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Though voting was highly conflicted and debates lasted late into Sunday night, H.B. 1336, an act granting public entities unrestricted authority to provide telecommunications and Internet services to end-users, scraped through the Washington State Senate by a vote of 27-22 on April 11.
If State Governor Jay Islee signs H.B. 1336, Washington will have removed its barriers to municipal networks, leaving just 17 states with deliberate barriers to local Internet choice. “We’re fired up around here,” said the bill’s sponsor, Rep. Drew Hansen, D-23, in an interview. “What a huge deal this is. It undoes 20 years of bad state policies which restricted local governments from offering broadband.”
Washington’s charter counties, first-class cities, and cities operating under Washington’s Optional Municipal Code already have the power to construct telecommunications networks and offer Internet access services to their residents without third-party business overseeing network management operations.
Hansen’s bill would give this authority to the public entities currently restricted by statute from offering retail services. This includes Public Utility Districts (PUDs) and district ports, as well as, towns, second-class cities (defined as those with populations of 1500 or more which have not adopted a city charter) and counties currently not operating under Washington’s Optional Municipal Code.
Hansen said this about the development:
BREAKING: Wash. Senate just passed my Public Broadband Act (HB1336). Thanks to the parents, teachers, students, public utility districts, tribes, activists, 1000+ people signing in support (!) and more. WE did this; amazing team effort. Public Broadband Now!!!
With all the buzz around the prioritization of municipal and cooperative broadband networks in the American Jobs Plan unveiled by President Biden last week, let’s not forget about one leading voice in Congress calling for broadband for all.
Last year, with assistance from the House Rural Broadband Task Force he created, Rep. James Clyburn, D-SC, introduced the Affordable, Accessible Internet for All (AAIA) Act, a bold bill that proposed a $100 billion investment to build high-speed Internet infrastructure in unserved and underserved parts of the country.
Although the legislation stalled in the Mitch McConnell-led U.S. Senate prior to the 2020 election, it did set the Democratic agenda on broadband moving forward. Now, as the Biden Administration has settled into the White House and with Democrats in control of Congress, Clyburn has reintroduced a slightly slimmed down $94 billion AAIA, alongside companion legislation in the U.S. Senate sponsored by Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-MN.
If it passes, the bill would be a game changer, as it goes beyond funding high-speed Internet infrastructure to attack the digital divide from essentially every angle. The bill includes funding and dedicated support to address barriers that prevent millions of Americans from having access to affordable, high-speed Internet connectivity. It backs measures that would encourage pricing transparency, promote Internet adoption and digital literacy initiatives, guarantee affordability, and protect the rights of workers who would build the networks.
While all of these measures are critical, one of the most important requirements included in the revamped legislation is for input from local, state and Tribal governments to be taken into account when determining what projects AAIA will fund.
This week’s community broadband state legislative roundup revisits and provides updates on important bills moving through the state legislatures in Washington, Oklahoma, and California.
The State Scene
We’ve been closely covering S.B. 5383 and H.B. 1336, two bills in Washington state that would give Public Utilities Districts (PUDs) and port districts the authority to offer retail telecommunications services.
Our initial coverage pointed out shortcomings in S.B. 5383. The bill originally contained a preemption clause that gave private Internet Service Providers (ISPs) the power to reject PUDs’ and ports’ project proposals in areas where incumbent ISPs claim they plan to expand service within six months.
Since our last reporting on this piece of legislation, the bill was amended by the State House Community and Economic Development Committee, removing the veto authority initially given to existing ISPs. However, a new provision favoring incumbent cable ISPs was also added, which would prohibit a PUD or port from providing retail Internet services in an area where an existing provider offers service at a minimum of 100 Megabits per second (Mbps) download speed and 20 Mbps upload speed. The minimum speed requirements of this provision would be increased to stay consistent with Washington’s state definition of broadband.
The Committee also amended the bill to allow PUDs and ports to provide retail services in served areas, but only when building to reach an unserved region.
On Episode 9 of Connect This!, hosts Christopher Mitchell and Travis Carter (USI Fiber) are joined by Kim McKinley (Chief Marketing Officer, UTOPIA Fiber) and Doug Dawson (President, CCG Consulting) to talk about the recently signed American Rescue Plan Act, which has the potential to funnel an unprecedented level of funding to communities which can be used for Internet infrastructure.
The group talks about the different buckets of money that will become available and how cities, counties, and states might use them. They discuss the ways that communities can use the federal funds to reduce risk for local projects and push them forward, create partnerships with public organizations and private firms, and what local officials need to do to ensure that they are ready when the money starts flowing to effect long-term positive change.
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Charter Spectrum Pushes Florida Law That Would Preempt Local Authority and Increase Burden on Municipal Electric Ratepayers
A pair of bills making the rounds through Florida’s state legislature are an attack on the state’s urban municipal electric utility ratepayers to the financial benefit of big cable monopolies, under the guise of expanding rural broadband.
H.B. 1239 and S.B. 1592 read like regulatory wishlists for Florida’s big Internet service providers. Word around the capitol is that the bills are heavily influenced by Charter Spectrum, the major incumbent cable Internet provider in the region (insiders also noted in an interview that it was sponsored by the Florida Internet and Television Association, of which Charter and Comcast are members).
H.B. 1239/S.B. 1592 would require municipal electric utilities to provide private companies with access to their poles at a capped rate, though the cost of attaching new telecommunications infrastructure differs based on size, shape, and weight. Florida’s municipal electric utilities, and their ratepayers, would be burdened with any additional costs that surpass the capped rate.
The bills would further require electric utilities to reengineer utility poles to accommodate broadband providers’ attachment requests within 90 days of receiving them. In some instances, municipal electric utilities would be forced to cover the full costs of pole replacements, rather than the new attacher.
