Tag: "legislation"

Posted August 10, 2018 by lgonzalez

Lobbyists from the cable and telecom industry succeeded in using the legislature to firm up their rural Massachusetts monopolies this session. Communities that rely on state funds for local publicly owned broadband infrastructure projects now face restrictions on the reach of their high-speed networks.

A Long Trip Through the Legislature

Governor Charlie Baker’s economic development bill includes a provision designating funding for the Massachusetts Broadband Institute (MBI) and the Executive Office of Housing & Economic Development for broadband deployment. The agencies distribute the funds to various communities where residents and businesses plan to improve their local connectivity. Approximately 20 towns have decided to invest in publicly owned Internet infrastructure, including Alford, Otis, and Mount Washington, to name a few. Others are taking offers from Comcast and Charter, which will build out networks to more premises with state funding. 

Many of the rural communities who are going with the publicly owned option want to connect households and establishments within the town proper, but also what they describe as “edge” properties — those beyond town limits but have no other choice for broadband. Edge properties in western Massachusetts typically don’t have access to anything better than expensive and unreliable satellite or dial-up. Often, there are only a few “edge” properties in each community, but neighbors don’t want to leave anyone behind. 

Baker’s bill began its trip through the state legislature in March and, as is the case with typical large bills, went through numerous hearings along the way. Over the course of the legislative process, a question arose as to whether or not those rural towns wanting to serve edge properties would be able to use state funding to reach edge properties. In the original version of the bill, language specifically allowed municipalities the right to cross municipal borders to serve edge properties, but when the telecom industry opposed the language, it was removed in the House. The action left an ambiguous gap that Gail...

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Posted July 10, 2018 by lgonzalez

Death, taxes, and legislative drama are three of life’s certainties. Most recently, the drama unfolded in California as Democratic Sen. Scott Wiener has tried to pass state network neutrality protections after the FCC revoked federal law, leaving millions at the mercy of a broken market.

Coulda, Shoulda, Woulda

California is one of a long list of states that have in some way addressed the current lack of regulations regarding network neutrality. In addition to Executive Orders in six states, including Vermont and Montana, state legislatures in 29 states have introduced legislation that address some aspect of network neutrality. Oregon, Vermont, and Washington have adopted legislation. To see a comprehensive list of state bills across the country, check out the National Conference of State Legislatures’ website.

Wiener’s  SB 822 had been described as “the most comprehensive” of state legislation introduced since FCC Chairman Ajit Pai and the Republican Commissioners repealed federal network neutrality late last year. The bill passed in the Senate in late May, but amendments adopted during a contentious Communications and Conveyance Committee meeting in the Assembly transformed it into quite a different piece of legislation.

When the bill was at full strength in the Senate, it received the support of network neutrality advocates, including former FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler and the state’s Attorney General Xavier Becerra. Mayors from some of California’s largest cities have also endorsed SB 822. While the bill implemented the types of protections that past federal network neutrality provided, such as prohibiting paid prioritization and allowing equal access to all traffic on the Internet, SB 822 in its original form created additional protections. For example, the bill...

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Posted June 15, 2018 by lgonzalez

In response to the FCC’s decision to end federal network neutrality protections, California and other states have introduced bills to fill the gap left by the Commission. Local communities who had flirted with the idea of publicly owned Internet infrastructure in the past have now taken a second and more serious look to counteract the FCC’s harmful policy shift. Assembly Member Ed Chau’s AB 1999, making its way through the legislative process, is opening possibilities for local communities to invest in their own Internet infrastructure. Chau recognizes that publicly owned networks are an option for more than network neutrality protections, especially in rural communities.

Attitude Adjustment

Our Christopher Mitchell travelled to California in May to testify about the bill as it worked its way through the committee process. AB 1999 could indicate that big telephone and cable companies now have less influence in state Capitols around the U.S. than in past years. We recently wrote about a New Hampshire bill that gives us similar hope — a piece of legislation signed by the Governor there that removed restrictions on local investment in broadband networks.

Like New Hampshire's SB 170, AB 1999 allows communities where big national providers don’t want to invest have more control over how they improve local connectivity. If passed, the bill will give California's community service districts the ability to develop public broadband networks and offer services. The language of the bill also requires that any networks developed by community service districts adhere to network neutrality rules.

Rural Communities Serving Themselves

Community service districts (CSD) are independent local governments created to provide services in unincorporated areas of a county. CSDs are...

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Posted June 5, 2018 by lgonzalez

On May 30th, New Hampshire Governor Chris Sununu signed SB 170, a bill local community leaders had watched for more than a year. The measure will allow municipalities to bond for publicly owned Internet network infrastructure. Advocates, local elected officials, and citizens have been seeking the authority for years. SB 170 may raise some questions as it's implemented, but the bill is significant because it symbolizes this state's decision to expand local authority for broadband investment, rather than limit the power of local communities.

Read the final version of SB 170 here.

