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Jim Baller Discusses Municipal Broadband History - Community Broadband Bits Episode #57

Jim Baller has been helping local governments to build community owned networks for as long as they have been building them. He is the President of and Senior Principal of the Baller Herbst Law Group in Washington, DC. Jim joins us for Episode #57 of the Community Broadband Bits[/glossary] podcast to discuss some of the history of community owned networks.

Jim has a wealth of experience and helped in many of the most notable legal battles, including Bristol Virginia Utilities and Lafayette.

We start by noting some of the motivations of municipal electric utilities and how they were originally formed starting in the late 19th century. But we spend the bulk of our time in this show focusing on legal fights in the 90's and early 2000's over whether states could preempt local authority to build networks.

In our next interview with Jim, we'll pick up where we left off. If you have any specific thoughts or questions we should cover when we come back to this historical topic, leave them in the comments below or email us.

You can learn more about Jim Baller on his website at Baller.com.

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 30 minutes long and can be played below on this page or subscribe via iTunes or via the tool of your choice using this feed. Search for us in iTunes and leave a positive comment!

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

Thanks to Break the Bans for the music, licensed using Creative Commons.

No High-Speed in Manchester: European Commission Rules Preempt Local Authority

Though we often discuss some of the ways European nations have surpassed the U.S. in Internet network investment, they also have some counter-productive rules that limit investment. The Manchester Evening News recently published an article about a plan to bring high speed Internet to a deprived area of 30,000 homes where access is either slow or absent. From the article:

European rules ban public subsidy being used to fund infrastructure where – in theory – a company could roll it out instead.

The Manchester Council planned to use public funding to bring the homes into the 21st century, but the European Commission blocked the plan. Because Internet providers say there is not enough demand for broadband access in the areas, they are not compelled to build there.

Sound familiar?

“Part of this involves trying to address the digital divide which means that some parts of Manchester have little or no high speed broadband coverage because commercial internet service providers, such as BT, Virgin and Talk Talk and others, claim there is not enough demand. We have tried hard to address this but it has become clear that Europe-wide regulations mean our hands our tied and we cannot help provide connections where the private sector is able, but not willing, to do so," [said Manchester Coun Nigel Murphy].

This serves as a reminder that Europe also has a variety of bad policy approaches that privilege massive corporations over local authority. We hope to see people there step to defend their rights to be locally self-reliant.

Muni Network Debate in Charlotte Observer

In a recent op ed in the Charlotte Observer, Christopher Mitchell delves into why North Carolina ranks last in per capita subscribers to a broadband connection. The state, through its legislature, is held hostage by large providers such as Time Warner, CenturyLink, and AT&T. David Hoyle, a retired Senator who admitted pushing bills written by Time Warner Cable, signed his name to an op-ed arguing cities should not have the authority to make their own decisions in this regard.

Readers know that Time Warner and CenturyLink (formerly EMBARQ) targeted Wilson's Greenlight, leading to restrictive barriers for any similar initiatives. In his opinion piece, Chris delves into how those providers create an environment that kills opportunity for the people of North Carolina and how local publicly owned networks could restore those opportunities.

The Observer edited the original piece for length, but we provide the full version:

If you think you’re being ripped off by the cable and telephone companies, you aren’t alone. These companies rank at the top of the most hated corporations in America, year after year. Given a recent report from the Federal Communications Commission, North Carolinians have more reasons to be angry than most Americans.

Released last month, the FCC’s annual Internet Access Services [pdf] report shows North Carolina last among U.S. states in percentage of households subscribing to high-speed Internet connections as defined in the National Broadband Plan. 

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This news comes on the heels of State Representative Brawley announcing that House Speaker Tillis told him he had a “business relationship” with Time Warner Cable after Brawley introduced legislation opposed by the cable giant. But one alleged relationship does not explain how North Carolina fell to last place in that FCC ranking.

The deeper problem is power Time Warner Cable, AT&T, and CenturyLink have at the General Assembly. These companies successfully lobbied for two flagship bills that increased prices, limited competition, and generally hurt consumers and businesses throughout the state.

