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Community Broadband Media Roundup - October 3, 2014

“The Times, they are a-changin” quoted Chairman Wheeler this week in St. Paul. And with it, must come faster Internet speeds if the United States is going to keep up in the competitive economy. Multichannel’s John Eggerton reported on Wheeler’s visit to the National Association of Telecommunications Officer and Advisors (NATOA) conference this week, where Wheeler channeled both Bob Dylan and Garrison Keeler. You can also read the full transcript of his remarks. 

Oh, dear US Representative Marsha Blackburn is at it again. This time with a letter to editor in The Tennessean. Blackburn provides the same arguments she presented previously. And yet, oddly enough, still no acknowledgment that the top donors to her campaign fund happen to be big telecom lobbyists. 

In other municipal networks news, Andrew Denney with the Columbia Tribune in Missouri covered the pushback his city is seeing from big telecom, after the city announced it might be interested in expanding its existing fiber network. 

“A CenturyLink spokesperson warned city officials that, “if the city proceeded with the idea, it would amount to a taxpayer-subsidized entity wading into competition with private business.” 

Our own Christopher Mitchell responded in the same article:

The fundamental motive is to make sure they limit competition to their benefit,” said Chris Mitchell, director of community broadband for the Institute for Local Self-Reliance. 

Citizens Speak Out

ILSR cannot be in all places at the same time, so it’s important that people weigh in on these issues, comment, and contact elected officials. So we’re praising several people and organizations who have come out in support of these important issues.

As Megan Epler Wood writes in Burlington Free Press, 

“Local ownership is a viable means to protect Net Neutrality according to many leading experts. Municipal fiber networks not only foster competition with the ISPs, they create citizen empowerment. According to Christopher Mitchell director of Community Broadband Networks at the Institute for Local Self Reliance municipal fiber networks "ensure open access to the Internet regardless of what tolls the big cable companies charge."

Bill Nemitz’s message in the Portland (Maine) Press Herald couldn’t be clearer:

Don’t suffer with slow Internet, rural Maine!

The Dalles, Oregon editorial board staff weighed in on the success of their own community networks. The city paid off its fiber-optic network last month. 

“The plan to install a fiber-optic loop to bring better access to high-speed internet to The Dalles faced harsh skepticism at its beginning. But, time and again, that access has proved to be a valuable commodity. Its existence has provided an added attraction to help bring jobs and growth to the community, not least of which is the Google data center, which is in the midst of a massive expansion with more jobs promised.”

We like the sound of that!

From success stories, to cities that are touching their toes to the water— Jeff Buchanan wrote this for The Isthmus in Madison, WI:

“Fortunately for consumers, there's an alternative: Cities are tackling the connectivity problem by building municipal fiber-to-the-home networks. Political and business leaders in Madison seem to agree that the status quo is unsatisfactory. But they're split in how urgently they want to address the problem, with city hall favoring a wait-and-see approach and a younger class of technocrats wanting to implement short-term, low-cost solutions immediately.”

And Hartford Business journal’s editorial staff said this week that high speed Internet is now a “must” investment, not just a want. 

“While the average Connecticut resident doesn't need ultra-high-speed bandwidth to play movies or download music, high-tech companies — particularly the increasing number of businesses that rely on big data — need it to compete. But Connecticut's lack of a fiber-optic cable network makes it difficult and expensive for businesses to access high-speed Internet, putting them at a competitive disadvantage.”

Another self-proclaimed proponent of private industry is baffled by Republicans stance against broadband competition. Mike Montgomery wrote about his support for allowing municipalities the chance to build broadband networks on HuffPo. 

“Broadband takes big investment, but it also means big money for providers. And while I'm among those who believe private industry is best suited to build and maintain networks, I also find the states' rights argument fairly ridiculous. After all, who better to know what a community needs than a local government? If elected officials recognize a need for better broadband access in their state, shouldn't voters have the final say as to who gets to build and maintain its broadband networks?”

