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Local Leaders to Vote on State Preemption Resolution at U.S. Conference of Mayors

The 82nd Annual Meeting of the United States Conference of Mayors (USCM) will be voting on resolutions this weekend in Dallas. It's time for you to call your Mayor and tell him or her to support Resolution #115 on Network Neutrality and restoring local authority on Internet infrastructure. 

The Resolution (page 293 of the Resolutions list) recommends that the FCC pre-empt state laws that preempt local authority over local investments and partnerships to expand Internet access. The net effect is to restore local authority. The Resolution also recommends the agency reclassify broadband Internet service as Telecommunications Service under Title II.

This is a perfect opportunity for local community leaders to express their constituents' demand for authority to control their broadband destiny.

The Mayor of Madison, Paul Soglin, introduced Resolution #115. Is your Mayor attending the conference?

Act now - the conference ends June 23!

A Short CLIC Background - Community Broadband Bits Podcast Episode 103

This week, Lisa and I discuss the Coalition for Local Internet Choice, CLIC, that was announced last week. This is a short episode that aims to answer some of the common questions about CLIC, including why we felt it was necessary to create this coalition now.

You can still sign up to become a member of CLIC if you agree with our statement of principles that these important decisions should be made by communities, not preempted by states.

We are compiling a long list of those that support local authority - businesses, trade groups, utilities, community organizations, local governments, and more!

Read the transcript from this episode here.

We want your feedback and suggestions for the show - please e-mail us or leave a comment below. Also, feel free to suggest other guests, topics, or questions you want us to address.

This show is 8 minutes long and can be played below on this page or via iTunes or via the tool of your choice using this feed.

Listen to previous episodes here. You can can download this Mp3 file directly from here.

Thanks to Waylon Thornton for the music, licensed using Creative Commons. The song is "Bronco Romp."

FCC Chairman Wheeler on Removing Anti-Competitive Bans on Muni Networks

If the people, acting through their elected local governments, want to pursue competitive community broadband, they shouldn’t be stopped by state laws promoted by cable and telephone companies that don’t want that competition.

I believe that it is in the best interests of consumers and competition that the FCC exercises its power to preempt state laws that ban or restrict competition from community broadband. Given the opportunity, we will do so.

Announcing the Coalition for Local Internet Choice!

We are excited to announce a new effort to restore and preserve local decision-making authority when it comes to public private partnerships and Internet infrastructure investment.

The Coalition for Local Internet Choice, CLIC, will work to ensure communities can make these decisions for themselves. Mission statement:

The Coalition for Local Internet Choice – CLIC – represents a wide range of public and private interests who support the authority of local communities to make the broadband Internet choices that are essential for economic competitiveness, democratic discourse, and quality of life in the 21st century.

I'm excited to be a part of this effort as a senior advisor working with Jim Baller, Joanne Hovis, and Catharine Rice. We are asking people to join the coalition via the CLIC page (right hand column toward bottom). Members agree to the following principles. Follow localnetchoice on Twitter.

The Internet Is Essential 21st Century Infrastructure: Modern broadband Internet networks are essential infrastructure in the 21st century economy. Access to modern broadband infrastructure is vital in ensuring that all communities – rural, tribal, and urban – can access opportunity and participate fully in community life.

Local Communities Are the Lifeblood of America: America is built on its great communities. Towns, counties, and cities are where economic activity and civic engagement live — and communities recognize modern broadband Internet infrastructure as essential to enable such economic and democratic activity.

Communities Must Be Able to Make Their Own Choices: Local choice enables local self-reliance and accountability. Local choice enables local innovation, investment, and competition. Local communities, through their elected officials, must have the right and opportunity to choose for themselves the best broadband Internet infrastructure for their businesses, institutions, and residents. Federal broadband policies must prioritize local choice and provide local communities full, unhindered authority to choose their own broadband future.

More updates to follow - but please sign up if you agree. Also, spread the word! We are excited to have individuals, companies, trade groups, local governments, utilities, and others join our effort.

FreeUTOPIA Destroying Myths About Macquerie in Utah

Jesse Harris at FreeUTOPIA recently published a piece correcting the many fantastic errors disseminated by the Utah Taxpayers Association. The group continues to spread lies to poison a proposal from Australian company Macquarie that could reinvigorate the ailing network. We spoke with Harris and Pete Ashdown, from Xmission, about the proposal in episode #85 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast.

As can be expected, the arguments are nothing new, but the Utah Taxpayers Association still finds a way to take it to new extremes. Harris' post is worth the read because it offers truths to correct misinformation.

After correcting several points, Harris writes:

Really, their diatribe just goes on and on like that. A lot of it is basic fact-checking stuff that’s flat-out wrong, but they know those kinds of statements will rile people up and get them too angry to consider the real facts.

The best thing you can do right now is to make sure you show up at city council meetings, let your elected officials know you support the deal, and make sure you counter any of the flat-out false talking points the opposition will be trotting out time and time again. We’re really close to having this thing in the bag, and we can’t let up until the ink dries on the final agreement.