Back in 2006, the General Assembly bowed to industry pressure and passed a bill for statewide video franchising. Local governments lost their right to oversee companies offering television services or require them to build out to everyone. North Carolina was promised a new age of cable competition and lower prices.

Prices continued to rise – a 2009 study from the University of Minnesota actually noted that North Carolina’s prices were among the fastest rising in the nation. But even now, most families still have the same limited options for cable and Internet service.

Fed up and recognizing that the cable and phone giants would never allow competition to prosper, the City of Wilson took matters into its own hands by building its own next-generation fiber optic network. Completed by 2009, the network has been a success and Wilson is the first community in North Carolina to have universal access to a gigabit – about 100x faster than cable speeds.

Time Warner Cable, AT&T, and CenturyLink lobbied against Wilson from the start and engaged in a multi-year effort in Raleigh to revoke the authority of any local government in the state to build a similar network. For five years, they worked with the now infamous ALEC, the American Legislative Exchange Council, to push bills that would effectively ban local governments from building networks.

Follow the Money Logo

In 2011, the new Speaker of the House, Representative Tillis, ushered just such a bill through the House after receiving $37,000 from the telecom companies in the previous election cycle. Though he ran unopposed, he received significantly more from that industry than any other candidate, according to a  report from the National Institute for Money in State Politics called “Dialing up the Dollars.”

Strictly speaking, the bill was not technically a ban. We call these “leprechaun-unicorn bills” because a local government effectively has to find a leprechaun riding a unicorn to meet the standard necessary to build a network.

What it really did was revoke local judgment for state authority – something Republicans regularly decry in other circumstances. Opponents of the bill consistently argued that these decisions should be made at the local level, by those who will live with the consequences for better or for worse.

These two bills are essential to understanding why North Carolina has such poor access to the Internet and ever-increasing cable prices. Consumer protections typically come from the market (competition) or government (regulation). But these big companies are too powerful for other private companies to compete against and local governments have no regulatory power to protect consumers. Big cable and phone companies have little fear of competition and little motivation to invest in regionally or globally competitive upgrades.

The Institute for Local Self-Reliance is tracking over 400 local governments across the nation that have invested in telecommunications networks and very few have regretted it. Just outside North Carolina, the cities of Bristol, Chattanooga, Danville, and a few others offer some of the fastest network connections at the lowest prices in the entire United States. If even 10 percent of these networks actually were failures, cable lobbyists wouldn’t have to spend millions lobbying states to revoke local authority to build them.

The General Assembly should return authority to local communities and trust them to make decisions. But as long as big cable and phone companies maintain their “business relationship” with elected officials, you can expect to see more decisions made in Raleigh rather than at the local level.

For the whole story on the war against Greenlight, you can download a copy of our case study, The Empire Lobbyies Back: How National Cable and DSL Companies Banned The Competition in North Carolina.

Silverton, Colorado, Breaks Ground in First Phase of Regional Network

In 2010, Silverton, Colorado, decided to build a fiber-optic loop for savings and better connectivity in rural San Juan County. At the time, Qwest (now CenturyLink) provided a microwave connection to the town of around 630 residents. After taking state money to connect all the county seats, Qwest decided to take fiber to everyone except Silverton, much to the frustration of local residents. We wanted to catch up with happenings in this former silver mining camp.

We spoke with Jason Wells, Silverton Town Administrator, who told us that Silverton's loop is part of a regional effort, the Southwest Colorado Access Network (SCAN). Silverton's loop broke ground in April and it will cost $164,000. Silverton and San Juan County contributed $41,000 and the remainder comes from a Southwest Colorado Access Grant. Wells says public institutions will be hooked up first, then downtown businesses. Connecting the schools will come later.

The community is limited by its remote geography. At 9,300 feet above sea level, the town is one of the highest towns in the U.S. and still served by microwave technology. Wells hopes future expansion will include wiring Silverton to Durango, the closest SCAN community. Durango connects municipal and La Plata County facilities with its municipal fiber and leases dark fiber to local businesses, private providers, and community anchor institutions.

Wells connected us to Dr. Rick K. Smith, Mayor of participating Bayfield and General Manager of the Southwest Colorado Council of Governments (SWCCOG). Dr. Smith shared some history on the SCAN project.

