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Chris Mitchell Hosts March 18th Webinar: Tech in The City

On March 18th, our own Chris Mitchell will host a webinar that you don't want to miss. Tech In the City: A Conversation About Community Broadband Access will be an engaging discussion about municipal networks in light of the recent Verizon v. FCC decision. The court delved into the FCC's authority, clearing up ambiguities from past decisions.

The event, presented by the Media Action Grassroots Network (MAG-Net)'s Community Media Cohort begins at 11 a.m. Pacific / 2 p.m. Eastern. From the event announcement:

Earlier this year, a court order ruled against the Open Internet also known as network neutrality. However, this same order reaffirmed the FCC's role ensuring that communities and cities can create their own broadband infrastructures.

In the last decade hundreds of communities across the U.S have started their own community broadband networks via local governments, cooperatives, or other nonprofit arrangements. But cable and telephone companies, like Comcast and Verizon have a history of redlining in low-income, rural, historically marginalized communities. Led by cohort leader and community broadband expert, Chris Mitchell of Institute for Local Self Reliance, we will have a dialogue about what we can do to protect the future of community broadband networks.

RSVP for the event and spread the word!

Circuit Court to FCC: You Can Restore Local Authority to Build Community Networks

As we noted yesterday, the DC Circuit of Appeals has decided that the FCC does not have authority to implement its Open Internet (network neutrality) rules as proposed several years ago.

But the court nonetheless found that the FCC does have some authority to regulate in the public interest, particularly when it comes to something we have long highlighted: state barriers to community owned networks. For example, see North Carolina and recent efforts in Georgia.

States have been lobbied heavily by powerful cable and telephone companies to create barriers that discourage community owned networks. Nineteen states have such barriers (see our map with the states shown in red), largely because communities have nowhere near the lobbying power of massive cable and telephone companies, not because the arguments against municipal networks are compelling.

For those who remember a certain Supreme Court decision called Nixon v Missouri, the Court has once weighed in the matter of state barriers to community networks. In the '96 Telecom Act, Section 253 declares "No State or local statute or regulation, or other State or local legal requirement, may prohibit or have the effect of prohibiting the ability of any entity to provide any interstate or intrastate telecommunications service."

However, the Supreme Court decided in 2004 that Congress was insufficiently clear in its intent to preempt state authority - that "any" did not mean "any" but rather meant something else. In making this decision, it ignored a legislative history with plenty of evidence (see Trent Lott for instance) that suggested Congress meant "any" to mean "any."

ANYway, we lost that one. States were found to have the right to limit the authority of communities to build their own networks. But we have long felt that a different grant of authority gave the FCC the power to overrule state limits of local authority to build networks, Section 706.

Preemption Map

And this is where yesterday's decision comes in. Circuit Judge Silberman concurred in part and dissented in part - but more importantly for us, he explained Section 706. Read along with your own copy from here [pdf].

The statute directs the Commission to “encourage the deployment on a reasonable and timely basis of advanced telecommunications capability to all Americans . . . by utilizing . . . price cap regulation, regulatory forbearance, measures that promote competition in the local telecommunications market, or other regulating methods that remove barriers to infrastructure investment.”

As I said, we have long felt the FCC had the power to remove state barriers that limit local authority to build fiber networks under its section 706 authority but we did not know whether the courts would read it in the same way. In describing the difference between its authority to promote competition vs. its power to remove barriers to infrastructure investment, he notes:

An example of a paradigmatic barrier to infrastructure investment would be state laws that prohibit municipalities from creating their own broadband infrastructure to compete against private companies.

The footnotes cites this Wired article for further information. It's "kind of a big deal."

We now have a clear roadmap: Section 706 gives the FCC the authority to remove barriers to infrastructure investment and to promote competition. Restoring local authority to build networks achieves both. The Nixon v. Missouri decision is irrelevant, based on a different section of law. And we have plenty of evidence that when allowed to build their own networks, communities can do a wonderful job... that is what we have been documenting for years.

Georgia Bill Aims to Limit Investment In Internet Networks

Stay updated on developments by following this tag.

The Georgia General Assembly is considering another bill to limit investment in telecommunications networks in the state, an odd proposition when just about everyone agrees states need as much investment in these networks as possible.

House Bill 282, the "Municipal Broadband Investment Act," purports to limit the ability of public entities to invest only in "unserved" areas. But as usual, the devil is in the details. This bill will be discussed on Wednesday, Feb 13 at 4:00 EST in the Telecom Subcommittee of the House Energy, Utilities & Telecommunications committee (Committee roster here).