In a late-breaking story, he also says he has evidence that CenturyLink is behind this astroturf campaign. Not at surprising, but we should not sit idly by while powerful corporations try to undermine our republic.

Local Media Sees Need for Municipal Network in Olympia, Washington

Local news editors seem inspired by the current network neutrality debate at the FCC. Newsrooms considering the prospect of paid prioritization are reassessing the value of municipal networks.

Not long ago, the Olympian ran an editorial offering the basics of municipal networks. Editors mentioned NoaNet, the statewide fiber project that brings access to a series of community anchor insitutions and approximately 260,000 people. The piece also acknowledges that port authorities and some Public Utility Districts (PUDs) offer fiber connections in several regions of the state. We have reported on a number of them, including Benton, Okanogan, and Chelan.

The editorial points out that the cities of Lacey, Olympia, and Tumwater have fiber and conduit they use for government operations. The cities share the fiber and conduit with the state Department of Transportation. The Olympian also notes that if a city wants to provide telecommunications services, its location is critical:

Republican Sen. Trent Lott championed a 1996 bill that prohibited states from blocking any entity that provides telecommunications services. Despite that far-sighted bill, big provider lobbyists have persuaded 20 states to pass legislation making open access difficult. 

As suggested by other editors, The Olympian advocates for a municipal approach to curtail damage that will result if network neutrality disappears:

If approved, individual consumers in the South Sound and other U.S. communities can expect slower speeds for smaller services, nonprofits and independent content creators. Why pay for the “HOT” lane, unless traffic is backed up on the main line?

...

If the FCC votes to effectively end net neutrality, residents of the South Sound do have a potential alternative that is gaining traction elsewhere: turning to local Internet service providers who ride on municipally-owned fiber optic networks.

Paid prioritization and the proposed Comcast Time Warner Cable merger may result in further degredation of broadband in American. On the bright side, more people realize that municipal networks are a better option.

Governing Looks at What the Comcast - Time Warner Cable Merger Could Do to Munis

The debate surrounding the proposed Comcast Time Warner Cable merger continues. The Department of Justice and the FCC ruminate over the deal while the media speculates about the future.

Governing recently published an article on potential side effects for the municipal network movement. Tod Newcombe reached out to Chris for expert opinion.

From Governing:

Partially thanks to Comcast and other cable giant's lobbying, 19 states have already passed laws that ban or restrict local communities from setting up publicly owned alternatives to the dominant provider in the area. Municipalities that pursue publicly owned broadband often cite several reasons for their efforts, ranging from lack of competition and choices in the area to a desire for faster speeds at lower costs. But Mitchell fears the lobbying power of a combined Comcast-Time Warner would choke off what little leverage remains for local governments when it comes to gaining state approval to build publicly owned broadband networks.

Unfortunately, the cable company cyclops borne out of this deal would create a ginormous lobbying monster. Comcast and Time Warner Cable wield significant political influence separately; a marriage of the two would likely damage the municipal network movement. The Center for Responsive Politics reports Comcast spent over $18 million in 2013; Time Warner Cable spent over $8 million.

Chris told Governing:

"Judging by the amount of opposition to the merger, I think people are seeing that we're at a tipping point and that there are ways they can make investments at the local level and control their own destiny," said Mitchell. "A lot of people and local businesses understand that the Internet is really important and that we can't trust it to a few corporations. But I don't see that level of understanding from most elected officials yet."

Resort Town In Utah Seeks Partner to Expand Economic Base with FTTH

Park City wants to be one of the first resort communities to employ an FTTH gigabit network. Currently, over 22 million visitors come to the northern ski town each year bringing approximately $500 million in tourist spending. The community of 7,600 permanent residents seeks to diversify its economic base. According to a recent Park City News article, community leaders see broadband as an essential tool. 

Utah, one of the states that impose barriers to community networks, imposes de facto wholesale-only requirements on municipal networks. Park City's April Request for Proposals [PDF] clearly states that they seek a private partner to own, operate, and manage a network across the city. Proposals are due May 16.

Park City has smaller segments of fiber in place now for internal operations. The company securing the project will have access to that fiber for the network. The City also plans to allow access to existing conduit, rights-of-way, and city-owned poles as part of the new network. Park City does not operate its own electric utility.

Four years ago, Park City competed to attract Google Fiber, which eventually went to Kansas City. In the spring of 2013, city leaders developed a broadband roadmap. At the time, community leaders began contemplating the economic development benefits associated with better connectivity. From a May 2013 Park City News article:

Leaders want to create a diversified economy stretching beyond the sectors tied to the resort industry. Doing so, they say, would make the economy less susceptible to warm, dry winters that do not attract skiers in large numbers.

Technology upgrades, they say, are important as officials attempt to attract new businesses to Park City not tied to the resort industry.