The Southwest Colorado Council of Governments officially formed in 2009 and the first items on the agenda was establishing better connectivity in the region. Fourteen town and county jurisdictions belong to the Council to capitalize on the benefits of cooperation and coordination. Each community receives oil and gas state mineral funds and at the time each wanted to use the money for local broadband infrastructure projects. The group decided to join forces and create a regional network.

In 2010, the SWCCOG received $3 million from the Colorado Department of Local Affairs. Member communities matched with another $1 million in total. Each community will own the fiber assets and, while they are prevented from selling services to the private sector by state law unless they pass a majority referendum, they still hope to leverage their assets to attract private providers.

Silverton's fiber loop is at the top of the project list because it is geographically remote and private providers cannot justify the expense of building to such a small market. SWCCOG sees Silverton as an opportunity to prove their case and entice companies to serve businesses and link to outside networks. FastTrack Communications, located in Durango, has expressed interest in tapping into the Silverton market when the loop is complete. Plans estimate completion by the end of 2013.

Dr. Smith strongly recommends a regional approach for other communities considering broadband infrastructure investment. He credits much of their current success to collaboration between the SWCCOG member communities. Just as crucial, he says, is collaboration with private companies like FastTrack. Smith notes that SWCCOG invited large providers to participate two years ago and 25 or 30 seemed interested. Over the next two years all bowed out except a handful of local providers.

Holly Springs, North Carolina, Looking to Save with Municipal Network

The Town Council of Holly Springs, North Carolina, just voted to pursue municipal network infrastructure. The Holly Spring Sun reports that the proposed network would include Town Hall, a local business park, the wastewater treatment plant, and school facilities. Wi-fi would be available in parks and public facilities. Holly Springs is about 25,000 people in the center of the state near Research Triangle Park.

The City is pursuing a plan focused on cost-savings for community anchor institutions - North Carolina law effectively prohibits local governments from connecting businesses or residents. However, local governments can still serve schools, libraries, public safety, and the like. We have previously released a fact sheet with some of the savings other communities have seen from these investments.

Council members expressed concern over the current cost of service from private providers and expected hikes in rates:

“It’s going to continue to be more expensive for us,” said Councilman Tim Sack said, for something “that’s going to be less than what we need and more than we can afford.”

The cost for the project could range from $1.3-$1.5 million for a connection to all town facilities, [IT Director Jeff]Wilson said.

WUNC reports that CTC Technology and Energy will design the network. Joanne Hovis, CTC President, noted that the town will not offer services but building the infrastructure will hopefully encourage competition. 

From WUNC:

Holly Springs mayor Dick Sears says the council believes the town can break even by shifting funds from its current Internet service.

"I think we all felt that, yes, this would be a pay-for-itself kind of an option to take, so we're in-the-works process. But at the same time, we heard enough good news during that presentation that we want to continue the process," Sears says.

More specifically, from the CTC report,

[I]f the Town invests in its own fiber, in the “worst case” scenario, the cost of financing this infrastructure would be comparable to continuing to pay for leased services. CTC projects a cost savings between $922,000 and $1.1 million resulting from the Town building 1 Gbps circuits to each of its facilities.

Accusation of Corruption in Favor of Time Warner Cable in North Carolina General Assembly

Veteran North Carolina legislator Rober Brawley resigned as Chairman of the state Finance Committee, reports local WRAL. According to WRAL's @NCCapitol blog, the Republican from Iredall read his resignation letter during a recent floor debate. He criticized Speaker of the House Thom Tillis, questioning Tillis' ethics and accusing him of special legislative favors specifically for Time Warner Cable.

One bone of contention was a bill introduced by Brawley to expand the service area for the municipal cable network MI-Connection in Mooresville. From the letter as quoted in the article:

"You slamming my office door shut, standing in front of me and stating that you have a business relationship with Time Warner," Brawley wrote. "MI Connections is being operated just as any other free enterprise system and should be allowed to do so without the restrictions placed on them by the proponents of Time Warner."