At ILSR, we are concerned that make-ready policies do discourage competition and we have encouraged streamlined access and consistent, fair rates to ensure Internet service providers can pursue efficient deployment. However, this bill would force electric ratepayers, including residents and local businesses, to shoulder more of the burden for private firms like Charter Spectrum and AT&T with the latter avoiding paying their fair share of attachment costs.
Join Us Live on Monday at 4pm ET for Connect This! Episode 9 - Infrastructure Funding in the American Rescue Plan
Join us for Episode 9 of Connect This!, where hosts Christopher Mitchell and Travis Carter (USI Fiber) will be joined by Joanne Hovis (President, CTC Energy and Technology) and Doug Dawson (President, CCG Consulting) to talk about the recently signed American Rescue Plan Act, which has the potential to funnel an unprecedented level of funding to communities which can be used for Internet infrastructure.
Together they'll talk about what can be done with this money, what restrictions exist, and how communities can ready themselves to embark upon broadband projects quickly. Christopher, Travis, Joanne, and Doug will also explore the viability of the variety of technologies available for deployment, and what it would look like for local officials to boldly take the reins and move the needle on locally owned information infrastructure for their communities.
The show will begin on Monday, April 5th at 4pm ET/3pm CT via this link, or watch below.
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This is the first in an ongoing series of state legislative roundups of bills that advance the prospects of success for community broadband networks. Feel free to reach out to Jericho Casper with tips or corrections.
High-Speed Hirings - Your Mission, Should You Choose To Accept It
Investments in broadband infrastructure at the municipal level are on the rise, creating more employment opportunities in the broadband industry. Advocates for municipal broadband who feel called to make a change in their communities should check out these job openings:
Applications are being accepted for a Broadband Manager/Head Network Engineer to oversee the business and technical operations of DayNet — a new Internet utility emerging in Dayton, Texas — in the process of constructing a citywide Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) network.
Whatcom County, Washington
The State Scene
From coast to coast, state lawmakers are aiming to create centralized broadband clearinghouses and improve permitting processes. Here’s a snapshot:
New Mexico Legislature Seeks Reforms to Craft State Broadband Plan
With merely five days remaining in the state's legislative session, New Mexico legislators are pushing to advance bills that would set up a centralized body within the state government tasked with improving Internet access.
Pending Bills In Washington Legislature Aim To Allow Public Utility Districts to Partake in Retail Broadband Market
Though Washington is home to one of the nation’s fastest growing tech hubs, many communities throughout the state lack adequate broadband infrastructure. The stark divide between those Washingtonians with reliable home broadband connections, and those without, became especially relevant last year, when many were forced to rely on their home Internet access for work, school, health, socialization, and much more.
A year into the pandemic, it seems lawmakers in Olympia are finally waking up to the connectivity issues currently plaguing the state. In January, bills aiming to advance broadband connectivity by allowing public entities to participate in the retail broadband market were presented in the House and Senate of the Washington State Legislature. The two bills have both cleared their respective chambers, and are waiting to be heard in committees of the opposite legislative chamber.
Discussions surrounding the two bills will continue on March 11th, when Washington’s Senate Energy Committee is set to hold a hearing for House Bill 1336, one of two bills being considered (the other is Senate Bill 5383).
Both bills aim to grant public entities, such as Public Utility Districts (PUDs) and ports, the authority to operate as Internet Service Providers (ISPs). Currently PUDs and ports can build broadband networks but must offer wholesale access to private ISPs, and are prohibited from offering direct retail services to residents and businesses. The bills being considered now would allow them to deliver Internet access to Washington residents without a charter or third-party business overseeing network management operations.
While the bills are similar, they possess important differences. At the heart of the dispute between the two proposed laws is a preemption clause included in Senate Bill 5383, sponsored by State Sen. Lisa Wellman.
Last week, House Republicans introduced a bill package ostensibly to promote broadband expansion and competition across the country. In reality, the legislation is a wish list of monopoly cable and telephone companies that will protect them from competition and decrease their accountability to the public. It would also ban communities from building their own networks or engaging in public-private partnerships.
A Rights of Way Free-for-All
About a third of the bills in the Boosting Broadband Connectivity Agenda would preempt regulations (including application timelines and fee schedules) set by government subdivisions on wireless deployment. The major mobile carriers are already in the process of slowly rolling out 5G networks which will require the installation of hundreds of thousands of small-cell sites over the next several years. AT&T spent more than $23 billion on the recently concluded 3.7 GHz C-band auction, with T-Mobile spending $9.3 billion. Verizon outspent every other bidder combined at $45 billion. Establishing shorter shot clocks and maximum fees for the installation of new hardware in public Rights of Way would simultaneously reduce the income municipalities receive and lead to the proliferation of poles and attachments across the country with limited public input. We’ve already seen how it has negatively impacted cities like Milwaukee and Tucson.
Update: The Community Broadband Action Network (CBAN) notes that it looks like SSB 1184 is dead, having been shelved in committee yesterday. They say the "bill was briefly discussed by a subcommittee of the House Commerce Committee on February 16th, but postponed 'indefinitely.'"
Less than a year after an attempt to hamstring municipal broadband in Iowa, local opponents are at it again. If you’ve been around the block, Senate Study Bill 1184 will look remarkably similar to SSB 3009 from last January 2020, and that’s because it’s nearly identical.
Like its last incarnation, SSB 1184 threatens the viability of any new municipal broadband effort by placing draconian financial barriers in the way, and, if passed, handcuffs existing networks as well as those under construction. Though there are no public fingerprints on the bill, the word around the capitol is that Mediacom is behind it. Among its provisions are those that would: