Bills, legislation, and ordinances

Lafayette says "yes" to fiber

Submitted by acohill on Mon, 07/18/2005 - 08:01

In what may become a milestone in the quest for broadband, a public referendum in Lafayette, Louisiana to use municipal bonds to fund a fiber network passed by a wide margin (62% of voters said "yes"). Lafayette's public electric utility wanted to offer fiber broadband to its customers a couple of years ago, and the city became ground central for a bitterly fought battle led by the telephone and cable companies, which spent millions to stop the initiative.

Lafayette was probably a poor choice to fight the community. In 1896, the town had to form the Lafayette Utilities Service because the big electric companies refused to provide service to the rural community.

The Lafayette vote is significant. It was held on a Saturday, and received a 27% turnout, which is pretty high for a single issue vote (it was the only item on the ballot). Politicians across the country will have to look more closely at broadband issues going forward, because the one weakness of the telephone and cable companies is that companies do not vote--but citizens do, and in Lafayette, the citizens spoke loudly and clearly on the issue. All the lobbyist money in the world can't offset citizens determined to make a change.

The city says the first customers will get their fiber connections in about two years, and it will take a total of three and a half years to get fiber to every home and business in the community. That's not bad, considering it took almost 40 years to get a telephone to most homes.

Community Broadband Act is the right direction

Submitted by acohill on Fri, 07/15/2005 - 09:06

Introduced by Senators McCain (Arizona-R) and Lautenberg (New Jersey-D), the Community Broadband Act of 2005 would give communities the right to build out telecom infrastructure and/or offer telecom services to their citizens. The bill would prevent states from pandering to the incumbent providers by prohibiting local governments from getting involved in telecom.

This quote by Lautenberg shows that the senators have done their homework and actually are familiar with the history of public services in the U.S., something that most leaders, especially at the state level, seem woefully ignorant of:

Broadband might not be as essential as water, but it’s becoming increasingly important in our competitive global economy. Those who are left out of the high-speed revolution will miss out on opportunities for better jobs and education and a higher quality of life.

A century ago, there were efforts to prevent local governments from providing electricity to residents. Opponents argued that private businesses would suffer if they faced competition from cities and towns. But community leaders recognized that their economic survival depended on the availability of electricity, and they knew it would take both private and public investment to bring electricity to all Americans.

State telecom deregulation activity

Submitted by acohill on Tue, 07/05/2005 - 12:49

NRRI has a great summary of what is happening in individual states ontelecommunications deregulation, and there is a link at the top of the page to see the actual bills.

Sessions bill garners attention

Submitted by acohill on Thu, 06/09/2005 - 14:54

The Pete Session bill (R-Texas) would create a Federal law prohibiting states and munipalities from offering broadband as a public service. Sessions has this to say:

"Rather than investing in vital public works projects, some local and state governments are investing their limited funds into telecommunications projects and putting taxpayer dollars at risk," the five-term congressman from Dallas said in a statement. "By choosing to invest their limited resources in telecommunications infrastructures, municipal governments often duplicate services already provided by a private entity."

It is worth noting that Sessions, before he became a Congressman, worked for the phone company. What a surprise. Sessions would have apparently opposed public water projects one hundred years ago, since there were private water companies before cities and towns began to take on that service. Sessions apparently would have also opposed paved roads, since private companies also built roads before governments took that over.

It is hard to understand just how foolish Sessions can be, but it seems obvious the man has not studied much history, and has thought very little about how communities came to provide what he calls "vital public works projects." Most of those were taken on because the private sector could not or would not provide those services to every household and business. Does that sound familiar?

There is also a constitutional question here. Where the does the Federal government find it has jurisdiction over local, intra-state communities, or the states themselves, in this matter?

Overview of anti-muni broadband legislation

Submitted by acohill on Wed, 06/08/2005 - 11:21

Here is an excellent and relatively optimistic summary of what's happening at the state and Federal level with respect to anti-muni broadband, or as my old friend Gene Crick would say, "...the best laws money can buy."

The telcos and cable companies are simultaneously claiming that communities can't cope with the complexity of broadband (which in fact is a heck of a lot easier to install and maintain than sewer systems or electric systems) while screaming loudly that they need protection from unfair competition.

As Bill Gurley, the author of the article points out, which is it? Are communities a bunch of incompetent, bumbling zealots who are going to waste tax dollars (meaning they can't be much in the way of competition), or if they are serious competition, then it's pretty hard to claim they are incompetent.

Broadcast flag yanked down

Submitted by acohill on Mon, 05/09/2005 - 07:01

In a great victory for the rest of us, a Federal appellate court told the FCC to quit mucking with television receivers and to stop meddling in areas for which the Commission has no authorization. If that sounds harsh, it's mild compared to what the judge actually said:

You're out there in the whole world, regulating. Are washing machines next?" asked Judge Harry Edwards. Quipped Judge David Sentelle: "You can't regulate washing machines. You can't rule the world."