Stop the Cap covered the background of that bill in its article about this accusation:

House Bill 557, introduced by Brawley, would have permitted an exception under state law for the community-owned MI Connection cable system to expand its area of service to include economic development sites, public safety facilities, governmental facilities, and schools and colleges located in and near the city of Statesville. It would also allow the provider to extend service based on the approval of the Board of County Commissioners and, with respect to schools, the Iredell County School Board.

In 2010 - 2011, Tillis received $37,000 from the telecommunications industry including a $1,000 contribution each from AT&T, Time Warner Cable, and Verizon. At the time of the contribution, Tillis had already won an election in which he ran unopposed and session was just about to start. He is a darling of ALEC, the American Legislative Exchange Council which exists to help corporations rewrite state laws in their favor.

Shortly thereafter, lawmakers passed HB 129 and created insurmountable barriers for local communities interested in building publicly owned telecommunications networks. Other Republican lawmakers who supported the bill received significant contributions from the same clique. We now know Tillis is willing to honor his "business relationships."

Brawley is no stranger to controversy. He introduced a bill this session that would have eased many ethics reforms passed in recent years. Included in the proposed changes was a repeal on a ban of gifts from lobbyists and relaxing requirements that lobbyists disclose those gifts. Earlier this year, Brawley stated to an @NCCapitol reporter:

"I believe in the integrity of people, including legislators and, in over 30 years of serious involvement, have not seen any situation that these [ethics] laws would have prevented or improved."

For those of us who have watched the way Time Warner Cable and others have corrupted the political process in many states, these allegations come as no surprise but are noteworthy for who is making them and the specific allegation of a "business relationship" between Time Warner Cable and the Speaker of the House.

New York Times on Internet in America, Genachowski Legacy

Eduardo Porter has an important column today in the business section of the New York Times, "Yanking Broadband From the Slow Lane." He correctly identifies some of the culprits slowing the investment in Internet networks in our communities.

The last two paragraphs read:

Yet the challenge remains: monopolies have a high instinct for self-preservation. And more than half a dozen states have passed legislation limiting municipalities from building public broadband networks in competition with private businesses. South Carolina passed its version last year. A similar bill narrowly failed in Georgia.

Supporting these bills, of course, are the nation’s cable and telephone companies.

Not really "supporting" so much as creating. They create the bills and move them with millions of dollars spent on lobbyists and campaign finance contributions, usually without any real public debate on the matter.

Eduardo focuses on Google Fiber rather than the hundreds of towns that have built networks - as have most of the elite media outlets. Google deserves praise for taking on powerful cable and DSL companies, but it is lazy journalism broadly that has ignored the networks built by hundreds of towns - my criticism of the press generally, not Eduardo specifically.

FCC Logo

The person who deserves plenty of criticism is former FCC Chairman Genachowski. From the article:

According to the F.C.C.’s latest calculation, under one-third of American homes are in areas where at least two wireline companies offer broadband speeds of 10 Mbps or higher.

We have 20 million Americans with no access to broadband. The rest are lucky to have a choice between two providers and even then, most still only have access to fast connections from a single provider.

When the National Broadband Plan was unveiled, we were critical of it and believed it would do little to improve our standing. Even its architect, Blair Levin, is annoyed at how Genachowski failed to implement even the modest proposals put forth.

Back in the NYT piece, we find this:

Mr. Genachowski contends that broadband deployment is on the right track. He points to the growing number of high-speed broadband deployments like Google Fiber and municipal projects around the country, as well as to AT&T’s announcement that it will expand the footprint of its U-verse network — the number of homes to which service is available — to 33 million. This uses fiber part of the way and, AT&T claims, can attain up to 75 Mbps.

Absurd. First of all, the supposed AT&T expansion is playing with numbers. If anyone actually gets U-Verse from this new deployment, it will be fewer than 1.5 million people but we really have no way of knowing because neither the states or the FCC really keeps track of these deployments. They just take AT&T's word for it.

As for 75 Mbps, talk about cherry picking data. Most people live far enough away from the DSLAM or have old enough copper wires that they will not even come close to that number. And this is only for downstream - the upstream capacity remains a fraction of that. This is a fantasy in a fantasy but these numbers are repeated by media sources because they come from AT&T.