Comcast/Time Warner Cable Merger

This is what happens when Comcast decides you’re no longer making them enough money. They decide it’s time to pack up shop. Todd Shields reported in Bloomberg’s MSN Money that Comcast wants to relinquish its Detroit customers as part of its proposed merger with Time Warner Cable. But don’t worry, it would pick up two other markets…

“As it drops Detroit, Comcast would gain the nation’s top two markets, New York and Los Angeles. The $45.2 billion acquisition would enlarge Comcast by 7 million video customers. The castaways in Detroit, Minneapolis and elsewhere would belong to a new company, GreatLand Connections Inc., to be created in what the companies call a tax-efficient spinoff. The new company’s debt would exceed industry averages -- something that has raised concerns about service in those communities.” 

And Emily Steel wanted you to know that if you oppose the Time Warner Cable merger, Comcast thinks you’re guilty of extortion. We’re not making this up!

Meanwhile, The Consumerist’s Chris Morran covered a new era in the most hated company in America’s customer service department. Charlie Herrin became the new VP for “customer experience.” And while he promised that “our customers deserve the best experience every time they interact with us.” Morran broke down some of the so-called “manure spreading” this way: 

“Without competition, Comcast has no reason to actually back up this “we love our customers” sentiment. What are you going to do, switch to slow DSL service from your local phone company that hasn’t maintained its copper wire network in years? Or maybe you can get wireless broadband and pay the same amount as Xfinity for 1/70th the amount of data each month.

In spite of what Comcast and Time Warner Cable would have you believe, those are not alternatives.”

Last week, the other “big guys” said that a lack of competition just isn’t a problem. In our office, we like to talk about “CrazyTown”, where Big Telecom (and other nonsensical creatures) live; Jon Brodkin of Ars Technica, and The Consumerist’s Kate Cox give them a message from “Planet Reality.”

Game Politics, Brad Reed of the Boy Genius Report, and Electronista all wanted to make sure that people knew about the ridiculous claims of Comcast.

Kate Cox also reported on how two of the three FCC commissioners who voted against Net Neutrality now “don’t think the proposed rule is the right fit.” Here’s to seeing the light, let’s hope it lasts.

Verizon/AT&T

Infoworld recently reported that Moldova, Latvia, and Estonia continue to run Internet circles around the United States in terms of download speeds— that’s according to the UN Broadband Commission’s Annual report. But still, AT&T is unmoved— claiming that the reason our speeds are so slow is because no one wants faster speeds:

 "Given the pace at which the industry is investing in advanced capabilities, there is no present need to redefine 'advanced' capabilities. Consumer behavior strongly reinforces the conclusion that a 10Mbps service exceeds what many Americans need today to enable basic, high-quality transmissions," AT&T said in a filing on the FCC's proposal to raise the definition to 10Mbps. Verizon made similar arguments.”

Google’s ALEC Problem

From the “All Things are Connected” File— Google announced last week that it is pulling it’s support of conservative lobbying group “ALEC” over “literally lying” about climate change. Motherboard’s Sam Gustin and Jason Koebler, DSLReports’ Karl Bode, and Nicole Arce from Tech Times, reported on the announcement, along with dozens of others. Why? Because ALEC, or the American Legislative Exchange Council has come out in opposition to net neutrality and municipal broadband— and is in support of Comcast’s Time Warner Cable merger. 

And though we’re glad Google might be jumping to the other side of the fence on some issues, Network World’s Colin Neagle explained that Google is probably *not* pulling its support of ALEC because of municipal broadband public opinion.

“… it’s probably no surprise to hear that Comcast, Verizon, AT&T, and Time Warner Cable have all been ALEC members for years. It's in their interests.

But a Daily Beast report from August 2013 outed Google as a member of ALEC’s Communications and Technology Task Force, alongside several other tech companies, including Yahoo and Yelp. All three are also members of the Internet Association, whose stances on net neutrality and broadband are the polar opposite of ALEC's."

After the Daily Beast article unveiled Google’s affiliation with ALEC, dozens of activist groups pointed out the paradox in a public letter calling for the company to leave the organization. Google's only response came in a reply to Ars Technica’s request for comment: "we aren't going to be commenting on this letter."

So when a group like the Internet Association speaks out on a given issue, it doesn't necessarily mean that all of its member groups are giving it their full support. Some affiliations are more valuable in public, while others are only valuable in the dark.” 

Jim Baller Returns for Vol 3 of Muni Network History - Community Broadband Bits Episode #67

We are excited to continue our history series with Jim Baller of the Baller Herbst Law Firm. This is Jim's third time on the program, having joined us for Episode 57 and Episode 63.