A Better Measurement

As we reported more than a year ago, SB 170 sought to make changes in existing law by allowing local communities to bond for Internet infrastructure. The bill sat in committee until last November, when it was amended and picked up again. The final version of SB 170 allows communities to bond for projects that will connect premises that don’t have access to broadband as defined by the FCC — 25 Mbps download and 3 Mbps upload.

Should the definition of broadband at the FCC increase to faster speeds, so will the definition as it applies in New Hampshire. This is a welcome approach as big ISPs around the country have in recent years tried to convince state legislators to reduce the speed definition of broadband in state legislation. Many is the time well-meaning or well-funded state lawmakers decided to use the incumbent-dictated 10 Mbps / 1 Mbps or even 4 Mbps / 1 Mbps in order to appease the likes of AT&T or CenturyLink. Some states, such as New Hampshire, are realizing that such slow thresholds translate into very little investment into the type of Internet access residents and businesses need. Other states can learn from New Hampshire...

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Posted May 29, 2018 by lgonzalez

Local communities considering investment to improve connectivity for businesses and residents have many factors to consider, including state laws. The best laid plans for broadband can be torpedoed if state legislators are influenced enough by incumbent lobbyists to pass laws that complicate local authority or funding. This week, we hear about Wyoming from Cheyenne Mayor Marian Orr.

Mayor Orr describes how incumbents in her community claim that access to broadband is plentiful, but business leaders and residents describe a different reality. In order to seek out possible solutions, the city has now created a broadband task force to analyze the problem.

Earlier this year, Mayor Orr expressed excitement about SF 100, a state bill that was written to provide funding for local communities interested in exploring better solutions for local connectivity. While the bill was in committee, however, lobbyists from incumbents CenturyLink and Spectrum found a way to derail the parts of the bill that would help places like Cheyenne make their own decisions. Now, the bill requires that funding be used only for public-private partnerships and focus only on the areas with the worst connectivity.

This show is 16 minutes long and can be played on this page or via iTunes or the tool of your choice using this feed.

Read the transcript for this show here....

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Posted May 21, 2018 by lgonzalez

Network neutrality protections are scheduled to disappear on June 11th. In an effort to reverse the FCC’s decision that will put millions at risk by eliminating market protections, 52 Senators voted in favor of a Resolution of Disapproval on May 16th. The vote was enough to pass the Resolution and send it on to the next step under the Congressional Review Act (CRA).

Heading to the House

In addition to the full roster of Democrats, Republican legislators, Republicans Susan Collins of Maine, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, and John Kennedy of Louisiana, voted in favor of the bill. Last February, citizen groups in Louisiana joined together to show support for network neutrality, staging rallies in four cities and visiting Senator Kennedy with thousands of signatures on a petition urging him to support the Resolution.

Now that the measure has passed in the Senate, it faces a tougher time in the House, however, where passage requires more votes to obtain the necessary majority. Advocates are busy organizing citizens, businesses, and entities to express their support for the policy and demand that Representatives take the same route as the Senate.

“We will continue to fight for net neutrality in every way possible as we try to protect against erosion into a discriminatory internet, with ultimately a far worse experience for any users and businesses who don’t pay more for special treatment,” said Denelle Dixon, chief operating officer at Mozilla.

The Congressional Review Act

Unlike in the Senate, there is no fast-track option from the House Committee to the House Floor. If the House Committee fails to report, however, a majority can force a vote. Like in the Senate, a simple majority in favor of the Joint Resolution is required for passage — 218 votes in the House.

Let your Representatives know that you support...

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Posted April 24, 2018 by lgonzalez

We’re a little off kilter these days when it comes to state legislation. Typically, we spend our efforts helping local communities stave off bills to steal, limit, or hamstring local telecommunications authority. This year it’s different so Christopher and Lisa sat down to have a brief chat about some of the notable state actions that have been taken up at state Capitols.

We decided to cover a few proposals that we feel degrade the progress some states have made, bills that include positive and negative provisions, and legislation that we think will do nothing but good. Our analysis covers the map from the states in New England to states in the Northwest. 

In addition to small changes that we think will have big impact - like the definition of “broadband” - we discuss the way tones are shifting. In a few places, like Colorado, state leaders are fed up with inaction or obstruction from the big ISPs that use the law to solidify their monopoly power rather than bring high-quality connectivity to citizens. Other states, like New Hampshire and Washington, recognize that local communities have the ability to improve their situation and are taking measured steps to reduce barriers to broadband deployment.

While they still maintain significant power in many places, national corporate ISPs may slowly be losing their grip over state legislators. We talk about that, too.

For more on these and other bills, check out our recent stories on state and federal legislation.

This show is 24 minutes long and can be played on this page or via iTunes or the tool of your choice using this feed.

Read the transcript for this show here.

You can download this mp3 file directly from here. Listen to other episodes here or view all episodes ...