I'm rather surprised Genachowski did not also take credit for AT&T's pretend fiber press release in Austin or the overblown CenturyLink pilot in Omaha. Communities engaged in the hard work of building a network received scant attention until they had a ribbon cutting where Chairman Genachowski would appear suddenly supportive and trying to take some measure of credit.

FCC Revolving Door

Genachowski likely felt more comfortable with AT&T, CenturyLink, and a few other big corporations because they share his preference for press releases rather than doing the hard work that needs to be done. We look forward to seeing which of these firms he joins as a lobbyist of some sort ... after a stint at a nonprofit to make it less obvious, of course. Wouldn't want to be as obvious as former FCC Commissioner Baker.

Lest I go too far in attacking our former FCC Chairman, we do remain thankful that once in awhile he did stand up the big corporations and meekly request a reasonable concession.. Most recently, he spoke out against legislation in Georgia to revoke local authority to build networks. For years, FCC Commission and acting Chair Mignon Clyburn has fought to preserve local authority and we were pleased to see her get some backup from the then-Chairman. He didn't actually use his power to actually do anything, but it was nice of him to think of us.

As we move forward with the new FCC under Chairman-nomineer Wheeler, we hope to see real progress on expanding fast, affordable, and reliable Internet access to everyone. Given his industry background, we cannot help but be nervous. And the utter disaster Obama has been for a public interest media and telecom agenda does not help either.

As this NYT article confirms, communities are smart to pursue their own strategies in solving this problem, not waiting for DC to sort anything out. And if DC can be bothered to take any action on telecom, it would be smart to start by removing barriers for communities that want to invest in themselves.

Google Buys Provo Community-Owned Network

I just left the Broadband Communities Summit in Dallas, where I ran into many people doing great work to ensure everyone has access to affordable, reliable, and fast Internet networks.

Also while there, Google announced it had reached an agreement to offer Google Fiber in Provo by purchasing the municipal FTTH network. Provo has long been cited as a failure by critics of community-owned networks (even as it continued to attract jobs to the region).

Though Provo originally wanted to offer television, telephone, and Internet services directly using its trusted reputation in the community, the state legislature bowed to pressure from Comcast and CenturyLink (then Qwest) to limit local authority and tilt the playing field in favor of two distant corporations (that have still largely failed to invest in the networks needed by Utah communities). Provo was forced to use a wholesale-only business model.

That approach is rarely used today by communities that seek to build out the entire community at once because it is very difficult to generate enough revenue to pay the full costs of the network.

Despite Provo's struggles, Google recognized a community it wanted to work with. From Google's blog post:

Provo started building their own municipal network in 2004 because they decided that providing access to high speed connectivity was important to their community’s future. In 2011, they started looking for a partner that could acquire their network and deliver an affordable service for Provoans. We’re committed to keeping their vision alive, and, if the deal is approved and the acquisition closes, we’d offer our Free Internet service (5 Mbps speeds) to every home along the existing Provo network, for a $30 activation fee and no monthly charge for at least seven years. We would also offer Google Fiber Gigabit Internet—up to 100x faster Internet than today’s average broadband speeds—and the option for Google Fiber TV service with hundreds of your favorite channels. We’d also provide free Gigabit Internet service to 25 local public institutions like schools, hospitals and libraries.

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At the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, we strongly encourage communities to own the essential infrastructure upon which they depend and we are dismayed to see such investments fail to meet their own goals or be privatized as has now happened in Provo.

But we also recognize the authority of communities to decide for themselves what the best path is and we believe that in these two isolated cases, Google Fiber will be a boon to the communities over the short term and resolve ongoing problems.

We have concerns over the longer term, but understand how difficult this business can be, particularly when state laws undermine the capacity of local governments to use the business models that give them the greatest opportunity to succeed.

As long as the Utah Legislature continues to kowtow to Comcast and CenturyLink demands, there would not have been an opportunity of Provo to fix the problems iProvo developed as a direct result of the initial crippling legislation.