We strongly encourage Georgians to write to members of this committee and explain that these decisions should be made at the local level, not by the state. Communities each face unique circumstances regarding the need for telecommunications investment and they can be trusted to make informed decisions after weighing the available evidence.

Many local governments have invested in modest networks to connect local businesses, but such investments will be prohibited in Georgia if residents in the area are already served with a connection of at least 1.5 Mbps in one direction. This baseline is far lower standard than the FCC's definition of "basic" broadband: 4 Mbps down and 1 Mbps up. Setting a low baseline hurts communities but rewards carriers that have refused to invest in modern networks.

This bill poses a dramatic threat to the ability of local governments to encourage economic development and provide the environment necessary for the private sector to create the jobs every community needs. See our fact sheet on how public broadband investments have created jobs.

Supporters of this bill will claim that it only restricts investment to areas that are most needing it. This argument is not only flat wrong, it comes mostly from those most interested in preventing, not encouraging, investment.

The bill will effectively prohibit any community investment because the cost of collecting the data and making the case that areas are unserved is prohibitive, particularly when the bar for what constitutes being unserved is set unrealistically low. The cost of collecting data at the census block level is high and communities are extremely unlikely to spend the necessary sums when there is no guarantee they will be able to take action on it.

Additionally, requiring a network to operate only in unserved areas is akin to requiring a health insurance plan to only accept terminally ill patients. A network requires a mix of densities and households in order to be sustainable. Should any community build a network under these circumstances, however unlikely, such a network would almost certainly require ongoing subsidization, which would then be used as evidence for why such a network should never have been built. Heads they win, tails we lose.

This bill is much sneakier than last year's broadside attack on community networks. Rather than aggressively challenging community broadband, this approach appears to be more reasonable, even as it creates the same result: greatly limiting the authority of communities to decide for themselves whether an investment is appropriate for encouraging economic development.

Windstream Logo

We understand that Windstream is the main lobbyist pushing this bill forward in an attempt to protect the networks they have refused to upgrade to modern standards. Windstream is just one of several large telecommunications companies that does not have the capacity to invest in the next-generation networks demanded in the 21st century economy. For instance, see this recent story from Missouri about Windstream:

“People feel they are paying for a service they are not getting,” Rep. Fitzwater told Windstream. “I get emails every day, letters, telephone calls. McAllister Software is a major employer, employing around 140 people. They are vital to the local economy, and they need internet service. There were about 45 hours last year that they had to shut their doors because they had no internet. There are other businesses in town that are affected by internet speeds. The other day there was a water main break and school was closed; some of the businesses had to shut down because of reduced internet speeds because the kids were online playing games.”

Even as Windstream cannot provide the necessary speeds, they are pushing a bill to make it harder for others to step in and provide the necessary services. This is why the bill uses a 1.5 Mbps standard, DSL often provides that below-basic level of service but does not support common applications or business needs.

In short, this is a bill that will only hurt the residents and businesses of Georgia, taking away one of the only methods a community can ensure it is ready for the digital economy.

Public Service Commissioner Calls Mississippi Gov "Coin-Operated"

We have watched in growing horror as AT&T and other telco lobbyists have gone from state to state gutting telecommunications oversight. In several states, you no longer have an absolute right to a telephone - the companies can refuse to serve you if they so choose.

We tip our hat to Phil Dampier at Stop the Cap, who alerted us to this story. AT&T convinced Mississippi legislators to remove consumer protections for telecommunications.

Northern District Mississippi Public Service Commissioner Brandon Presley is unhappy with a new state law that will strip oversight over AT&T. Presley plans to personally file suit in Hinds County Circuit Court against the law, calling it unconstitutional.

“It violates the state constitution,” Presley said of the bill during an interview with the Daily Journal. “There’s no doubt AT&T is the biggest in the state, and this bill will allow them to raise rates without any oversight at all.”

House Bill 825 strips away rate regulation of Mississippi landline service and removes the oversight powers the PSC formerly had to request financial data and statistics dealing with service outages and consumer complaints. The law also permits AT&T to abandon rural Mississippi landline customers at will.

As we've seen elsewhere (as in California), AT&T worked with ALEC to push this through - though Rep Beckett (R-Bruce) doesn't think AT&T will raise its rates or abandon parts of the state. Time will tell - but Beckett won't be the one to suffer when the inevitable occurs. Thanks to AT&T and ALEC, he already got his.