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Posted April 13, 2018 by lgonzalez

Lawmakers in Ohio are slowly advancing a proposal to help fund rural broadband deployment. HB 378 has similarities to Minnesota’s Border-to-Border Broadband Program and will infuse $100 million in to broadband deployment ecosystem over the next two years. It’s a welcome lift for rural areas struggling to fend off economic dilemmas.

Companions

Last fall, State Senators Cliff Hite and Joe Schiavoni announced their intention to introduce a bill with the same effect. HB 378, however, appeared to pick up steam in March and, after strong bipartisan support in committee and on the floor of the House, the bill went on to the Senate on April 12th.

Back in October, Schiavoni said in a press release:

“This legislation is incredibly important to Ohio’s future. Without access to broadband internet service, businesses can’t reach their customers, students can’t do their homework and workers have difficulty searching for jobs.”

Democrat Ryan Smith and Republican Jack Cera introduced HB 378 with an eye toward economic development in their districts and other rural areas of the state facing the need to diversify their local economies. 

“With this bill, we have the opportunity to level the playing field for rural Ohioans when it comes to vital broadband infrastructure,” said Rep. Smith [in October]. “High speed broadband is the only way we can continue growing our economic base by attracting new commercial development and securing a strong labor force, our most valuable resource.”

Main Points

Like the Minnesota Border-to-Border Broadband Program, which has helped expand high-quality rural connectivity, this proposal doesn’t limit eligibility to private sector entities. Political subdivisions, nonprofits, and cooperatives can also receive awards of up to $5 million or half the cost of the project, whichever is less. This element of the bill is welcome and...

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Posted April 5, 2018 by lgonzalez

In March, Washington state legislators passed HB 2664 and sent it on to Governor Jay Inslee, who signed the bill on March 22nd. In the Port of Ridgefield, where the community has been developing plans for a dark fiber network, the community had advocated for the change. Now that the law will be changing for the better, they’re ready to pursue the partnerships they need to spur economic development and improve connectivity for residents and businesses.

Not A New Idea In The Port Of Ridgefield

Back in 2016, we reported how town officials from the Port of Ridgefield had already started setting aside funds to invest in a 42-mile dark fiber loop. The quality of residential and business Internet access options in the community depended on where a premise was located. The community’s Vice President of Innovation Nelson Holmberg described connectivity in the Port of Ridgefield as a “mixed bag”.

The port already had some fiber in place, as many do for communications between facilities and other uses, and port officials wanted to integrate those assets into the design of the new infrastructure. At the time, state law would only allow "rural" ports to use their fiber in any partnership agreements designed to offer connectivity to people or entities outside of the port districts. The Port of Ridgefield did not qualify as "rural". After advocacy from officials from the Port of Ridgefield and other ports around the state, legislators passed HB 2664, which amends the law to remove the restriction. All ports will soon be able to enter into wholesale arrangements with ISPs interested in leasing dark fiber to offer telecommunications services to the public.

Big Plans In Ridgefield

logo-port-ridgefield.png Last fall, the community in Clark County received a $50,000 grant from Washington’s Economic Revitalization Board, which they used to complete a feasibility study. There are approximately 7,...

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Posted March 26, 2018 by lgonzalez

A bill making its way through the Colorado General Assembly is tackling one of the tools that big incumbent ISPs use to secure their positions as monopoly Internet access providers - the right of first refusal. If HB 1099 passes, and other states see the savvy behind this approach, community leaders and advocates for a competitive broadband market will be able to put a chink in the monopoly armor.

Update: HB 1099 passed the Legislature and the Governor signed the bill into law on April 2nd, 2018. Yay!

A Familiar Story

ISP entrepreneurs, cooperatives that want to offer high-quality Internet access, and entities planning publicly owned projects know the story. Grants are available, usually for an unserved or underserved area that the incumbent DSL provider has ignored. Said entity invests the time and money into developing a plan and applying for the grant, feeling good about the fact that they will likely be able to serve this community that no one else seems to want to serve. 

They apply for the grant, may even receive a preliminary approval, BUT then the incumbent ISP exercises its right of first refusal, which throws a very big wrench into the plans of the ISP entrepreneur, cooperative, or entity.

In June 2017, we interviewed Doug Seacat from Clearnetworx and Deeply Digital in Colorado who told us the story of how his company had applied for and won grant funding through the Colorado Broadband Fund to develop fiber Internet network infrastructure near Ridgway. CenturyLink exercised its right of first refusal, which meant that unless Seacat could change the mind of the board that considered the appeal, CenturyLink would get the funding rather than Clearnetworx.

CenturyLink prevailed because it had the attorneys and the experience to wield the right of first refusal as a weapon. When all was said and done, however, the people in the project area did not have access to the fast, affordable, reliable fiber connectivity they would have obtained from Clearnetworx. CenturyLink instead obtained state subsidies to deploy DSL that was better than the services it was already offering, but no where near as useful as the Internet access Seacat’s company had planned to deploy....

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