Bills, legislation, and ordinances

Is the telecom lobby killing municipal and community broadband?

Submitted by acohill on Tue, 11/08/2011 - 09:01

The Atlantic Cities has a very well researched article on the recent vote for muni broadband in Longmont, Colorado and the broader push by some of the incumbents to lobby for state laws that effectively outlaw community broadband projects and indirectly grant the incumbents a monopoly on telecom. Read the whole thing.

Longmont, Colorado votes YES on community broadband

Submitted by acohill on Wed, 11/02/2011 - 08:46

The citizens and the City of Longmont, Colorado have been engaged in a long running battle with the incumbent providers over the right of the City to build its own broadband infrastructure. In a referendum held on Tuesday, it appears that by a two to one margin, the referendum has passed. Chris Mitchell at Muni Networks has an excellent summary of the effort.

Daily Yonder: Will revised USF rules benefit rural communities?

Submitted by acohill on Wed, 10/19/2011 - 08:39

The Daily Yonder has a great piece on the challenges rural communities face in getting adequate broadband services. It is a fairly long article, but worth a complete read because there are really two stories in it. The first is how a locally owned service provider was forced out of business by an incumbent, to the detriment of the community and local economic development. The second part of the story is the proposed new rules for the Universal Service Fund (USF). The USF money can be tapped by incumbent phone companies to expand service, but many of them are writing off, selling off, or limiting investment in rural parts of their service territories. The USF money ought to be available to both incumbents and communities that want to make broadband infrastructure investments. Citizens and businesses pay, via taxes, for the USF, and to deny communities the right to use their own money to improve their economic circumstances is troubling. Let's hope the new rules level the playing field for access to those funds.

USF reform may not have desired impact

Submitted by acohill on Sun, 07/31/2011 - 10:26

Eldo Telecom has an excellent critique of the proposed USF reform. My concern with any USF reform is that it should allow community-owned broadband efforts access to USF funds. There is no reason why a community that builds its own open access infrastructure should be forced to channel their portion of USF funds to legacy networks.

End of the world: NC governor refuses to veto anti-broadband bill

Submitted by acohill on Mon, 05/23/2011 - 08:29

Governor Perdue of North Carolina has indicated that she will not veto the anti-community, anti-economic development, anti-jobs, anti-rural anti-broadband bill recently passed by the North Carolina legislature. Instead, she will signal her "displeasure" by allowing it to become law without signing it.

This may not be the end of the world, but it is certainly a catastrophe, first and foremost for rural communities in North Carolina, who have been thrown under the bus by their own representatives, and second for other states and rural communities in the U.S. Expect that the incumbents, emboldened by this success in North Carolina, will try to purchase more laws in other states.

For those that remain unconvinced this is a problem, read this letter from a major North Carolina high tech software firm (the hugely successful Red Hat Linux). Here is the bottom line from the article:

"...One of the most difficult and expensive line-items in this multi-million dollar project was securing a broadband link to the site in rural Chatham County. I spent more than two years begging Time Warner to sell me a service that costs 50x more than it should, and that's after I agreed to pay 100% of the installation costs for more than a mile of fiber. .... Community broadband initiatives reach more people faster, at lower costs, leading to better economic development. Take it from me: had I been able to spend the time and money on community broadband that I spent in my commercial negotiations, there would be more jobs in Chatham County today."

"Broadband Buffoonery" in North Carolina

Submitted by acohill on Wed, 05/18/2011 - 08:23

If it seems like I am writing a lot about the situation in North Carolina, it is because the broadband fight there has national implications. This short article from DSLReports does a good job a summarizing just how awful the situation is. Right now, only the Governor can stop it, as the legislature (both houses) has passed this monstrosity.

Lawrence Lessig jumps into NC broadband fight

Submitted by acohill on Tue, 05/17/2011 - 10:10

The dire situation in North Carolina with H129 (effectively bans community investments in broadband infrastructure) continues to attract national attention. Well known legal expert Lawrence Lessig has issued a plea to petition the governor to veto the bill.

North Carolina Senate votes for broadband death spiral

Submitted by acohill on Wed, 05/04/2011 - 07:46

I'm not even going to bother including a link, as the Web is full of commentary on this sad state of affairs, whereby the NC Senate has voted to hand future economic development and jobs growth in the state over to a handful of private sector telecom incumbents. If the bill passes, these incumbents will decide where businesses can locate in North Carolina and where people can work.

You might think, "Too bad for North Carolina," but if the bill gets through the legislature and the governor signs it, expect a full out, nationwide assault on broadband, state by state. It's not too early to start educating your local legislators on the importance of this issue.

And as I have noted in previous blog articles, this is not about "free markets" versus "government control." It's about state legislators being bought and paid for by crony capitalists. What communities want is free markets, and the incumbents are furiously trying to protect their grossly inadequate de facto monopolies.

Entire telecom industry to NC legislators: Are you crazy?