Community Broadband Bits 6 - Cheryl Leanza of Progressive States Network

Our sixth episode of the Community Broadband Bits podcast features a discussion with Cheryl Leanza, broadband consultant with Progressive States Network. Cheryl has been very active in legislative battles at the state level, where she has helped to defend the public against anti-consumer deregulation led by AT&T, CenturyLink, and cable lobbyists.

We touched on the effort in Georgia to revoke local authority as well as once again noting the bad bills in North Carolina in 2011 and South Carolina in 2012.

We also spent time talking about the state-by-state effort to kill consumer protections, including the basic right to have a wireline telephone in your home.

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 14 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.

South Carolina's "Exceptions" To Anti-Community Broadband Law are Worthless

South Carolina's H3508 has passed the legislature, been signed by Governor Nikki R. Haley, and has revoked local authority to build the broadband networks they need to create new jobs. Last week, we noted some of the coverage about the bill.

After reviewing the language of the bill, we are astonished at how far the Governor and the South Carolina Legislature have gone to protect AT&T's monopoly, to the detriment of the many businesses and citizens who desperately need better access to the Internet -- whether to be more productive, competitive, or just take advantage of educational opportunities.

South Carolina is near the bottom of adoption rate in the U.S. and has a higher than average number of residents living below the poverty line. Communities with fast, affordable, and reliable access to the Internet are seeing new jobs. Those stuck on slow DSL are watching jobs wither away.

We continue to be amazed at state legislatures that are prioritizing laws to make it harder to expand broadband rather than easier. The only explanation is the vast amounts of money big companies like AT&T and Time Warner Cable spend in campaign contributions.

This bill is designed to prevent local governments from building next-generation networks, even when the private sector has refused to invest. It may also put an end to projects already in the works (even those that have received BTOP or BIP funding).

H3508 is not an outright ban against municipal networks, but it might as well be. South Carolina had already discouraged community broadband networks in Article 23, Chapter 9, Title 58 of its 1976 Code. This bill ramps up the unfavorable conditions to make such investments all but impossible.

Much of telecommunications is regulated by states and the federal government, which means that local governments already have to follow the same rules as companies like AT&T and Time Warner Cable. To the extent that local governments have authority, they are required by law not to favor their own network. But South Carolina has decided to impose still more regulations only on local governments if the community decides to build its own network.

It would be impolitic to advance a bill that simply says local governments cannot invest in the essential infrastructure needed for the modern economy. So these bills are instead crafted to appear reasonable while effectively demanding that communities capture a leprechaun riding a unicorn before they can build a network. 

In the coverage of this bill, few have examined the "exemptions" in depth, so that is where our coverage will focus. The "exceptions" contained to the onerous provisions of this bill are nearly impossible to qualify for and provide insufficient certainty as to how long they would apply.

South Carolina Seal

You've Been 'Served'

South Carolina continues to use a 1990's definition "broadband service" of 190kbps in at least one direction. Possibly the worst broadband definition we have seen. But for the purposes of this bill and defining who is "served," they have adopted the FCC's "Basic Broadband Tier 1" as a benchmark. Currently, that is at least 768kbps in at least one direction. 

Some of the regulations uniquely imposed on publicly owned networks will be relaxed if the community network can obtain "unserved" designation for a specific geographic area it wishes to serve. Designation must come from the South Carolina Public Service Commission and can only be achieved in one of two ways:

1. If the county is a "persistent poverty county" (a USDA definition) AND at least 75% of the households in a 2010 census tract have either no broadband service or only access to service from a satellite provider - In rural areas, census tracts usually include large geographic areas of many census blocks, often cross county lines, and can be arbitrarily drawn, so meeting this requirement appears quite difficult. Another difficulty is that maps depicting broadband access systematically overstate coverage, often claiming some households have access when they actually cannot connect.

As 3G wireless connections (from AT&T, Verizon, or others) exceed 768kbps in one direction, we would be surprised to find multiple connecting census tracts with 90% of households lacking "broadband." Of course, a dramatically overpriced wireless service with small monthly bandwidth caps is useless for doing homework, remote education, economic development, and pretty much anything beyond email and very basic web surfing.

2. If at least 90% of the households in the county have no broadband service or only access to service from a satellite provider - Here, the requirement shifts to census blocks, which greatly tightens the requirements. Blocks are the smallest unit of census measurement, more akin to city blocks in town, but can be much larger in rural areas. Even the 2011 North Carolina bill didn't go this far, defining "unserved" as census blocks where "at least 50% of households have no broadband service or only access to satellite service."