We continue our discussion with a recap of the events of 2004, including Jim's work with Lafayette to find a compromise to the ALEC bill that would have effectively banned municipal networks in Louisiana and the Verizon-led campaign to prevent Pennsylvania communities from following the muni fiber path of Kutztown.

We discuss several of the state battles over the years and the near passage of the Community Broadband Act by the U.S. Congress. Also, how some of the big telecom carriers started to invest in FTTH after the model was proved by community networks. We'll have Jim back for future shows as we continue charting the history of community owned networks.

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

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

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

AT&T and ALEC Take Aim at Connecticut for Third Year in a Row

StopTheCap! reports there are three bills in the Connecticut General Assembly that, if passed, will leave little or no protections for customers of plain old telephone service who encounter difficulties with service. AT&T and ALEC back these bills for the third year in a row.

Such bills are not new to our readers who often see our reports on large corporate providers that use state legislators as vehicles to shed regulations. Phil Dampier from StopThe Cap! summarizes all three bills:

HB 6401: House Bill 6401 strips the Public Utilities Review Authority (PURA) of their ability to regulate Voice Over Internet Protocol (VoIP) telephone services. An emerging market, this bill creates deregulation for the sake of deregulation.

HB 6402: House Bill 6402 eliminates the right of regulators to oversee AT&T to make sure it has some form of accountability to the public. The section on annual audits has been gutted, making it impossible to protect the public from rate-fixing. More importantly, it includes a provision to allow AT&T to end service to any customer it wants upon 30 days’ written notice. [PDF of the Nonpartisan Bill Summary available from the Connecticut General Assembly]

SB 888: Senate Bill 888 has an ALEC-drafted provision that allows cell phone towers to be built on public lands on a presumption that the will of telecommunications companies is in the interest of the public good.

As we saw in Kentucky, concerned citizen groups will not take the change lying down, joining forces to form the Don't Hang Up on Connecticut coalition. AARP Connecticut leads the charge to motivate seniors and their families, a group traditionally dependent on landlines. George Gombossy, from the New Britain Herald, spoke with John Erlingheauser, AARP's advocacy director:

Erlingheuser said his organization is particularly concerned with three elements of the proposal: Allowing AT&T to stop providing any of its services with a 60-day notice to the Public Utilities Regulatory Authority.

Limiting the state’s quality of services standards “which cover such things as responding to trouble reports and service outages.” And a halt to annual audit of AT&T’s business in Connecticut in which the company reports on its investments in infrastructure and modernization.

The three, he said, will result in AT&T spending less on traditional phone system and more on its cellular and Internet-based systems.

Connecticut Seal

The list of supporting legislators and AT&T lobbyists includes ALEC chairs on both the federal and state level.

The New Haven Register also reported on the measure:

“If AT&T is allowed to drop service in unprofitable areas at their sole discretion, if they’re allowed to let service outages drag on for weeks with no consequences, if they’re allowed to jack up rates — of course they will,” Daniel Ravizza of Connecticut Citizen Action Group said in a statement. “‘Trust me’ is not a good enough guarantee for Connecticut consumers.

We interviewed Harold Feld twice for the Broadband Bits podcast and he talked about the transition to new voice technology and his expectations from AT&T. Feld described AT&T's business practices and history of investment, or lack thereof - that history that supports Ravizza's concern.

We will be following this story and hope to soon report on the coalition's success. For more on how Kentucky citizens stopped similar legislation, you can listen to Christopher interview Mimi Pickering and Tom FitzGerald in episode #44 of the Broadband Bits Podcast.  

PR Watch Ties ALEC to Now-Dead Bill in Georgia to Limit Internet Investment

Brendan Fischer of the Center for Media and Democracy's PR Watch examines the ties between HB 282, the people behind it, and how it evolved into a threat to connectivity and local control. Brendan gave us permission to repost the story in full here. Since authoring this story, HB 282 was defeated in Georgia in a floor House vote. However, understanding where these bill comes from is critical, so we still wanted to run this piece.

