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Cable Companies Lose Big at FCC, Barriers to Community Broadband Struck Down

For Immediate Release: February 26, 2015

Contact: Christina DiPasquale, 202.716.1953, Christina@fitzgibbonmedia.com

BREAKING: Cable Companies Lose Big at FCC, Barriers to Community Broadband Struck Down

Two southern cities today persuaded the Federal Communications Commission to recognize their right to build their own publicly owned Internet networks where existing providers had refused to invest in modern connections. The 3-2 FCC vote removes barriers for municipal networks in Chattanooga, Tennessee and Wilson, North Carolina, to extend their high-quality Internet service to nearby areas.  

Said Christopher Mitchell, Director of Community Broadband Networks at the Institute for Local Self-Reliance:

“Cable companies lost their bet that millions spent on lobbying to stifle competition was a wiser investment than extending high-quality Internet to our nation’s entrepreneurs, students and rural families. 

“Preventing big Internet Service Providers from unfairly discriminating against content online is a victory, but allowing communities to be the owners and stewards of their own broadband networks is a watershed moment that will serve as a check against the worst abuses of the cable monopoly for decades to come.”

The FCC decision sets an historic precedent for towns working to offer municipal broadband networks in twenty states that have enacted limits or bans on local governments building, owning, or even partnering to give local businesses and residents a choice in high speed Internet access. Three-quarters of Americans currently have either no broadband or no choice of their Internet provider. 

Christopher Mitchell, the Director of Community Broadband Networks at the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, has traveled to over 20 states and spoken with over 100 community groups looking to provide high-quality Internet for their residents. He has also advised members of the FCC on related telecommunications issues in the lead-up to the decision.

For interviews around the FCC decision, please contact Christina DiPasquale at 202.716.1953 or at christina@fitzgibbonmedia.com. To view a map tracking local government investments in wired telecommunications networks and state laws that discourage such approaches, please visit: http://www.muninetworks.org/communitymap.

Municipal broadband networks (munis):

  • Create thousands of new private sector jobsA collaborative muni effort in Georgia between five towns, is credited with bringing over 6,000 new jobs to the region by building and sustaining their network. The muni in Springfield, MO convinced online travel company Expedia to move to the town and has 900 local jobs because their network allowed the company to stay and expand.
  • Protect consumers by offering competitive pricing. During the period of 2007-08, Time Warner Cable increased rates up to 40 percent in some of the areas in Raleigh, NC, while not increasing rates in nearby Wilson—which has a strong muni. Chattanooga’s muni grew from a basic connection of 15 Mbps, when it was first founded, to 100 Mbps today–without raising prices once. The slowest connection available in Chattanooga from the utility is 10 times faster than the average American connection.
  • Provide higher speed Internet that allows for increased business activity. The largest employers in Wilson, NC rely on the municipal broadband network for their transactions. The muni in Springfield, MO, attracted John Deere Remanufactured and the McLane Company to the area. 
  • Do not rely on taxpayer financing, like large private telephone companies. Most municipal networks are financed through methods that do not involve raising taxes: revenue bonds, interdepartmental loans and savings created by ending expensive leased services. Dakota County in MN has saved $10 million over 10-15 years by building their own network and ending leases. Over $2 million in revenues from the Thomasville, GA network contributed to the town’s ability to eliminate its local fire tax.
  • Receive broad support from voters, regardless of party affiliation. Roughly 3 out of 4 cities with citywide munis reliably vote Republican and polling shows that 2 out of 3 Republicans, Independents, and Democrats prefer that decisions about how to best expand their Internet access be made by local governments.
  • Foster the strength of local businesses. Politically conservative communities in Chanute, KS, and Lafayette, LA, have munis that are working on the deployment of fiber networks to encourage economic development by allowing businesses to market themselves and compete online in the global marketplace. Lafayette has added over 1,000 tech jobs in 2014 alone.
  • Expand educational opportunities. The muni in Longmont, CO, is now providing 10 times the bandwidth that their school district previously received from a private provider at an annual savings of $100,000. Munis in Carroll County, MD, and Chanute, KS, have both allowed schools they service to offer new distance learning classes in multiple locations via video streaming. The city of Rockport, ME, partnered with a nonprofit college to bring students upload speeds 200 times faster than Time Warner Cable’s package for the area.