Catharine Rice, President of SEATOA, applied some pragmatic perspective in an email to us:

Unserved areas are defined by census blocks. So you'd have to cull together tens of thousands to make a network viable, and all of them would have to qualify as unserved... So if 11% of the homes have [basic tier 1 broadband service as defined by the FCC] (not enough speed to even download a Netflix video), that Census block is 'served.' 

Also the real show stopper here is that the NTIA federal broadband maps do not measure areas by households. More specifically, the NTIA rules allow this: if one home in a census block could have broadband in 7-10 business days (as determined by the carrier reporting the data), the entire Census block is considered to have broadband. So a SC community would have to do its own broadband census survey, and that aint' cheap.

SEATOA Logo

Hard to Get, Easy to Lose

Even if a county is able to qualify as "unserved" and could legally pursue a municipal network for their community, the designation is easily challenged by a resident or a competitor ISP. All it takes is an objection, the opportunity for a hearing, and testimony to stop the petition for "unserved" designation. This part of the process can halt development by at least 90 days. Time can be a killer for network planning and the big telcos know that. Theoretically, AT&T can hire a "Petition Buster" to routinely file objections and use time to destroy plans for networks. This is a common tactic used by big corporations that maintain big teams of lawyers -- they prefer to spend a little to block new competition rather than a lot to compete in a competitive market.

Exception Today, Gone Tomorrow

One of the most troubling components of the new law is the time restrictions that apply to the "exceptions." New broadband networks, both publicly and privately owned, require years to build and leave the "startup" phase. 

If a county is designated as "unserved," a government entity offering service is only exempt from the crippling additional regulations for one year if that area loses its "unserved" designation. Bear in mind that these unserved areas are where the business case for broadband does not exist. So if a community can somehow build a network in this area, it will quickly lose its exemption if AT&T decides to put a 3G tower up in the area.

This is not an exemption. It was an opportunity for elected officials to pretend they didn't just give AT&T an unofficial monopoly in return for generous campaign contributions. We will be very surprised to see any community proceed with a network given the uncertainty and increased advantages this legislation gives the biggest carriers (who have refused to invest in South Carolina).  

Legislative Alert: Oppose California's SB 1161

Sean McLaughlin from the New America Foundation and Access Humbolt alerted us to HB 1161, an AT&T and ALEC driven bill to scale back state regulation of Internet services. Sen. Alex Padilla (D-SD20, San Fernando Valley) is a co-author of the bill, introduced in February and moving steadily forward.

Sean tells us:

On Monday, the bill passed CA Assembly's Committee on Utilities and Commerce with only one brave NO vote (Asm. Huffman is also leading candidate for US House for the new CA-2 district).  Next stop is Assembly Appropriations Cte. but it will quickly move to the Assembly Floor - NOW is the time to alert all Assembly Members in California to stop this juggernaut.

Access Humbolt's press release is an excellent analysis and tells us why this bill needs to be stopped:

"While the Bill strives to be self-limiting and makes hopeful assumptions about the benefits of unfettered industry, it neglects to address three profound and overarching realities:

1. In the future all telephone or voice service will be IP enabled communication service;

2. Federal oversight over IP enabled communication services including Internet access services remains highly uncertain; and,

3. Competition is not sufficient in IP enabled communication services to protect consumers, nor to ensure universal access to an open internet.

SB 1161 removes State expertise and local knowledge from public policy making that is necessary to secure universal access to an open internet. And further, this Bill will impede State and local efforts to develop broadband services for public safety, public education, public health, public works and public media. Clearly, a more thoughtful approach is needed.

If the Bill is adopted as proposed, local community investments to support broadband deployment and adoption will suffer, causing increased costs and reduced benefits from State and Federal universal service programs for remote, rural, low income and other people in our community who are least served.

By prohibiting independent oversight of the State’s expert agency, and discounting knowledge assets of local jurisdictions, SB 1161 will cause direct fiscal harm to schools, libraries, health care providers, tribal and state agencies, public safety, public works, public media and other community anchor institutions."

You can sign on to the Free Press campaign immediately. If you are a Californian and want to make a personal impact, use their district finder to find contact info for your elected officials. Be sure they know you are a constituent. Phoning is most powerful.

For an in-depth look at the legislation, check out the Communications Workers of America's position statement [pdf].