Community-Owned Internet, Long Targeted by ALEC and Big Telecom, Under Fire in Georgia

Members of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) in the Georgia Legislature are pushing a bill to thwart locally-owned internet in underserved communities, an industry-sponsored effort that effectively reinforces the digital divide. A vote in the Georgia Assembly is scheduled for Thursday, March 7; if Georgia passes the bill it would be the twentieth state to eliminate community control over internet access.

Rural and Poor Communities Take Control of Internet

As many as one in ten Americans cannot get internet connections that are fast enough for basic activities like streaming video or file sharing, largely because big internet providers like AT&T and Time Warner Cable have refused to provide adequate service to communities where the population is too dispersed or too poor. As local economies become ever more dependent on internet access, though, this digital divide is leaving rural and low-income communities in the dust.

But local governments in places like Wilson, North Carolina and Thomasville, Georgia have taken matters into their own hands: they've built publicly owned high-speed internet to keep their communities viable in the 21st Century. These efforts have created jobs and helped save local economies, with businesses that rely on digital communication remaining in, or relocating to, the newly wired communities. 

Competition from these locally owned providers has irritated the big "incumbent" internet companies, which had managed to put-off upgrading their networks because of near-monopoly power in many areas. Municipal broadband -- which in many cases offers faster internet at a lower price -- "forces companies to invest in their own infrastructure because communities are doing it better," says Catharine Rice, President of the SouthEast Association of Telecommunications Officers and Advisors (SEATOA).

PR Watch Logo

Instead of responding to competition with improved services, the industry has responded by pushing a raft of bills to crush community and local broadband.

"It is cheaper to hire a lobbyist and push a bill than invest in infrastructure," Rice told the Center for Media and Democracy. 

Georgia's HB 282 would prohibit cities from offering broadband to areas where just one home in a census block has internet speed above 3 Mbps. But 3Mbps is exceptionally slow. Businesses would likely be unable to upload a powerpoint presentation, doctors could not do medical file sharing or remote diagnosis, students could not access virtual education, and users could not access video on demand -- all of which is important for rural areas to remain competitive with the rest of the country, not to mention the world.

If Georgia passes the legislation it would be the twentieth state to preempt local efforts to offer broadband. The spread of these bills can be traced back to ALEC and its "model" Municipal Telecommunications Private Industry Safeguards ActThree of the five named sponsors of Georgia’s HB 282 are ALEC members. 

ALEC Bill Passed in 19 States

Since at least 2001 ALEC has been a conduit for internet providers like AT&T and Time Warner Cable to eliminate competition. As Bloomberg Business Week has described, the bill that became the Municipal Telecommunications Private Industry Safeguards Act was largely drafted by AT&T and other big internet providers, and was first passed in Utah in 2001, after the city of Provo created a municipal broadband system. The following summer, the bill was brought to ALEC’s Annual Meeting in Orlando and adopted as a “model” by the ALEC Telecommunications & Information Technology Task Force.

Since becoming a model bill, the Municipal Telecommunications Private Industry Safeguards Act has spread across the country. Nineteen states now have restrictive municipal broadband bills on the books, according to the Institute for Local Self-Reliance.

Wilson Greenlight Report

It passed most recently in North Carolina, where the exceptionally successful “Greenlight” program in Wilson had prompted incumbent internet providers like AT&T, CenturyLink, and Time Warner Cable to push the legislation starting in 2006. The bill had failed in previous sessions, but after control of the legislature shifted to Republicans in the 2010 elections and big telecom providers gave nearly $1.6 million in campaign contributions to North Carolina legislators over a five-year period, it finally became law in 2011.

In addition to campaign contributions and payments to ALEC, big internet providers have influenced legislators with valuable gifts. For example, AT&T was the second-highest contributor to the ALEC “scholarship” fund that pays for legislators’ flights and hotel rooms to ALEC meetings – a scheme that creates an environment for improper influence and would appear to violate many states’ ethics and lobbying laws. ALEC meetings are often held in fun cities like New Orleans and at swank hotels, and because state legislators earn, on average, about $46,000 a year, these destinations and resorts would otherwise be unaffordable. 