I had an opportunity to speak with Milo Medin, head of Google Fiber, after his lunch keynote (which I hope to comment further on shortly) and he once again reiterated his (and Google's) opposition to states that restrict local authority to build these essential networks. He and we are on the same page - communities should be free to choose between building their own networks or partnering with others... or even doing nothing, though both Google and ILSR counsel strongly against that option.

One of the reasons Google chose Austin was because it was ready to work with them. In fact, we have long believed that if AT&T hadn't convinced the Texas Legislature to revoke local authority from communities, Austin Utilities probably would have already made network investments to benefit the community. As Google continues to look for partners, it will ignore entreaties from local governments that have had their heads in the sand, hoping they could avoid taking responsibility for ensuring great Internet networks.

Broadband at Speed of Light Cover

We continue to be excited that Google's investments in fiber access networks have changed the paradigm regarding access to the Internet. Those efforts have awakened the media to the pioneering work already being done in communities like Chattanooga, Lafayette, Bristol, Morristown, and many others (including Clarksville now). And we will continue to advocate for communities safeguarding their self-determination by having a measure of ownership over the networks on which they depend.

There is no doubt that communities are foolish to depend on distant national cable and DSL companies to build the next generation of Internet networks.

And don't be fooled by these two quick annoucements -- Google takes many months to negotiate agreements with local governments like Austin, Kansas City, and Provo. I would not be surprised to see another announcement or two in 2013, but would be surprised to see more than a handful more. Communities need to make their own plans, not hope for an outside entity to rescue them.

For cities that don't want to get into offering services, we have been identifying communities that have made smart investments in partnerships with other providers or on an open access basis -- see Danville, Palm Coast, Mount Vernon, Indianola, Princeton (IL), Cortez, and many others on our map of community-owned networks.

"Level Playing Field" Padded With Public Dollars to Private Providers

Municipal broadband networks have been gaining traction across the country. It's easy to see why: In many rural and low-income communities, privately offered broadband services are nonexistent. In its 2012 Broadband Progress Report the Federal Communications Commission counted nearly 20 million Americans (the vast majority living in rural areas) beyond the reach of broadband.

The Free Press' Timothy Karr's words are supported by the growing number of pins on our Community Network Map. We connect with places nearly every day where municipal networks fill the cavernous gaps left by the massive corporations. Large cable and telecom providers do not hide their aversion to servicing rural areas, yet year after year their lobbying dollars persuade state politicians to introduce bills to stop the development of municipal networks. Karr reviewed recent efforts to use state laws to stifle community owned networks in a Huffington Post article.

As readers will recall, this year's front lines were in Atlanta, where HB 282 failed. We hope that loss may indicate a turning point in advancing municipal network barriers because the bill lost on a 94-70 vote with bipartisan opposition. If it had succeeded, Georgia would have been number 20 on a list of states that, thanks to ALEC and big corporate sponsors like AT&T, Comcast, Verizon, and Time Warner Cable, have decided to leave their citizenry begging for the private market to come their way.

Time and again, the supporting argument goes like this:

"A vote 'yes' for this bill means that you support free markets and free enterprise," [Rep Hamilton, the Chief Author of HB 282] said [on the House Floor].

A 'no' vote means that you want more federal dollars to prop up cities, Hamilton said.

But Karr points out that some policy makers are starting to question that argument, with good reason. From his article:

"They talk about [the companies] as if they are totally free market and free enterprise, but doesn't AT&T get some tax breaks?" [Rep. Debbie Buckner] asked. "Didn't Windstream get some stimulus money? Isn't that government money?"

Indeed, phone and cable companies have been on federal welfare since their inception. A 2011 Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy study shows AT&T and Verizon receiving more than $26 billion in tax subsidies from 2008 through 2010. The FCC's 2012 report on Universal Service Fund subsidies shows nearly $3 billion in federal payments to AT&T, Verizon and Windstream.

In 2010, Windstream, Corp. -- a telecommunications company with services across the South -- applied for $238 million in federal stimulus grants to improve its service in 16 states. More than 16 million taxpayer dollars went to upgrade the company's services in Georgia.