Back in 2003, the FCC had declared that all television tuners and receivers sold in the U.S. after July 1st, 2005, had to respect the "broadcast flag," which is a gimmick dreamed up by Hollywood (the Motion Picture Association) to control content unfairly and to force everyone in the country to eventually buy a new TV, among other problems. The broadcast flag, a digital code that would be included on every television broadcast, would tell VCRs, Tivo-type devices, computers, and anything else capable of recording video that the material could NOT be recorded, or if it could, under very limited circumstances.

The FCC rules flew in the face of decades of court rulings that generally said consumers had the right to make recordings for their own use and certain other uses (in libraries, as one example). The "fair use" doctrine has consistently been supported and extended by the courts, even for related technologies like photocopying.

The court ruling will keep some manufacturers from having to drop whole product lines because the cost to add the complicated broadcast flag circuitry was prohibitive.

Colorado interested in a "Qwest Monopoly Protection Act"

Submitted by acohill on Tue, 05/03/2005 - 09:18

Dave Hughes, one of the true pioneers of community broadband, has a hard-hitting article about the "Qwest Monopoly Protection Act" that is close to being passed in Colorado. Like a similar and very bad Pennsylvania law, it would bar communities from investing in their own future. The most sobering part of the article is Hughes' point that some communities in Nepal have better broadband services than some rural communities in Colorado. I know Hughes is right about that because I saw Dave make a phone call to Nepal last year in Austin, using a cheap laptop, the conference center WiFi service, and Voice over IP. We got a guy out of bed in Nepal to answer the phone at 4 in them morning, but the point is the service works. The Nepal system was designed and installed by Dave himself, using inexpensive off the shelf equipment.

I guess Colorado lawmakers think their state slogan for economic development should be, "Colorado--almost as good as Nepal."

Holland and the iPod tax

Submitted by acohill on Fri, 04/29/2005 - 08:56

The Register reports on a new law enacted in Holland that can charitably only be described as "stupid." In a misguided effort to prop up the ailing music industry, the Netherlands has decided to impose a per megabyte tax on all hard drive-based music players, with the proceeds going to the music industry.

This means, according to the article, that the 60 gigabyte model of the iPod would have a tax of $235! According to the Register, Germany also has a tax on computer hard drives, and as they get bigger, the hard drive tax could exceed the base cost of the computer (that is, the tax will be several thousand dollars).

There are so many things wrong with this approach that it is hard to know where to begin. In the first place, the Holland law assumes that all music stored on portable music players is stolen, when in fact only a very small percentage is. So music lovers have to pay royalties twice--once when they buy the music, and again when they buy the music player. It's a windfall for the music industry, since only a small part of royalties actually go to the artist. It forces the music player retailers to become tax collectors, which is always a bad idea. And it will simply drive the purchase of music players out of the country. Holland is an easy drive from a half dozen other countries, and it's barely an afternoon trip to take the train to France, pick up an iPod, and go home.

The music industry does not have a "right" to make money. As markets and technologies change, businesses have to change too. This business of using laws to protect monopolies hurts communities and whole countries, as innovation and new products are simply driven elsewhere. It's a global economy, and Dutch lawmakers are naive in extreme to believe this law will work. It will only hurt the country's economic development as businesses see their customers go elsewhere, and not just for iPods. While they are across the border, they are likely to shop for other items as well.

NH HB 653 to let communities use bonds to finance broadband

Submitted by acohill on Tue, 03/29/2005 - 13:30

This bill was held over in committee for more work this year. Text as of March, 2005 is below.

HB 653-FN-LOCAL – AS INTRODUCED

2005 SESSION

05-0714

06/10

HOUSE BILL 653-FN-LOCAL

AN ACT relative to bonds for construction, development, improvement, and acquisition of broadband facilities.

SPONSORS: Rep. Maxfield, Merr 6; Rep. Osborne, Merr 12; Sen. Gallus, Dist 1

COMMITTEE: Municipal and County Government

ANALYSIS

This bill grants municipalities the ability to issue bonds for the development of broadband services.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

Explanation: Matter added to current law appears in bold italics.

Matter removed from current law appears [in brackets and struckthrough.]

Matter which is either (a) all new or (b) repealed and reenacted appears in regular type.

05-0714

06/10

STATE OF NEW HAMPSHIRE

In the Year of Our Lord Two Thousand Five

AN ACT relative to bonds for construction, development, improvement, and acquisition of broadband facilities.

Be it Enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives in General Court convened:

1 New Section; Broadband Infrastructure Bonds. Amend RSA 33 by inserting after section 3-f the following new section:

33:3-g Broadband Infrastructure Bonds Authorized.

I. In this section:

(a) “Broadband” means the transmission, between or among points specified by the user, of information of the user’s choosing, with or without change in the form or content of the information as sent and received, at rates of transmission as defined by the Federal Communications Commission as “Broadband”.

(b) “Broadband carrier” means any provider of broadband services, except that such term shall not include aggregators of broadband services, as defined in section 226 of the 1996 Telecommunications Act.

(c) “Broadband infrastructure” means any and all equipment and facilities, including any and all changes and modifications and expansions to existing facilities as well as the customer premises equipment, used to provide broadband, and includes any and all software integral to or related to the operations, support, facilitation, or interconnection of such equipment, including upgrades, and includes any and all installation, operations and support, maintenance and other functions as may be required to support the delivery of broadband.

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