSLS TV 10:
“It hurts the area. It hurts us as the Roanoke Valley Broadband Authority, but more importantly it hurts across the Commonwealth of Virginia, its ability to be able to serve and use technology to serve economic development,” said Frank Smith.
The Roanoke Times quickly reported on the bill when Byron introduced it, noting that it would stifle the RVBA’s attempts to encourage competition, an economic development driver:
Press Kit On VA Bill: Information At Your Fingertips
Proponents of better connectivity in Virginia are setting off alarms about HB 2108, a bill that will effectively bar municipal networks and prevent local communities from working with private sector partners. In order to educate the public about the miseries this bill will present, Friends of Municipal Broadband developed a press kit with materials to help spread the word.
At a January 18th morning press conference, the grassroots group consisting of local community leaders, citizens who want to control their own broadband decisions, and members of the private sector who are concerned about partnering with local communities, handed out the information.
The kit contains:
Rally In Richmond Wednesday To Oppose HB 2108
Folks in rural Virginia who dream about better connectivity woke up this legislative session to a pending Internet access nightmare - and they’re not going to just lie there and take it.
Delegate Kathy Byron (R-Campbell County) and her bill HB 2108 are the cause of consternation among people in Virginia who support the municipal network option. As we reported last week, the bill would have serious impact on the ability for local governments to pick up the slack left by national Internet Service Providers. Passage would make it all nearly impossible for local governments to provide better connectivity to their communities.
Taking It To Richmond
In order to bring awareness to the potential harm of HB 2108, people negatively impacted if it [no-glossary]passes[/no-glossary] plan to rally in Richmond to make their voices heard. The grassroots group, Friends of Municipal Broadband will livestream the event on their Facebook page. The rally will happen Wednesday, Jan. 18, at 9:30 a.m. EST.
According to the announcement, people are gathering at the House Briefing Room at the Virginia Legislative Office Building, 1000 Bank Street in Richmond. They ask participants to use the entrance on 10th and Bank Streets and give themselves extra time for security checks.
Friends of Municipal Broadband have created a petition and are encouraging Virginians to call Delegate Byron to express their displeasure about HB 2108 at (434) 582-1592. You can also check out the Friends of Municipal Broadband website for more on the event and resources about the bill.
You can also arm yourself with information about munis in Virginia by downloading our fact sheet on the benefits of municipal networks in Virginia. As always, we want you to share the fact sheet far and wide to help others make informed decisions.
State Bills To Block Munis Start In MO, VA
With each new legislative session come the new bills from the incumbents aiming to limit competition. We typically expect at least one and begin looking for them early in January as legislatures begin assembling in state capitols; this year the anti-muni efforts begin in Virginia and Missouri.
"Show-Me" Your Bill
Missouri’s communities have been the object of legislative persecution from big national incumbents and the legislators they back for several years. When we learned that another effort to severely limit the ability for municipalities to bring better connectivity to the community was afoot, we weren’t surprised.
This year, the bill is from Republican Senator Ed Emery, who has recently moved from the House to the Senate. Surprisingly, Emery’s bio reports that he also worked with his father and grandfather in their feed and grain business. As some one with a connection to farmers, one would expect him to understand the importance of high-speed connectivity in today’s agriculture industry. Emery also has a significant history in the utilities industry. He’s received both the Legislator of the Year Award from the Missouri Cable Telecommunications Association and the Leadership Award from the Missouri Telecommunications Industry Association.
SB 186 starts out strong by prohibiting local government from offering “competitive service,” which includes both retail or wholesale models. By preventing wholesale models, the bill interferes with a municipality’s ability to work with private sector partners, a major complaint about the bill introduced last year.
The bill states that voters can only choose to allow a municipality to offer any services after the community has engaged in a very thorough feasibility study and the results have been publicized. As with last year’s bill, SB 186 sets up onerous hurdles that threaten to sabotage a network in the early days, discouraging local communities from pursuing a chance to serve residents, businesses, and municipal facilities. The bill also dictates ballot language, establishes geographical limits on any local network, and clearly established that no funds from other municipal services can be directed toward a municipal network. Much of SB 186’s language comes from last year’s bill.