Submitted by acohill on Wed, 04/06/2011 - 13:47

Google, Intel, the Fiber to the Home Council, the Telecommunications Industry Association, the American Public Power Association, and the Utilities Telecom Council have all jointly signed a letter addressed to the North Carolina Speaker of the House and the North Carolina Senate President. The letter strongly protests the anti-community broadband bill currently being considered by the legislature. Like several other groups protesting this dog of a bill, the signatories indicate the jobs-killing nature of the legislation.

" will harm both the public and private sectors, stifle economic growth, prevent the creation or retention of thousands of jobs, hamper work force development and diminish the quality of life in North Carolina."

FCC to North Carolina: What the heck are you thinking?

Submitted by acohill on Tue, 04/05/2011 - 14:37

When an FCC Commissioner takes the time to tell your state that what your legislators are doing is foolish, your state has a problem.

FCC Commissioner Clyburn had this to say yesterday:

“Not long after the National Broadband Plan was issued, I had the privilege to visit North Carolina and speak about the goals in the Plan, and the importance of our nation using every available tool to address the broadband divide. I believe now, as I did then, that no American citizen or community should be left behind in the digital age. However, I remain concerned that when cities and local governments are prohibited from investing directly in their own broadband networks, citizens may be denied the opportunity to connect with their nation and improve their lives. Local economies will suffer as a result, and the communities’ ability to effectively address education, health, public safety, and other social issues will be severely hampered. Regrettably, North Carolina isn’t the only state considering such legislation. My home state of South Carolina has similar legislation pending, and the state of Arkansas is contemplating a complete ban on publicly-owned broadband facilities. I fear that preventing local governments from investing in broadband is counter-productive and will impede the nation from accomplishing the Plan’s goal of providing broadband access to every American and community anchor institution.”

The only good thing about this flurry of anti-jobs legislation is that economic developers in the states adjacent to North Carolina, South Carolina, and Arkansas must be dancing a jig.

The politicization of broadband

Submitted by acohill on Tue, 03/29/2011 - 10:43

It is unfortunate, but the issue of broadband in this country is becoming a political issue, when it should be focused more on economic prosperity, jobs, and business development. Witness this headline from the always excellent Stop the Cap! blog:

House Republicans Sell Out North Carolina’s Broadband Future to Big Telecom

The headline is a little misleading, as a bunch of Democrats also voted for this awful bill. This highly political fight in North Carolina may be good for candidates in both parties with respect to fundraising, but deliberately voting to cripple the future economic development of rural communities is, well, bad for business. Literally.

Much confusion is being sown by incumbents who are not explaining the difference between the current "little broadband" networks (DSL, wireless, cable) and "big broadband" fiber networks that are being built by communities to retain existing businesses and attract new ones.

Big broadband, simply, is about jobs, now and in the future. There are very few businesses left that don't need affordable high capacity broadband. I have written before about the deli owner who was losing lunch business because credit card verification over his DSL line was taking too long. Why politicians of any party think it is a good idea to cripple economic development in their districts is a mystery.

NC legislators to businesses: Don't come to our state!

Submitted by acohill on Fri, 03/25/2011 - 10:09

Just when you thought you had heard it all, North Carolina legislators are about to pass a law declaring the state a broadband-free zone. An amendment to a very bad broadband bill will declare that "broadband" is any service that is "occasionally capable of achieving 768kbps downstream and 200kbps upstream." This is 1/5 of the feeble national goal of 4 megabits downstream and 1 megabit upstream. If there was ever a declaration of war against economic development, this is it. If it were 1920, it would the equivalent of outlawing paved roads, on the theory that "our daddies rode horses, and that's good enough." If it was 1930, it would be the equivalent of outlawing community sewer systems, on the theory that "I grew up using an outhouse, and that's good enough."

Meanwhile, city leaders in Chattanooga, Tennessee and southwest and central Virginia are rubbing their hands in glee.

It's 1970 all over again in the telecom industry

Submitted by acohill on Fri, 03/25/2011 - 09:47

AT&T wants to buy T-Mobile, which would make AT&T the biggest cellular provider in the U.S. Meanwhile, CenturyTel wants to buy Qwest. The 1984 breakup of Ma Bell and the 1996 telecom deregulation is slowly being undone as telecom in the United States is re-aggregated into enormous monopolies with antiquated business models based on maintaining a monopoly by any means possible. The incumbents are not going away, and I continue to believe the telecom giants could be turned into viable, useful businesses if they changed their basic business models, but that does not seem to be happening. When small companies like Frontier (which has buying up big chunks of Verizon's rural service areas) and CenturyTel are able to buy much bigger incumbents, it is a sign that these businesses are failing. Meanwhile, legislators are eager to prop up these businesses with legislation of the kind trying to be passed in North Carolina that prohibits communities from trying to take their economic future in their own hands. It is an absolute disaster for rural America.

Some NC legislators determined to wreck towns and cities

Submitted by acohill on Thu, 03/10/2011 - 14:55

I don't what is in the water in North Carolina, but some legislators seem determined to cripple the prosperity of towns and cities in the state. A bill to outlaw community-owned networks is working its way through the legislature, and the City of Asheville notes that the bill is so poorly worded that it would prevent the City from accepting money from the Google Fiber initiative and from Federal broadband grant programs like the the Department of Commerce broadband stimulus initiative. Muni Networks has more on the fight.