Nationally, AT&T gave $90,000 to the scholarship fund over a three-year period (2006-2008, the only years for which complete information is available). The legislators who are sponsoring the current bill before the Georgia legislature are major recipients of ALEC scholarships. Bill sponsor Representative Don Parsons, who is an active member of the ALEC Telecommunications & Information Technology Task Force, received $5735.48 over those three years, and Representative Ben Harbin received $3546.08 over two years. HB 282 sponsor Representative Mark Hamilton received $3527.80 in "scholarships" in 2008 alone. 

As a further incentive to attend ALEC meetings, elected officials are encouraged to bring their families and offered subsidized childcare and activities for kids six months and older, which they call "Kid's Congress." Time Warner Cable sponsored "Kid's Congress" at ALEC's 2011 Annual Meeting. At the April 2011 meeting, Time Warner Cable invited legislators to an exclusive party box at a Cincinnatti Reds baseball game, with food and drink provided.

If a lobbyist wants to contact a legislator within a state and make their views known, they have their ear for perhaps 15 minutes. They also have to register and report the time and expenditures. But through ALEC, corporate interests can access legislators for three days of meetings, workshops, and parties, where elected officials are basically a captive audience -- and where they know who is footing the bill.

2012 Bill Defeated, Thanks to Business Opposition

Georgia first saw anti-municipal broadband legislation in 2012. That bill was introduced by then-Senator Chip Rogers (R), who was the ALEC State Chair for Georgia (until his retirement in December) and the winner of the 2011 “State Chair of the Year” award.

Oppose SB 313

Sen. Rogers' bill was nearly a word-for-word duplication of what had passed in North Carolina. The bill had the support of the Georgia chapter of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, says Lou Comer, Director of Local Government Services at the Georgia Municipal Association, but Georgia businesses rallied against it.  

Municipalities reached out to businesses in their communities, who then contacted their legislators to express opposition to the bill. "The businesses made it clear that 'we are getting good service'," Comer said. If municipal broadband were eliminated these companies would have no choice but to return to the high-cost, low-speed internet offered by the incumbent providers, she said.

The big internet providers framed their opposition to municipal broadband in free market terms: the public sector interfering with the private sector, and taxpayer money being "wasted" because municipal projects supposedly are unsuccessful -- the notion that private industry always does things better than government. 

SEATOA's Rice doubts their motives. "Do these multi-billion dollar companies really care about community tax payers?" No, she says: "They care about their bottom line and profit margins."

If, as the industry alleges, municipal broadband projects are going to fail, the incumbent providers would have nothing to worry about. But according to Rice, "they are pushing these laws because they know [municipal broadband projects] don’t fail."

Thomasville, Georgia, for example, built its broadband 14 years ago and has been so successful that local officials have actually eliminated property taxes. Contrary to the industry claim that these projects cost taxpayers money, residents in this community are actually paying less tax.

Municipalities are "all about the private sector because we need them for economic development,” said the Georgia Municipal Association's Comer, noting that many of the rural communities that have built municipal broadband are solidly Republican.

"If the private sector would have come in and provided these services, [the municipalities] never would have needed to build their broadband projects," she said. "They had to do it to save their communities."

Oppose HB 282

Georgia Bill is Back

Georgia's legislation may have been defeated in 2012 but a version is back again in 2013. 

“We are not second class citizens because we decided to live in rural Georgia,” said Elberton, Georgia Mayor Larry Guest in testimony opposing the legislation.

“Georgia should be promoting a pro-business, inclusive approach to broadband deployment, especially in rural areas of the state,” he said.

The bill is again being opposed by businesses in the state, as well as tech companies like Google and Alcatel-Lucent, who argue that the private sector alone cannot build the nation's public infrastructure. Their letter to Rep. Bill Parsons also notes the recent goal outlined by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to offer one gigabit access nationwide by 2015.

HB282 has been modified from the 2012 version to exempt some existing broadband projects -- perhaps to neuter opposition from businesses already benefitting from municipal broadband -- but it still creates onerous burdens and thwarts new projects, perhaps even including those already underway. 

"Other Georgia cities deserve the right to do what Elberton did, and their residents deserve the services Cumming has,” Mayor Guest said, referring to two communities that have municipal broadband projects.

“Competition ensures market-based pricing and faster delivery of state-of-the-art services. We have to do everything we can to attract jobs. If we don’t do that, business will not select rural Georgia. High speed access is essential to us.”

A vote on the bill is scheduled for Thursday, March 7.  

