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National Coalition Opposes Anti-Muni D.C. Legislation; Time to Call Your Rep!

The National League of Cities (NLC), National Association of Counties (NACo), and National Association of Telecommunications Officers and Advisors (NATOA) joined together this morning to send a letter to Congress expressing their opposition to anti-muni legislation being discussed in the House.

As we reported yesterday, it is imperative that concerned constituents speak out against two anticipated amendments that can stifle local investment or end local telecommunications authority. The amendments are expected within the next few days, so we need to act now.

Appropriations bill H.R. 5016, introduced on July 2nd, provides funding for financial services and general government, including the FCC. H.R. 5016 will be the vehicle to force through language to further restrict community broadband networks.

The amendment most damaging to local telecommunications authority is expected to come from Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-TN). The amendment's purpose is to remove authority from the FCC to preempt state laws preventing local broadband infrastructure investment. By restricting the FCC's use of its funding, the legislation will choke the agency's ability to explore its plan to influence anti-muni state barriers so local communities can decide their own fates.

As the NLC, NACo, and NATOA write in their letter to Congress:

The National League of Cities (NLC), the National Association of Counties (NACo), and the National Association of Telecommunications Officers and Advisors (NATOA) strongly urges you to oppose any amendment to HR 5016 that would hamstring the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) from taking any action on – indeed, even discussing – the issue of state laws that prohibit or restrict public and public/private broadband projects. It is clear that such laws harm both the public and private sectors, stifle economic growth, prevent the creation or retention of thousands of jobs, and hamper work force development.

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The private sector alone cannot enable the United States to take full advantage of the opportunities that advanced communications networks can create in virtually every area of life. As a result, federal, state, and local efforts are taking place across the Nation to deploy both private and public broadband infrastructure to stimulate and support economic development and job creation, especially in economically distressed areas. 

State barriers to public broadband are counterproductive to the achievement of these goals. Efforts to strip funding from the FCC to even discuss this issue, let alone take action, are misplaced and wrong. Please oppose any amendment to HR 5016 or any other measure that could significantly impair community broadband deployments or public/private partnerships.

Contact your Representative's D.C. office today and tell them to vote NO on any H.R. 5016 amendment that negatively impacts community broadband, restricts the FCC, or impairs local authority over telecommunications decisions.

UPDATE: The Coaltion for Local Internet Choice (CLIC) also released a letter to Congress today. From CLIC's letter:

As Congress and the Commission have often recognized, ensuring that all Americans have reasonable and timely access to advanced telecommunications capabilities, particularly in rural and other high-cost areas, is “the great infrastructure challenge of our time.” Toward this end, Congress has assigned the Commission a central role in defining the relevant terms and standards and in identifying and removing barriers to broadband investment and competition. While preemption of State barriers to broadband investment and competition should be used rarely, in only the clearest of cases, it should not be ruled out categorically in all cases, as the Blackburn amendment would do.

At this critical time in our country’s history, we should not preclude or inhibit any potentially successful strategy that will enable our communities and America as a whole to thrive in the emerging knowledge-based global economy. Nor can we afford to take off the table any approach that may be necessary in certain cases to remove barriers to broadband investment and competition.

Read both letters below.

Local Government Groups: "We Need Local Authority"

As the FCC considers the role of local authority in expanding Internet access, FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler is hearing from coalitions opposing state barriers on municipal networks. On July 3, Executive Directors from the National Association of Telecommunications Officers and Advisors (NATOA), the National League of Cities (NLC), and the National Association of Counties (NACo) sent Wheeler a joint letter of support [pdf].

From the letter:

The diversity of cities and counties in America also reflect differing values and needs. As such, Local governments should have the flexibility to address broadband and Internet access in a way that meets the needs of the people they serve.

The importance of Internet choice at the local level has never been more important. In many places in the U.S, locally-driven projects—including innovative partnerships with private sector companies—have demonstrated that local creativity and local authority is a viable means by which new next-generation broadband infrastructure can emerge.

The letter was close on the heels of a parallel Resolution passed by the U.S. Conference of Mayors (USCM) at their June 22nd Annual Meeting. From the final Resolution:

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED, that the US Conference of Mayors recommends that the FCC preempt state barriers to municipal broadband service as a significant limitation to competition in the provision of Internet access.

Businesses Mount Opposition to Anti-Competition Cable Bill in Kansas

In a very quick turnaround, a number of prominent companies have signed on to a letter opposing the Kansas bill to block competition for existing Internet providers, like Time Warner Cable. Firms signing the letter sent to the Commerce Committee include Alcatel-Lucent, American Public Power Association, Atlantic Engineering Group, Calix, CTC Technology & Energy, Fiber to the Home Council, Google, National Association of Telecommunications Officers and Advisors, OnTrac, Telecommunications Industry Association, Utilities Telecom Council. The Committee will hear the bill on Tuesday morning. We understand that no recording or live streaming is planned.

Update: When originally posting this, I failed to credit Jim Baller - who organized the letter and works to preserve local authority, so communities themselves can decide whether a network is a wise investment.

We, the private-sector companies and trade associations listed below, urge you to oppose SB 304 because this bill will harm both the public and private sectors, stifle economic growth, prevent the creation or retention of thousands of jobs, hamper work force development, and diminish the quality of life in Kansas. In particular, SB 304 will hurt the private sector in several ways: by curtailing public-private partnerships; by stifling the ability of private companies to sell equipment and services to public broadband providers; and by impairing economic and educational opportunities that contribute to a skilled workforce from which businesses across the state will benefit.

The United States must compete in a global economy in which affordable access to advanced communications networks is playing an increasingly significant role. As the Federal Communications Commission noted in challenging broadband providers and state and municipal community leaders to come together to develop at least one gigabit community in all 50 states by 2015, “The U.S. needs a critical mass of gigabit communities nationwide so that innovators can develop next-generation applications and services that will drive economic growth and global competitiveness.”

The private sector alone cannot enable the United States to take full advantage of the opportunities that advanced communications networks can create in virtually every area of life. As a result, federal and state efforts are taking place across the Nation, including Kansas, to deploy both private and public broadband infrastructure to stimulate and support economic development and job creation, especially in economically distressed areas. SB 304 would prevent municipalities from working with private broadband providers, or developing themselves, if necessary, the advanced broadband infrastructure that will stimulate local businesses development, foster work force retraining, and boost employment in economically underachieving areas.

Consistent with these expressions of national unity, public entities in Kansas and across America are ready, willing, and able to do their share to bring affordable high-capacity broadband connectivity to all Americans. Enactment of barriers to public broadband initiatives, including SB 304, would be counterproductive to the achievement of these goals. SB 304 is also inconsistent with America’s National Broadband Plan, which calls on States to remove existing barriers to community broadband initiatives and to refrain from enacting new ones.

We support strong, fair and open competition to ensure that users can enjoy the widest range of choices and opportunities. SB 304 is a step in the wrong direction. It is bad for Kansas communities, bad for the private sector, particularly high-technology companies, and bad for America’s global competitiveness. Please oppose SB 304 and any amendment or other measure that could significantly impair community broadband deployments or public private partnerships in Kansas.

NATOA Keynote Panel Discusses Role of Local Governments in Improving Internet Access

In September, I joined the keynote lunch panel at the annual NATOA Conference to discuss what local governments can do to improve Internet access. Joanne Hovis moderated a discussion between Rondella Hawkins of City of Austin, Milo Medin of Google, and myself.

I have embedded the video below so it starts with the panel discussion. However, if you go back to the beginning, you will also be able to watch the annual award presentations, including one to Longmont in Colorado, as well as Milo Medin's 10 minute presentation prior to this panel discussion.

We discuss many important issues, particularly the various actions local governments can take to either build their own networks or to make the community more tempting to others who might build a network.

Port Angeles' "The Mesh" Up and Running

Citywide Internet will soon be available as a monthly service in Port Angeles on Washington's Olympic Peninsula. Mayor Cherie Kidd, Police Chief Terry Gallagher, and Councilwoman Brooke Nelson participated in a ceremonial "cable cutting" event last week. The event was to celebrate the new network, nicknamed "The Mesh." Arwyn Rice, of the Olympic Peninsula Daily News covered the event in a recent article.

According to the Metro-Net website, a $2.6 million Broadband Technology Opportunity Program (BTOP) grant funded part of the $3.7 million Wi-fi system. The network serves a dual purpose, serving public safety first responders and a separate level for public access. From the News article:

The public safety system allows police officers to track each other through the city so that they know where their backup is without having to call radio dispatchers.

They also can do their own searches on driver's licenses and license plates, check recent call histories and access reports, said Officer Erik Smith, who demonstrated the use of the system in his patrol car.

Eventually, the system will be patched into the city's security cameras and police car dashboard cameras — and potentially Port Angeles School District security cameras — so that officers will be able to monitor situations at City Pier from their cars at Lincoln Park, said Police Chief Terry Gallagher.

“The limitation is our imagination,” Gallagher said.

While access is free through October 31, OlyPen MetroNet will start offering a variety of plans on November 1. Mobile and fixed-point service will be available and range from $5.95 (some sources say $4.95) for one day to $37.95 per month. Every user will receive the first hour of Internet access free each day.

As we have often found, the spirit of collaboration and determination on a local level helped realize this possibility:

The extensive Wi-Fi system was possible because those creating the network had the cooperation of a utility system that already had the infrastructure in place, said Columbia Telecommunications Corp. founder and principal engineer Lee Afflerbach, who designed much of the system for the city.

The system that was created depended on the ability of the many public and private entities who were willing to work together, Afflerbach said.

“Port Angeles has unique character. It is small enough to work with but big enough to be real,” he said.

Afflerbach said he engineered the system for a major Silicon Valley city that initially expressed interest in a citywide Wi-Fi network but ultimately backed out.

“Port Angeles was the first to say, 'Do it,'” he said.

In September, Port Angeles received the 2012 Community Broadband Wireless Network of the Year award from NATOA for "planning and deploying an innovative, multi-use, multi-sectoral wireless network to serve public safety, consumers, local government and tribal needs."

ILSR and MuniNetworks.org Recognized By NATOA

The National Association of Telecommunication Officers and Advisors (NATOA) has recognized our work by naming us one of the Community Broadband Organizations of the Year for 2012. The award will be celebrated along with other 2012 Community Broadband Awards at their annual conference in New Orleans on September 27-29.

In the press release, NATOA noted our work "…for persistent reporting on community broadband initiatives and their opponents, thereby educating and informing the public and policy-makers nationwide."

The Massachussetts Broadband Institute (MBI) received a similar award for their work in regional broadband collaboration and development.

Other recipients include:

John Windhaousen, Blair Levin, Clakamas County, Oregon, the Cities of Wilson, North Carolina, and Port Angeles, Washington, and the Urbana-Champaign Big Broadband (UC2B) project.

From the Press Release:

We are thrilled to recognize such a broad spectrum of people, communities, and organizations that lead the nation in advocating for and improving government and public options in broadband technology," said Joanne Hovis, president of the NATOA Board of Directors.  "These pioneers have distinguished themselves in their extraordinary efforts, achievements and innovation in community-based approaches to broadband.

Upcoming Events Discussing Community Networks

We want to alert readers to some upcoming events that will discuss community broadband networks.

The first will be most interesting to those who are attending the National Alliance for Media Arts and Culture (NAMAC) conference in Minneapolis from September 6-8. On Saturday, September 8, Christopher Mitchell will join a panel entitled "Digital Frontiers: Copryright, Censorship, the Commons, Privacy." The panel is scheduled for 10:45-12:15. Check out the NAMAC conference page and register to join us!

The second is open to everyone - a webinar jointly presented by the Public Technology Institute and National League of Cities. Once again, Christopher Mitchell will present on the webinar and will be joined by speakers from BVU Authority out of Bristol and EPB from Chattanooga. Register for "How a Municipal Network Can Help Your City." The webinar is scheduled for September 13 from 2-3 Eastern time.

Finally, the 2012 National Association of Telecommunications Officers and Advisors National Conference is scheduled for September 27-29 in New Orleans. Among the many good speakers, Vint Cerf will give a keynote on Friday.

Those who cannot make it to New Orleans may want to check NATOA.org to check for local chapters. The local chapters each have an annual conference as well and several are scheduled for the fall.

Community Broadband Bits 7 - Mary Beth Henry of Portland, Oregon

For the 7th Community Broadband Bits podcast, we talk with Mary Beth Henry from Portland, Oregon. Mary Beth is the Director of the Portland Office for Community Technology and Mt Hood Cable Regulatory Commission, as well as a past president of NATOA.

Our discussion covers the long struggle to ensure local businesses and residents had a real choice in broadband providers in Portland. We start with how the famous "Brand X" Supreme Court decision came into being. But after Portland lost that case (indeed, after all of America lost due to that decision) it continued to push for smart telecommunications policies to benefit the community.

Now Portland has its own network serving public entities (IRNE - the Integrated Regional Network Enterprise) and the public is discussing what it can do to get beyond the CenturyLink and Comcast duopoly. Below, we have embedded videos that Portland produced as part or Portland's Broadband Strategic Plan. You can find more documents and information about Portland's approach 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 18 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.