ILSR Examines Iowa Rule Authorizing Municipal Networks

The Institute for Local Self-Reliance has recently posted an examination of 1999 Iowa Act Chapter 63, which expressly allows municipal networks:

Section 1. LEGISLATIVE INTENT. It is the intent of the general assembly to specifically provide that cities of Iowa which create city utilities in the manner provided by law are authorized to provide on a competitively neutral basis with existing local exchange carriers separate or combined cable communications or television, telephone, telecommunications systems or services, including wireless systems or services, through the ownership of systems or offering of the services.

Sec. 2. Section 362.2, subsection 6, Code 1999, is amended to read as follows:
6. “City utility” means all or part of a waterworks, gasworks, sanitary sewage system, storm water drainage system, electric light and power plant and system, heating plant, cable communication or television system, telephone or telecommunications systems or services offered separately or combined with any system or service specified in this subsection or authorized by other law, any of which are owned by a city, including all land, easements, rights of way, fixtures, equipment, accessories, improvements, appurtenances, and other property necessary or useful for the operation of the utility.

The 1999 legislation opened the door for Iowa communities wanting to provide broadband access in areas that had been overlooked by the private sector. Since 1999, however, lobbyists for the telecommunications industry have found ways to increase regulation of community networks that does not apply to the private sector.

In addition to an analysis of how this rule changed Iowa's approach to networks, ILSR summarizes detailed changes in the original legislation. The analysis includes pros and cons and how the telecom lobby has influenced the Iowa law since its inception.

Read more here in the ILSR Rules Library.

Recent Articles show ALEC and South Carolina Pushing to Limit Community Broadband

Community Broadband networks are increasingly getting the attention they deserve as an option for communities that want better, more accountable connections to the Internet.

We have long been warning about an AT&T-pushed bill in South Carolina to make it even harder for communities in that state to build the infrastructure AT&T has long neglected. But now The New Republic has also noticed -- in "Why are Telecom Companies Blocking rural America from Getting High-Speed Internet?"

The story starts by discussing rural and impoverished Orangeburg County, which received a stimulus award to help build the telecom infrastructure they need to succeed in the modern economy.

In an effort to improve the area’s economic prospects, county officials have worked in recent years to secure funding to refurbish roadways and sewer systems—but they also know that, in a globalized marketplace, old-school infrastructure is not nearly enough. That’s why, in 2009, Orangeburg County applied for, and received, $18.65 million in stimulus money to finally give the area access to high-speed broadband internet. County Administrator Bill Clark and his colleagues envisioned a municipal, or muni, network that could reach roughly a quarter of Orangeburg’s rural population, including just over three thousand households and one hundred businesses.

...

But the titans of telecom aren’t operating on quite the same wavelength. Since last January, AT&T, CenturyLink, and Time Warner have contributed just over $146,000 to politicians in South Carolina who back legislation that would cripple networks like Orangeburg’s. It’s only one example of a broader campaign by telecom companies to protect their cartel at all costs—even at the expense of keeping the country’s poorest on the wrong side of the digital divide for many years to come.

Same story, different state. We've seen the same efforts across the U.S., which is why nineteen states have created barriers to community broadband.

Meanwhile, the source of a lot of those barriers -- the American Legislative Exchange Council -- or ALEC has been getting attention for the many bad bills they have ushered through state legislators. ALEC is a front group for big corporations, including AT&T, Time Warner Cable, and other big carriers that allows them to wine and dine state legislators as part of a larger strategy to enact the laws they write to advantage themselves.

An article in the Republic Report says, "ALEC wants you to pay 750% more for High-Speed Internet."

It doesn't end there either -- ALEC is also presently pushing a slew of bills to gut state authority over telecommunications generally. So when AT&T or CenturyLink decide they don't want to serve high cost rural exchanges, they can just walk away. Or if their service is so bad it borders on unusable, the state Public Utilities Commission will not have the power to require them to fix it.

State by State Campaign to Gut Consumer Telecom Protections

In most states, telephone companies are required to serve everyone and when there are problems with the service, the state can mandate that the company fix them. But AT&T and ALEC are leading the charge to let these massive companies decide for themselves who should have access to a telephone, taking state regulators out of the loop.

These big companies use several arguments we are well familiar with - that mobile wireless is already available (in many rural areas, it actually is not available) and there is plenty of competition. If only that were the case.

I was thrilled to see David Cay Johnston cover this in a column on Reuters:

AT&T and Verizon, the dominant telephone companies, want to end their 99-year-old universal service obligation known as "provider of last resort." They say universal landline service is a costly and unfair anachronism that is no longer justified because of a competitive market for voice services.