If you live in Georgia, you can send a letter to your representative from the Color of Change website urging the defeat of HB 282. 

Protecting Local Authority Against ALEC and AT&T Attacks

Forbes' CIO Network carried this article co-authored by our own Christopher Mitchell and Todd O’Boyle, the Program Director for the Media and Democracy Reform Initiative at Common Cause. The same article also ran on the CommonBlog under the title "Debunking ALEC, Broadband Edition."

Why Communities Should Decide What Telecom Networks They Have

Not long ago, the United States led the world in broadband connectivity. Now we are in 16th place, trailing most developed nations. We need broadband policies that connect our homes, schools, and business to the 21st century economy, but we’re pursuing public policies that are putting us in a hole, helping private telecommunications providers and harming the public interest. As the old adage goes, when in a hole, stop digging.

Why is this happening? One reason is that across much of the nation, commercial broadband companies are using their political and economic clout to stifle competition, particularly from municipalities. Individually and through trade groups and the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), the industry is bent on shutting down existing publicly-owned broadband systems and blocking the development of new ones.

ALEC’s argument, detailed in a recent Daily Caller op-ed by John Stephenson, director of its communications and technology task force, is based on distorted and inaccurate claims that would be laughable if they weren’t part of a coordinated strategy to radically transform policy state-by-state.

Stephenson suggests that Chattanooga, one of several cities cited in his piece, made a poor decision in building the nation’s most advanced citywide broadband network – one that has helped companies create literally thousands of new jobs in recent years. In fact, contrary to Stephenson’s claims that municipal broadband hurt municipal credit ratings, S&P just upgraded the Chattanooga public utility’s bond rating, stating, “The system is providing reliable information to the electric utility on outages, losses and usage, which helps reduce the electric system’s costs.”

EPB Signs

The larger point is that those who want to revoke local decision-making authority for broadband often justify their position by insisting that they want to protect taxpayers from mythical threats. But Chattanooga’s EPB Fiber service is saving the public money. After a recent storm knocked utility customers offline, EPB’s fiber-optic Smart Grid brought those uses back online more quickly, saving the public an estimated $1.4 million in repair costs.

Coming from ALEC, these bogus arguments are hardly a surprise. ALEC is backed by some America’s biggest telecommunications firms, including Comcast, Verizon, and Time Warner Cable. Through ALEC task forces, corporations craft model bills and find compliant legislators to introduce them as if they were the legislator’s own. As Common Cause and its allies have documented, ALEC’s influence is pervasive: from privatizing education to limiting voting rights with restrictive Voter ID bills, and endangering public safety with “Stand Your Ground” gun laws, no aspect of public policy goes untouched.

Over the past two years, ALEC legislation successfully restricted local authority to build networks in North Carolina and was fortunately stopped in Georgia. The big cable companies have all but crushed competition in the private sector and have been attempting to stop communities themselves from building the essential infrastructure in which these companies have been slow to invest.

But the arguments used to revoke local authority are based on misleading or outright false claims. Stephenson even tries to scare readers with a bogus claim that Marietta, Ga. lost $24 million on a municipal network. What actually happened was documented in a report from 2005. Marietta had a wholesale-only network using a far different business model than the one followed by most publicly owned broadband systems.  It was on a path to operate in the black when it was privatized for ideological reasons. Stephenson’s $24 million loss figure ignores all the revenues it generated as well as additional spillover benefits. That’s fuzzy math.

Stephenson also attacks a project in Lafayette, La., claiming that it lost money every day last year. Such claims prey on reader ignorance of standard telecom business models. Any high-capital investment could be said to lose money “every day” in the early years. Long term investments take time to break even – after which, they make money every day. Verizon’s FiOS “lost” money every day for many years but is regarded by many as a smart long term investment.

Community Broadband Logo

Publicly owned networks overwhelmingly help public safety, schools, libraries and other community anchor institutions. While AT&T has been caught overcharging schools for their connections, Lafayette dramatically increased the capacity of school and library broadband connections at nearly the same price AT&T charged for far lower quality services. Lafayette’s network is one of the most advanced in the nation and has attracted hundreds of new jobs while saving millions for the community by keeping prices lower, as documented in our report Broadband at the Speed of Light. In response to Lafayette’s investment, Cox Cable prioritized that community for its upgraded cable network – compounding local benefits.