Republican Tennessee Leader Endorses Local Authority

Republican State Senator Janice Bowling from Tennessee is once again speaking out in favor of local telecommunications authority. On Monday, she published an op-ed in the Tennessean titled "Don't limit high-speed broadband to big cities," noting that rural communities often have no choice but to build their own infrastructure to obtain fast, reliable, affordable Internet access for residents and businesses.

Bowling refers to Tullahoma, her own home town, where economic growth is strong and Internet access is affordable. Tullahoma has a history of increasing speeds without increasing rates and now offers gigabit service for around $100. Unfortunately, Tullahoma is surrounded by communities it cannot help due to the state limitations.

Tennessee's restrictive laws prevent other communities from following in Tullahoma's footsteps. She sees the way these laws hold back people in her home state:

Unfortunately, public broadband networks are impeded by restrictive state laws that limit the power municipals have in providing services. In Tennessee, a 1999 law prohibits municipalities that operate broadband networks from providing service to anyone outside of the boundaries of their electrical footprint. This means that people in rural towns and small communities are still without high-speed Internet.

They’re without educational and employment opportunities, improved modern health care, enhanced public safety or better-quality government services, among other benefits.

As a senator representing seven rural counties and a resident of a small community myself, I am speaking out for all of those who are being held hostage to 20th-century technology. Let us grow our economies, improve our governments’ performance and create jobs for in our communities. Let us have Internet choice(s).

In November, Senator Bowling spoke at the Next Century Cities event "Envisioning a Gigabit Future." Below is her presentation on the need for high-speed connectivity and local authority in rural communities.

Photo available as a creative commons work from Senator Bowling's Campaign website.

Video: 
See video

Opelika Speaks From Experience: Support Local Authority!

Opelika has offered FTTH to residents and businesses for less than six months but already it is singing the praises of local choice. Mayor Gary Fuller is now speaking out in an opinion piece in AL.com, encouraging the FCC to allow Wilson, Chattanooga, and other communities to have the same opportunity as Opelika.

Mayor Fuller points out that local telecommunications authority is an organic outgrowth of local self-reliance:

Cities have always been at the heart of economic expansion, entrepreneurialism, and local connection to citizens, charged with ensuring high-quality education for our children, caring for our sick and elderly neighbors, and laying the foundation for shared prosperity. As we look to the years ahead, high-speed broadband will only become more and more important to the quality and vitality of our community. 

That's why in Opelika, I led the charge to become the first city in Alabama to offer this cutting edge technology, both to residential and business customers. As a result, Opelika citizens now have access to fast, reliable broadband speeds that will turn possibilities into real opportunities. Businesses now have more opportunities to expand and grow, work more effectively and efficiently, and compete in a larger market. 

As one of over 450 communities that have invested in the infrastructure for better connectivity, Opelika can speak from experience. Mayor Fuller encourages all FCC Commissioners to support the notion of local choice:

The important fact is that every city must have the power to make the best decisions for their residents, free of interference. That's why the Federal Communications Commission should join Chairman Wheeler in preserving these two communities' right to self-determination. 

In Opelika, our citizens are building a stronger more prosperous city based on local Internet choice. If more cities have those same opportunities, someday soon it may not be so strange for a 30,000-person city to offer blazing fast Internet.

Check out Opelika's recent marketing videos and listen to Chris interview Mayor Fuller back in Episode #40 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast.

Join Christopher on Reddit: Ask Him Anything Feb. 26th, 6 - 7 p.m. EST

This event was cancelled when Reddit chose not to list it on the calendar. We will be happy to do an AMA if there is sufficient interest in the future.

On February 26th, from 6 - 7 p.m. EST, join Chris on Reddit for an Ask Me Anything forum. We encourage you to chat in with your questions. He is ready to answer all your inquiries about municipal networks, community broadband, and the FCC action expected that day.