Wheeler Tells Cable Industry He Intends to Remove Anti-Competitive State Laws

FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler is prepared to roll back restrictions that prevent local governments from deciding if a municipal network would be a wise investment. At the Cable Show Industry conference in Los Angeles, Wheeler told cable industry leaders the FCC will wield its powers to reduce state barriers on municipal networks.

Wheeler spoke before the National Cable & Telecommunications Association (NCTA) on April 30. These words perked up our ears and those of community networks advocates across the U.S. From a transcript of Wheeler's speech

"One place where it may be possible is municipally owned or authorized broadband systems. I understand that the experience with community broadband is mixed, that there have been both successes and failures. But if municipal governments—the same ones that granted cable franchises—want to pursue it, they shouldn’t be inhibited by state laws. I have said before, that I believe the FCC has the power – and I intend to exercise that power – to preempt state laws that ban competition from community broadband."

As our readers remember, a January DC Circuit Court of Appeals decision opened the path for the FCC to take the action Wheeler proposes. Since then, communities have expressed their desire for local authority with resolutions and letters of support. Communities in Michigan and Louisiana, Georgia and Idaho, Illinois, Maryland and Kansas, have shared their resolutions with us. A number of other communities have issued letters of support encouraging action under section 706.

Ars Technica contacted the FCC for more information on Chairman Wheeler's statements. Ars reported:

An FCC spokesperson contacted by Ars said that Wheeler "is not trying to make a distinction between 'ban' or 'limit.' The point is to look at the effect of the law."

The spokesperson said, "We will be taking up this issue in the technology transitions proceedings, and there should be an announcement about this in the next few weeks." It's too early to say "how [Wheeler] will address existing state laws."

As the big companies like Comcast consolidate, enforce bandwidth caps and continuously raise prices, municipal networks are more important than ever. Community owned networks are accountable to the people who use them and put the public good ahead of profit. Community networks are managed in your neighborhood, not in a corner office thousands of miles away.

The content of Wheeler's statement and his choice of venue inspires advocates for publicly owned networks. In order to keep a strong momentum rolling, we encourage you to express your support. The cable and telecommunications lobbyists are already working to prevent the FCC from taking action. When the FCC begins to act, we will want to demonstrate support.

Join our one-email-per-week newsletter to stay in the loop on these developments! If you are excited to demonstrate local support via a resolution or similar effort, let us know.

GovTech Reports on Broadband Legislation in Five States

Broadband is a topic of interest in several state legislative chambers this session. In a recent Government Technology article, Brian Heaton focused on five states where community broadband is particularly contentious. In some cases, legislators want to expand opportunities while others seek to limit local authority.

We introduced you to the Kansas anti-competition bill in January. The bill was pulled back this year but could be back next year. When the business community learned about the potential effects of SB 304, they expressed their dismay. From the article:

Eleven companies and trade organizations – including Google – signed a letter opposing SB 304 as a “job-killer” that restricts communications services expansion in the U.S.

Minnesota's leaders introduced legislation to expand broadband. Efforts include financial investment earmarked for infrastructure:

Senate File 2056 – referred to as the Border-to-Border Infrastructure Program – would take $100 million from the state's general fund to be applied to broadband projects. A companion bill in the House, HF 2615 was also introduced.

As we reported, there is bipartisan support for the bill in the House, but the Senate and Governor have not prioritized SF 2056.

New Hampshire's legislature wants to open up bonding authority for local communities that need help:

Legislation is making its way through the New Hampshire Legislature that would give local government expanded bonding authority for areas that have limited or no access to high-speed Internet connectivity. Sponsored by Rep. Charles Townsend, D-Canann, HB 286 passed the House earlier this year and is up for a hearing in the Senate Energy & Natural Resources Committee on April 23.

Heaton also reports on the Utah bill that targeted UTOPIA. The bill concerned potential private partners and appears defeated, but broadband advocates remain alert.

The agency [UTOPIA] has 11 member cities, but communities located outside the limits of member cities can pay to have the network built out to them.

HB 60 would prevent that from happening with specific language that targets only municipal fiber networks – potentially including a Google Fiber rollout in Provo, Utah. That means other forms of broadband such as DSL or cable would be exempt.

Tennessee is especially busy this session. Lawmakers introduced a collection of legislation aimed at enabling local communities to develop community networks. All appear stalled in committee or forgotten by leadership. Heaton spoke to Chris Mitchell about action in Tennessee:

Christopher Mitchell, director of the Telecommunications as Commons Initiative of the Institute for Local Self-Reliance and a national expert on community broadband, told Government Technology that he wasn’t surprised that the bills stalled. He explained that for years, broadband advocates have tried to remove some of the barriers to network expansion in the state, but to no avail.

“The ironic result is that the federal government may be subsidizing obsolete DSL because the state will not allow local governments to expand next-generation community fiber networks even when they are not subsidized in any way,” Mitchell said.

“Many of the elected officials still don't [have] enough pressure on them from constituents to stand up to AT&T and Comcast,” he added. “Those two firms have a lot of power in the [Tennessee] Legislature.”