Lafayette isn’t alone – consider rural Chanute, KN., which connected its schools and the local community college with a gigabit wide area network at only $250 per location per month. The city’s municipal fiber network has helped preserve jobs that were at risk of leaving because the cable and telephone company were not meeting the needs of local businesses. Additionally, the network pays a franchise fee to the general fund every year.

And then there’s Wilson, N.C. Stephenson claims its fiber-optic network might be obsolete before it is paid off – a ludicrous scenario given the strong consensus the fiber-optic is and will remain the gold standard in networking for decades. Regardless, the network is generating benefits today – lower prices for community by keeping prices lower, as documented in our report Broadband at the Speed of Light. In response to Lafayette’s investment, Cox Cable prioritized that community for its upgraded cable network – compounding local benefits.

These benefits are some of the reasons that the FCC’s National Broadband Plan called on Congress to ensure that all local governments could build networks. No one has suggested that every government should do so – but it should be a local choice, and that is what ALEC has been trying to remove. Largely thanks to ALEC, 19 states limit local authority to build networks.

Rather than foster competition and innovation, ALEC’s policies introduce new barriers to connectivity and deny choice to consumers. It is beyond time to remove these restrictions and let local communities decide for themselves if a network is a smart public investment given their unique situation.

Humboldt County Requests Veto of California ALEC Bill

The California Legislature recently passed SB 1161 (dubbed "California's Worst Telecom Bill Ever") and the bill is on the Governor's desk. Utility reform group, TURN, and the New America Foundation are two groups that have opposed this ALEC supported bill from the start. We reported on it in June and shared with you how it will negatively impact the ability for local communities to invest in broadband.

The Humboldt County Board of Supervisors sent a letter to Governor Brown formally opposing the legislation and asking for a veto. According to the an Access Humboldt press release:

In a letter yesterday (August 28, 2012), the Humboldt County Board of Supervisors requested Governor Brown to veto SB 1161, noting: "SB 1161 weakens open Internet protections and subverts long held State policy 'To continue our universal service commitment...' Why abandon our commitment to least served people and places?"

The Board officially expressed their opposition to the bill in May, noting that holes in the legislation ignored public safety, privacy, and consumer protection issues. No amendments were adopted to address those concerns.

You can view a PDF of the veto request here. We encourage you to take an active part in helping stop this legislation by contacting Governor Jerry Brown directly.

You can also read Susan Crawford's take on it and similar efforts in other states.

How AT&T and Time Warner Cable Pass Anti-Competition Broadband Bills

In keeping with our coverage of states that revoke local authority to prevent AT&T, Time Warner Cable, and the like from having to deal with any actual competition, we want to highlight the video below that explains how a modern bill becomes a law.

It ain't like it used to be and it doesn't have to be like this. North Carolina's anti-competition bill came only after years of campaign contributions and heavy lobbying. We discussed the history of that bill with Catharine Rice as well as the recent reprehensible South Carolina law.

Video: 
See video

Business Week Tackles Anti-Community Broadband Lobbying

Publication Date: 
December 1, 2011
Author(s): 
Alison Fitzgerald
Author(s): 
Brendan Greeley
Publication Title: 
Business Week

Brendan Greeley and Alison Fitzgerald have authored an in-depth exposé of the role the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) played in passing a law in Louisiana designed to cripple community-owned networks ... while falsely claiming the bill was about creating a "level playing field."

This article may not have been possible without the work done by the ALEC Exposed folks at the Center for Media and Democracy.

The aptly-titled "Pssst ... Wanna Buy a Law?" article starts with the background of one of our favorite community broadband champions: Joey Durel, the Republican City-Parish President of Lafayette, Louisiana.

In April of 2004, Lafayette announced their intention to do a market survey to get a sense of whether the community would be interested in a publicly owned FTTH network run by the public utility. By that point, it was not possible to introduce new bills at the Louisiana Legislature. Or at least, that is a technicality when it comes to the lobbying prowess of big cable and telephone companies (mainly Cox and BellSouth - one of the major companies that later became AT&T).

Worried about losing their de facto monopolies, they tapped State Senator Winnsboro to take an existing bill, delete all the words from it and then append their anti-community broadband (anti-competitive) language.