As our readers know, the FCC anticipates rendering a vote on Docket 14-28, Protecting and Promoting the Open Internet. First on the agenda, however, will be the Chattanooga and Wilson petitions. If the Commission decides in favor of allowing these cities to expand despite Tennessee and North Carolina barriers, as Chairman Tom Wheeler has advocated, state barriers prohibiting or discouraging local telecommunications authority may be on the way out.

Chris will have front row seat at the FCC proceedings, so get your questions ready! We will update this post with the link to our AMA when it is ready. In the meantime, start thinking up questions!

Voters Resoundingly Approve Broadband Measure in Estes Park, Colorado

On February 3rd, voters in Estes Park voted 92 percent to reclaim local authority to establish a telecommunications utility. The result follows a greater trend in Colorado where eight communities made similar decisions last fall. Each of these elections has happened during Comcast's merger review, which may have discouraged them from their usual tactics to oppose competition.

The Estes Park Trail Gazette reports that a series of meetings will be scheduled to inform residents and businesses and to obtain feedback for planning. The community is working with a consultant to determine the next step.

As we reported last November, the community has struggled with communications infrastructure since 2013 flooding wiped out private networks that served residents and businesses. Estes Park wants to make better use of its share of the fiber optic network deployed by the town and the Platte River Power Authority in 2004. Before the town can take any action, state law dictates an election.

"The Town of Estes Park is happy with the results of this election," said Estes Park Town Administrator Frank Lancaster. "Broadband service is critical for any community moving into the future, and technological challenges are greater for a smaller community like Estes Park.

"This will allow us to look at a number of alternatives that can improve the service to residents, guests and businesses as well as allow the town to partner with our local internet providers to help them become more successful and to provide a higher level of service to their customers."

Greater Minnesota Partnership Focuses on Non-Metro Need - Community Broadband Bits Podcast 136

Like many states, Minnesota has a major metro area that generally has higher quality Internet access than non-metro communities. The Greater Minnesota Partnership, a coalition of businesses, chambers, nonprofits, and cities from across the state, have made improving Internet access a major priority in their efforts to influence the state legislature.

This week, we talk with Dan Dorman, Executive Director of the Greater Minnesota Partnership. He is also a former Minnesota state Rep and remains a small business owner. We discuss the need to improve access even as major cable lobbyists fight in the capital to preserve the status quo. The Partnership believes state barriers to community networks should be removed.

Dorman offers a unique perspective as a former member of the Minnesota Legislature. He knows what it is like to be lobbied constantly by one side of the issue but rarely hear from the other. Fortunately, the Greater Minnesota Partnership is working to provide that other side as best it can.

We previously discussed the Border-to-Border fund in episode 119.

Read the transcript from this conversation here.

We want your feedback and suggestions for the show - please e-mail us or leave a comment below.

This show is 28 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.

Find more episodes in our podcast index.

Thanks to Persson for the music, licensed using Creative Commons. The song is "Blues walk."

Local Authority Restrictions One of the "Worst Policy Ideas of 2014" According to Wonkblog

We are well into the new year; a look back at 2014 can be instructive if we strive to learn from our mistakes. A December article from the Washington post Wonkblog listed "11 of the worst policy ideas of 2014" and, of course, state barriers restricting local telecommunications authority was on the list:

Fed up with limited choices, high prices and shoddy service, many cities want to turn their back on large Internet providers by building their own municipal broadband service. Standing in their way are state legislatures, lobbyists for the telecom industry and even federal lawmakers who believe states should have control over what projects their cities invest in.

Fortunately, this is something that we can change - let's educate elected officials to ensure there are no new barriers and existing barriers are repealed!

Boston Globe the Latest to Support Local Authority

Yet another major news outlet has endorsed the President's position in support of local telecommunications authority. On January 26th, the Boston Globe went on record to endorse the concept, urging the FCC and Congress to work together to ensure local communities have the right to make their own connecitvity decisions.

The Globe suggested that, rather than allowing the FCC to take the lead with the Wilson and Chattanooga petition decisions, federal lawmakers take action:

A better approach would be for Congress to settle the issue itself, by preventing states from interfering with cities and towns that want to start their own Internet services.