Thanks to Fit and the Conniptions for the music, licensed using Creative Commons.

Video: 
See video
See video

NATOA Asks Georgia to Preserve Local Broadband Authority

As Georgia's Senate considers revoking local authority over whether or not to build a community network, the National Association of Telecommunications Officers and Advisers has written to the Committee, opposing SB 313 [pdf]:

Dear Senator Rogers:

The National Association of Telecommunications Officers and Advisors (NATOA) joins the growing chorus of business, consumer, and government groups and associations, such as the Georgia Municipal Association, in opposing the Broadband Investment Equity Act (S. 313). This bill will harm the state’s economic growth and do little if anything to promote competition or to bring advanced communications services to the citizens of Georgia.

NATOA has long supported community broadband networks because they offer the promise of increased economic development and jobs, enhanced market competition, and accelerated and affordable Internet access for all. Communities across America are ready and eager to bring the economic and social benefits of broadband access to their citizens. But private providers alone will not bring these advanced services to all parts of our country, especially to those communities that do not fit into the companies’ business plans.

As a result, hundreds of cities have launched community broadband initiatives, either with private partners or on their own, and many more are now in the planning stages. Communities should be encouraged to step forward to do their part to ensure the rapid deployment of broadband to all Americans, and they should have the freedom to choose what makes the most sense for their citizens. S. 313 will do nothing to encourage robust competition in the communications marketplace in Georgia.

Rather, S. 313 will tie the hands of local governments and hinder the deployment of advanced services to un- and underserved parts of the state, denying those communities the economic and social benefits that broadband services can provide. Rather than encouraging economic growth, S. 313 will simply drive more private investment capital – and good jobs – from Georgia to neighboring states, such as Tennessee.

Rather than erecting further barriers to entry, Georgia should be encouraging community leaders to develop networks that make sense for their communities, including public-private partnerships and systems wholly owned by municipalities.

Thank you for your consideration.

NATOA Encourages South Carolina Senate to Preserve Local Authority

With AT&T again pushing a bill in South Carolina to revoke local authority to build community broadband networks, the National Association of Telecommunications Officers and Advisers has sent a letter to the Chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee [pdf] opposing H3508. The bill will be considered by that committee on Thursday, January 26. South Carolina already restricts local authority to build networks but this bill would essentially close off any possibility of doing so.

Dear Senator Rankin:

The National Association of Telecommunications Officers and Advisors (NATOA) joins the growing chorus of business, consumer, and government groups and associations in opposing H. 3508 (Government Owned Communications Service Providers). This bill will harm your state’s economic growth and do little if anything to promote competition or to bring advanced communications services to the citizens of South Carolina. Hamstringing local government efforts to provide fiber networks will simply result in the further flow of millions of investment dollars to neighboring states such as Tennessee.

NATOA has long supported community broadband networks because they offer the promise of increased economic development and jobs, enhanced market competition, improved delivery of e-government services, and accelerated and affordable Internet access for all. Communities across America are ready and eager to bring the economic and social benefits of broadband access to their citizens. But private providers alone will not bring these advanced services to all parts of our country, especially to those communities that do not fit into the companies’ business plans.

As a result, hundreds of cities have launched community broadband initiatives, either with private partners or on their own, and many more are now in the planning stages. Communities should be encouraged to step forward to do their part to ensure the rapid deployment of broadband to all Americans, and they should have the freedom to choose what makes the most sense for their citizens. H. 3508 will simply make it more difficult for public broadband providers from building the advanced broadband infrastructure necessary to stimulate local business development, work force retraining, and employment in economically depressed areas.

Among other things, the bill’s definition of “broadband service” – 190 kilobits per second (“kbps”) at least one direction – is extremely low. In its 2010 Sixth Broadband Progress Report, the Federal Communications Commission raised its decade-old minimum broadband speed threshold from services in excess of 200 kbps in both directions to services enabling actual download speeds of at least 4 Mbps and upload speeds of at least 1 Mbps. But even this threshold is viewed by many as too slow to support the applications available in the marketplace today, as well as rapidly emerging technologies and applications for teleworking, distance learning, and telemedicine. Unfortunately, even with this minimum threshold speed, South Carolina, according to a recent FCC Internet Access Services report, has the fifth worst level of broadband in the United States (out of 44 states with data reporting) with only 17% of households having that level of access available.

Rather than erecting further barriers to entry, South Carolina should be encouraging community leaders to develop networks that make sense for their communities, including public-private partnerships and systems wholly owned by municipalities.

Thank you for your consideration.