So, while AT&T, Verizon, and Windstream continue to work with legislators and lobbyists who advance bills that maintain an environment rife with corporate welfare, rural Americans get nothing for their contributions. As the word spreads and more people learn about the benefits of community networks, we anticipate more people will recognize their value. In addition to saving public dollars, increasing connectivity, and spurring economic development, local networks are accountable to the communities they serve, unlike the big corporate ISPs, who are accountable to shareholders.

"The private companies have not been there for us," said Rep. Buckner, who represents rural parts of Talbot and Meriwether Counties. "And if they say they're going to come and be there for us, we don't know how long it will take them to find us."

In Georgia, Tech City Opposed HB 282 With Official Resolution

We were happy to report when HB 282 failed to advance on the floor of the Georgia General Assembly House in a bipartisan vote. We were equally pleased to learn that at least one Georgia community passed an official resolution opposing the bill while it was making its way through the committee process. 

Alpharetta, an Atlanta suburb, is home to 57,000 people and calls itself the "Technology City of the South." The community has no municipal network and no current plans to invest in one, but nevertheless passed a resolution on February 25th which opposed HB 282.

A Bob Pepalis article on the decision quoted Councilman Jim Gilvin:

"Once again I think this is just a state legislator jumping into local business. And I appreciate their concerns, but we do a pretty good job around here, I think. And if residents don't think so, they will be more than happy to let us know," Gilvin said. "I'd appreciate it if they'd just let us handle our government."

Pepalis heard similar sentiments from Councilman Chris Owens via email

"This goes not only beyond local control, but also impacts our ability and other communities ability to be masters of our own destiny and influence on development as well as provides services to their constituents, both residential and commercial," Owens said. "If that's something in a community's best interests, who better to make that decision than a community rather than the state on behalf of the community."

First, the resolution [PDF] sums up the real world affects of the proposal, if it had passed:

WHEREAS, House Bill 282 would tie the hands of municipal officials in their efforts to build digital networks they need to attract economic development and create a high quality of life for their citizens; and

WHEREAS, House Bill 282 is a bill that would undermine self-determination of cities in the digital age as illustrated by the following:

  • Before a city could provide new high speed Internet, cable, telecom or broadband service, it would be required to:

-Receive the permission of the Public Service Commission; and

-Prove to the Public Service Commission that each census block the city wants to serve has no existing broadband service (Census blocks are the smallest geographic area the Census Bureau uses for data collection. There are 291,086 census blocks in Georgia).

  • Existing local government cable, high speed Internet, telecom and broadband providers would be subject to the following service area restrictions:

-A city would not be allowed to expand its network to provide service to any customers unless the customers have no existing broadband service, regardless of the speed; and

-The city would not be allowed to provide the service even within the city’s boundaries.

Alpharetta seal

The resolution also called out the bill's authors and supporters:

And WHEREAS House Bill 282 would reduce Georgia's competitiveness and ability to attract new jobs as illustrated by the following:

  • Many Georgia communities have slow or limited access to the Internet compared to regional and international peers. This Bill sends a strong state message to these areas – “we don’t care.”
  • This is an effort to “protect” profits for private companies and ignores the economic development challenges many communities face.
  • The final report of Governor Deal’s Competitiveness Initiative indicates that many parts of rural Georgia are at a disadvantage because of a lack of broadband service. House Bill 282 would limit the ability of communities to bridge the digital divide where private providers have decided those investments do not fit their business model.
  • While the proposed legislation purports to exclude “unserved” areas from its purview, the definition of “unserved” is so narrow that virtually no community would ever fall under the exception.

NOW, THEREFORE, the Mayor and Council hereby RESOLVE that the passage of House Bill 282 (Preemption on Municipal Broadband), as well as any similar legislation, is hereby opposed as not being in the best interest of the City of Alpharetta and other municipalities within the state; and IT IS FURTHER RESOLVED that a copy of this Resolution be delivered to members of the City’s local delegation.

While resolutions like Alpharetta's are not the only contributing factor to a state bill success or failure, it is another tool in the toolbox for local leadership. In addition to raising awareness at the local level, official resolutions give state and federal leaders a clear indication of how their constituents feel about specific proposals, providing a hook for media to cover the larger story.