The Globe Editors note that rural areas are the hardest hit by large corporate provider indifference, that it is those same parties that drive the state barrier bills, and that, "This status quo is bad for customers everywhere."

Globe Editors get behind a bill recently introduced by Cory Booker, Claire McCaskill, and Ed Markey that wipes out state barriers in the 19 states where they exist and prevents state lawmakers from enacting new ones. The Globe acknowledges that the support is lopsided today...:

But this shouldn’t be a partisan issue, and it isn’t one on the local level. Red states like Georgia, Kentucky, Iowa, Oklahoma, and Utah all have successful municipal Internet programs. Politicians tempted by campaign contributions from the telecommunications lobby, or skeptical of any proposal backed by President Obama, should remember that consumer protection is an issue that voters of all stripes support.

Los Angeles Times Supports Local Authority

President Obama's recent appearance in Cedar Falls infused adrenaline into the debate about local authority for telecommunications decisions. As a result, some of the media outlets from large cities are now coming out in support of local authority. The Editorial Board of the LA Times published an opinion on January 21st supporting the notion of restoring local authority in states where laws prevent community decision making.

The Times recognizes that rural areas will benefit most from reversing these restrictions, that the restrictions need to be removed for us to compete globally, and that there are numerous municipal networks that are up to the challenge of improving connectivity. The LA Times also recognizes the value of public-private partnerships in New York and in other places where local government has forged productive relationships with the private sector.

Editors at the LA Times boil it down to one tenet:

Regardless, the decision about whether a local agency should get into the broadband business should be left to the people who bear the risk — local officials and the people who elect them.

U.S. Senator Cory Booker Introduces Community Broadband Act

Senator Booker has taken the lead in introducing the Community Broadband Act to the U.S. Senate along with Senators McCaskill and Markey. We are thankful for their leadership on the issue. As part of their announcement, they included the following statements:

“As Mayor of Newark, I saw firsthand the value of empowering local communities to invest and innovate. The Community Broadband Act provides cities the flexibility they need to meet the needs of their residents,” Sen. Booker said. “This legislation will enhance economic development, improve access to education and health care services, and provide increased opportunity to individuals in underserved areas. At a time when local governments are looking for ways to ensure their communities are connected and have access to advanced and reliable networks, the Community Broadband Act empowers local governments to respond to this ever-increasing demand.”

"Barriers at the state level are preventing communities from developing local solutions when there is little or no choice in their Internet service provider,” Sen. Markey said. “This legislation will support the ability of cities to decide for themselves whether or not they would like to build their own broadband networks and provide community members with high speed Internet service. I thank Senator Booker for his leadership introducing the Community Broadband Act, which will support more options in the broadband market and greater local choice. I also continue to urge the FCC to act now to use its authority to end any restrictions placed upon local communities to make these decisions for themselves.”

“Folks in small towns and rural communities should have the same access as everyone else to the Internet, and the jobs and business opportunities it brings,” Sen. McCaskill said. “Large Internet providers too often aren’t willing to offer service in rural America, so this bill ensures local communities can come together to provide their residents with access to the opportunities high-speed broadband offers.”

And we included this statement:

We believe these decisions about how best to expand Internet access are best made by local governments, who are most informed of the need and challenges. We applaud Senator Booker for this bill to ensure communities can decide for themselves if a partnership or an investment in network infrastructure is the right choice.

The Coalition for Local Net Choice was also included, saying:

Senator Booker has been a great champion of local communities, both as a longtime mayor and now as a member of Congress. As a former mayor, he clearly understands the importance of local decision-making regarding critical economic development infrastructure. CLIC applauds Senator Booker for his affirmation of local Internet choice and his support for the authority of local governments to work on next generation broadband networks with their private sector partners and local communities.

This bill (read it here) is effectively the same language from previous, bipartisan bills in 2005 and 2007. However, in the years since, many elected Republicans have changed their mind and others no longer want to be associated with an issue that President Obama supports.