North Carolina legislators determined to crush economic development and jobs

Submitted by acohill on Fri, 03/04/2011 - 09:43

Via Stop the Cap!, some North Carolina legislators seemed determined to kill jobs and economic growth in North Carolina's communities by banning community-owned broadband. The cable companies hope to succeed in getting this legislation passed in North Carolina. If they are successful there, they will surely move the same tactics to other states. It will be devastating if they are successful, as it will leave rural communities without the telecom infrastructure needed to attract businesses and jobs.

North Carolina is still trying to outlaw community control of economic development

Submitted by acohill on Fri, 02/18/2011 - 10:49

Via Stop the Cap!, a bill has been introduced in the North Carolina legislature to make it extremely difficult for communities to invest in broadband infrastructure. The article is excellent, with a detailed analysis of the issues, so I'm not going to try to summarize it here--just read the whole thing.

The bill is sponsored by a Republican legislator, but the ability of communities to decide their own economic future should not be a partisan issue, and I think both parties have a faulty perspective. Democrats tend to be friendlier towards community broadband, but too often, Democratic proposals focus on more regulation, which often has the unintended consequence of making it more difficult to get local projects started. Republicans, while they ought to be supporting free markets and competition, too often listen only to the incumbents, and get sucked into supporting things like this new NC legislation, which looks more like crony capitalism than free markets.

Banning communities from investing in broadband would be like banning water and sewer. Water, sewer, and broadband are and have become basic economic development infrastructure, and putting roadblocks up that keeps communities from attracting new jobs and retaining existing businesses makes no sense.

The FCC and net neutrality

Submitted by acohill on Wed, 12/22/2010 - 09:34

There is plenty of sturm und drang elsewhere about yesterday's net neutrality decision by the FCC, so I am not even going to link to anything. I think that it is extremely likely that Congress or the courts, or both, will force the FCC to withdraw this new ruling, just as the FCC's ruling earlier this year was turned back. While opinions differ, it is not at all clear that the FCC has the statutory authority to do what it wants to do with net neutrality, and so nothing much is going to change until there is a ruling.

As usual, I think there is a better approach than trying to get the incumbents to change their business models by statute. Open access networks, owned by the community and managed as a digital road system, can have "net neutrality" baked into the business model so that no legislation is needed. The technology of the Internet now allows us to move beyond the outdated multiple networks (one for voice, one for TV, etc.) that were a requirement in the analog world. We can now treat networks just like we manage roads: one shared road system used by all public and private users. It lowers costs, and creates huge business opportunities for the private sector if done right. And no, I am not advocating that we should be buying our Internet access and phone service from the government. We don't have to go to the local town hall to buy groceries--but the grocery store and its customers both use the same shared road system to get food to the store and then to travel to the store to buy food. Some communities (more than 100 in the U.S.) are already building and managing their own digital road systems. And it is an approach that creates a way for incumbents to move beyond their "little broadband" networks, retain their existing customers, and reach new customers. Everyone wins.

Enzyte, Smilin' Bob, and warrantless searches

Submitted by acohill on Thu, 12/16/2010 - 15:15

The Sixth Circuit Court decision on email being protected by the Fourth Amendment contains the fascinating story behind the, uh, "male enhancement" product called "Enzyte" and the infamous Smilin' Bob character who appeared in the annoying late night TV commercials. The entire document runs 98 pages, but pages 4 through 12 describe in detail how a $250 million a year complete scam is set up and run. And yes, if you don't bother to read the decision, the short story is that Enzyte was a scam from beginning to end. But the Enzyte folks had 27,000 emails seized without a warrant, which led to this decision, and so in an odd way, Enzyte turned out to be a good thing for all of us.

Email is protected by the Fourth Amendment

Submitted by acohill on Thu, 12/16/2010 - 14:51

Freedom to Tinker reports that the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit has ruled that email is protected by the Fourth Amendment. The Fourth Amendment requires a search warrant issued by a judge before law enforcement officials can search premises, and has long been applied to opening sealed paper mail. But some law enforcement officials have wanted to simply get service providers to supply them with the contents of a customer's email without a warrant, on the rather thin basis that the emails are stored in a readable format. The ruling is significant and ensures that citizens are protected against frivolous or unjustified searches of electronic mail.

Incumbent providers fight for mediocrity in telecom

Submitted by acohill on Thu, 11/04/2010 - 08:46

Ars Technica reports on a running fight that Time-Warner has picked with the town of Wilson, North Carolina. It's a long, sad story that is worth a full read, but the bottom line is that the incumbents continue to try to force mediocre telecom services onto their customers in the name of "fairness." It is also why Design Nine typically recommends that community consider an open access network, where customers buy directly from private sector service providers rather than the local government. Open access does not guarantee that there won't be an incumbent challenge, but the open access business model makes it much harder for an incumbent to complain about "fairness," since the local government is not selling services, only private sector competitors to the incumbent.

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