The lobbyist brought back to Lafayette a copy of what would become Senate Bill 877. It named telecommunications as a permitted city utility, then hamstrung municipalities with a list of conditions. It demanded that new projects show positive revenue within the first year. It required a city to calculate and charge itself taxes, as if it were a private company. Cities could not borrow startup costs or secure bonds from any other sources of income. The bill demanded unrealistic accounting arrangements, and it suggested a referendum that would have to pass with an absolute majority. It also, almost word for word, matched a piece of legislation kept in the library of the American Legislative Exchange Council. The council’s bill reads, “The people of the State of _______ do enact as follows … ”

According to Ellington, he substituted the bill after a lobbyist for several of the state’s cable companies approached him, concerned about Lafayette’s project. Ellington’s district did not have plans to run fiber. Nor did any other city or parish in the state. “We were just making sure that the field was level,” he says. “We weren’t trying to keep them from doing what they wanted to do, we just wanted to make sure the public entity couldn’t go in and shortstop the private entities.” Ellington is probably sincere about that. The lobbyist who came to him probably wasn’t. The bill was not designed to level the playing field. It was designed to keep new teams on the sidelines.

The story goes on to track this bill back to Utah in 2001 (when Comcast and US West (later Quest and now CenturyLink) wanted to outlaw communities from building their own networks -- often in areas the private companies had refused to offer access to the Internet anyway). ALEC serves to spread those bills around the nation. When enacting corporate agendas, legislators prefer to get their bills from a nonprofit (ALEC) as opposed from directly from the corporations. Nevermind that the same corporations still write the bills and fund ALEC. It is sufficiently removed for what passes for democracy in America.

LUS Fiber

The bill passed. Lafayette managed to remove some of the ALEC bill’s barriers to entry but, as Huval had predicted, the law embedded into Louisiana code a set of handholds for future litigation. BellSouth and Cox Communications called for a referendum in Lafayette, which the law only suggests. The city’s attorney determined that the petitions to force a referendum did not meet the city’s standards, and BellSouth sued. Lafayette lost on appeal, paid for a referendum, and BellSouth ran ads against approving the project. (According to KLFY, a local television channel, Cox paid for a phone poll that suggested a government-owned provider might ration television on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and weekends.) Lafayette tried to issue bonds, and BellSouth challenged them. By 2007, when the Louisiana Supreme Court upheld the bond issue, Huval estimates that the city had paid $4 million in legal fees, more than the cost of the original fiber ring. A spokesperson for AT&T, which now owns BellSouth, says the company has backed away from BellSouth’s aggressive approach. But the damage is done. As with Utah, no other city in Louisiana has attempted to follow Lafayette.

According to data provided to Bloomberg Businessweek by the Sunlight Foundation, which posts government information online, state legislators who have signed on to sponsor the ALEC bill limiting municipal telecommunications have tended to receive donations from local cable and phone incumbents, as well as rural telephone associations. The pattern is consistent across states. In North Carolina, where the bill passed in May of this year after four attempts, these companies and groups consistently gave more money to the bill sponsors.

Noble Ellington hasn’t followed what became of his bill. “I just hope we fixed it,” he says, “so private industry and the city and parish were satisfied with what we did.” Terry Huval and Joey Durel both travel around the country now, talking to other small towns about how to get wired. Durel believes it’s going to get worse before it gets better. Huval is working with towns in nearby states but won’t say where. When a plan goes public, he explains, a bill—that bill—is not far behind. ALEC’s model bill on municipal broadband works because the idea of a city providing Internet access is alien to even most lawmakers. If a bill shows up at the right time, in response to one or two cities, it smothers an idea that hasn’t yet gathered many defenders. “I tell people this is not for the faint of heart,” says Huval. “If you don’t have the drive, don’t even start.”

We deeply covered the fight in North Carolina's legislature funded by Time Warner Cable. The bill in North Carolina was carried by ALEC members.

Most of the state laws restricting community broadband initiatives are included on this preemption map.

This is the kind of story that should be forwarded to elected officials. We are likely to see more of these cable and phone company attacks on local freedom next year than we have in any other year since 2005. We need to prepare and educate ourselves.

You can read our previous coverage of Lafayette here.