The new rules AT&T and Verizon drafted would enhance profits by letting them serve only the customers they want. Their focus, and that of smaller phone companies that have the same universal service obligation, is on well-populated areas where people can afford profitable packages that combine telephone, Internet and cable television.

What happens when the states hand over authority to these companies? David has an answer:

AT&T and Verizon also want to end state authority to resolve customer complaints, saying the market will punish bad behavior. Tell that to Stefanie Brand.

Brand is New Jersey's ratepayer advocate whose experience trying to get another kind of service - FiOS - demonstrates what happens when market forces are left to punish behavior, she said. Residents of her apartment building wanted to get wired for the fiber optic service (FiOS) in 2008. Residents said, "We want to see your plans before you start drilling holes, and Verizon said, 'We will drill where we want or else, so we're walking,' and they did," Brand told me.

Verizon confirmed that because of the disagreement Brand's building is not wired. And there's nothing Brand can do about it. Verizon reminded me the state Board of Public Utilities no longer has authority to resolve complaints over FiOS.

Better broadband is not just about technology. FiOS is an advanced fiber-optic network that crushes any cable or DSL network but Verizon still is not accountable to the community. This is exactly why communities are smarter to find ways to build networks that are democratically accountable rather than hoping a private company will make the necessary investment.

Progressive States Network

The Progessive States Network has been tracking these bills and recently alerted its readers to the threat from these bills:

A rash of backward thinking appears to be taking hold in a number of states that might be better spending their time considering how to create modern technology jobs and skills at home. Some states are considering how best to deploy modern high-speed Internet to ensure their local economies and residents are ready to compete in the global marketplace. But in other states, legislators are debating whether telephone service should be offered at all - leaving many observers wondering whether they would prefer to live in the 19th century, before Alexander Graham Bell's invention became ubiquitous.

Fortunately, consumers and advocates in many states can still stop this horrible legislation - as Kentucky did (with some assistance from the Rural Broadband Policy Group).

Under the bill, AT&T, Windstream and Cincinnati Bell would no longer have to provide basic landline services to all homes and businesses if a competitor were available to provide them. If there were no competitor, a company could provide cellphone service instead.

Opponents, including Tom FitzGerald, executive director of the Kentucky Resources Council, have argued that such a change would be a burden on the poor and the elderly who either can’t afford cellphones or are simply uncomfortable with them.

This came up recently in Mississippi:

A bill before the Legislature would wipe out the obligations of AT&T and some other phone companies to serve expensive customers and would limit the Public Service Commission's remaining authority over those firms.

Public Service Commissioners Brandon Presley, a Democrat, and Leonard Bentz, a Republican, are fighting the move, saying customers need regulators' intervention to get their problems fixed. Other phone companies are opposed to the bill, saying it could cut the connection fees collected by small rural telephone companies.

Minnesota has been considering a similar bill that has bipartisan support. Unfortunately, few in the state have realized just how bad this would be for rural and older residents.

Access Humboldt Logo

California is considering a bill RIGHT NOW.

"IP enabled communications services include not only broadband internet and online media services, but also the basic voice telephony services that we all use every day," said Sean McLaughlin, executive director of Access Humboldt and a Knight Media Policy Fellow with New America Foundation. "We are concerned that the Public Utilities Commission, along with Counties, Cities, Community Services, School and other special Districts will be hamstrung by SB 1161, prevented from protecting consumers, and hindered from developing community broadband projects that meet our local needs and interests."

Access Humboldt has echoed concerns of The Utility Reform Network (TURN), Mendocino County Board of Supervisors, Rural Broadband Policy Group, and the California Broadband Policy Network, in opposition to SB 1161. TURN is actively organizing statewide consumer opposition to the bill - joined by national organizations such as Free Press and the Rural Broadband Policy Group.

The LA Times has just noted the incredible power of AT&T's lobbyists in Sacramento.

At the 2010 event, AT&T's president and the state Assembly speaker toured Pebble Beach together in a golf cart, shaking hands with every lawmaker, lobbyist and other VIP in attendance.

The Speaker's Cup is the centerpiece of a corporate lobbying strategy so comprehensive and successful that it has rewritten the special-interest playbook in Sacramento. When it comes to state government, AT&T spends more money, in more places, than any other company.

Despite AT&T's massive power in California, there is still time to stop this backward-moving legislation.