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Seattle is the latest local government taking steps to protect citizens’ data. As of May 24th, companies with franchise agreements allowing them to operate in the city must obtain customer permission to sell personal data or browsing histories.
The three companies operating in Seattle are Comcast, CenturyLink and Wave Broadband.
Opting In vs. Opting Out
In Seattle, the rule will require customers to opt-in to allow companies to collect and sell their data, unlike the usual situation - opting out to refrain.
“We felt that an opt-out process was insufficient,” said Michael Mattmiller, the city’s chief technology officer. “Consumers are too busy to somehow learn through the fine print that your web usage is being mined or sold.”
To remain in compliance with the new rule, companies must submit semi-annual reports.
State Efforts Uncertain
The state is still considering passing a similar bill but Seattle isn’t waiting for Olympia to act first. Minnesota’s privacy protection amendment was removed from the omnibus jobs bill in conference committee and faces an uncertain future; acting at the municipal level appears to be most likely to stick.
Tacoma's City Council passed a resolution in April to heighten personal data privacy on the publicly owned Click! network.
Read Seattle's new rule for Internet service providers here.
Today in the Maine Legislature, the Committee on Energy, Utilities and Technology voted unanimously to stop LD 1516, a bill that would restrict local telecommunications authority. After Tuesday's compelling testimony, when it was time for a Wednesday vote, LD 1516’s sponsor moved the bill be shelved.
On Tuesday, May 2nd, the Committee of Senators and Representatives met to listen to testimony on the bill. We’ve provided audio of the public hearing.
South Portland, Islesboro, the Sanford Regional Economic Growth Council, and Rockport all sent experts with knowledge about developing public projects to testify in opposition to the bill. Representatives from GWI (the ISP working with several local communities that have invested in their own Internet infrastructure), the Maine Municipal Association, and the Mayors’ Coalition also testified against LD 1516.
Communities where publicly owned fiber is already improving local connectivity provided stories of how they tried unsuccessfully to work with incumbents. Page Classon from Islesboro described how incumbent proposals could be described as, “You pay for it, we own it, we charge you what we charge everyone else.” LD 1516 requires local referendums for such investments and Classon balked at taking such a proposal to the voters.
In South Portland, the city paid for construction of its open access fiber-optic network with general fund reserves. The language in LD 1516 restricts communities to funding through revenue bonds but South Portland uses its network to offer free Wi-Fi and to improve connectivity for municipal facilities. Under LD 1516, they would not have been able to make the investment.
Rick Bates from Rockport testified that the bill would force municipalities to contend with restrictions that legacy providers will never face and how those restrictions will not solve the problem of connecting rural Maine. Bates also took the opportunity to point out that organizations such as the Taxpayer Protection Alliance relies on misinformation and incorrect data, such as their erroneous assertion that Rockport has debt for its FTTH project.
Earlier this week, we learned that a bill in the Maine House of Representatives had been introduced that would steal local telecommunication authority from communities working to improve their connectivity. LD 1516 / HP 1040 was assigned to the House Energy, Utilities and Technology Committee and is scheduled for a hearing on May 2nd at 1 p.m.
Maine is a mostly rural state that doesn’t draw much investment from national cable and telephone companies, so in the past few years local folks have started taking steps to improve Internet access for themselves. Their efforts have gotten the attention of the big corporations that fear competition and, since Maine doesn’t have restrictions on municipal networks, it appears to be one of the next targets. Rep. Nathan Wadsworth’s bill imposes a number of restrictions that threaten to derail current or proposed projects to bring better connectivity to several Maine communities.
The bill is deceivingly titled “An Act To Encourage Broadband Development through Private Investment,” but it will discourage any new investment that may attract new entrants to Maine.
Let Them Know What You're Thinking
If you want to contact members of the committee and tell them that this bill will discourage investment, rather than encourage it, contact information for all the members is available here. The best time to stop a bill is early in committee. If one of these elected officials represents you, be sure to let them know.
Recently, state lawmakers in Minnesota passed legislation to protect Minnesotans’ online privacy. In Tacoma, the City Council made a similar move by passing a resolution asking the Tacoma Public Utilities board to prevent ISPs on the city’s fiber network from collecting and selling personal online data. The resolution was an example of local authority stepping in to fill the gap when federal policy fails.
When The State And The Feds Don't Act
Bills were introduced in the Washington State Legislature this session, but state lawmakers didn’t turn them into law. By mid-April, it appeared that the bills weren’t going anywhere so City Council members felt the need to address the issue after the Trump Administration’s FCC allowed privacy protections to lapse.
“I’ve just heard lots of concerns from community members and from boosters of the Click network about privacy,” said Councilman Anders Ibsen… “This also ensures that any private entity that rides our fiber, that uses the Click network, is held to certain ground rules, just really basic ground rules about respecting the privacy of their customers.”
Tacoma's Click! publicly owned network serves about 23,000 people. Over the past few years, the community has debated the future of the network and is still considering several possible scenarios. For more, check out our four-part series on the network's history and an analysis of the benefits from this public investment.
Local Network = Local Control
This spring, two more communities in Colorado reclaimed the authority to build municipal networks. Colorado Springs and Central City voted to opt out of SB 152, a state law that removed local telecommunications authority in 2005.
Voters overwhelmingly chose to restore local authority to make decisions for themselves. Now the cities can discuss if a community network is right for them.
The Denver Business Journal covered the outcome of these April votes - noting the strong showing in rural Central City. The referendum to “opt out” of SB 152 easily passed in the small community; of the 182 ballots, 162 folks voted yes for local control [pdf]. That means 89 percent of the voters were in favor of the measure.
In the much larger, urban community of Colorado Springs, the Colorado Springs Independent described a much tigher vote: 61 percent to 39 percent in favor of local authority. That’s about 50,000 yes votes to 32,000 no votes. Voters also decided another related ballot initiative concerning the sale of city infrastructure. Assets related to city utilities, such as water, electricity or telecom, now cannot be sold without the approval of a supermajority of 60 percent of votes cast in a referendum.
Nearly 100 Communities Say YES
These two communities join the nearly 100 communities that have already restored local authority. Last November, 26 other communities also voted to opt out of the law. More communities may join this growing movement this fall.
Whether you’re a local elected official, a business owner, or a grassroots advocate, you’ve learned that politics can make or break an initiative to invest in publicly owned Internet infrastructure. Improving local connectivity is only one of many initiatives that are influenced by partisanship. As we’ve seen in Washington, DC, hyper-partisanship leads to ineffective gridlock. Is there a way to move forward despite strong diametric positions?
In the most recent episode of ILSR’s Building Local Power podcast, "Breaking Through Partisanship: Left-Right-Local," our own Christopher Mitchell leads a conversation with John Farrell, Stacy Mitchell, and David Morris, directors of the ILSR Energy Democracy, Community-Scaled Economies, and Public Good initiatives, respectively.
The group discusses both broad and focused solutions. They get into the effect of corporate concentration of power and how it undermines our democracy. The group ponders monopoly power and lobbying forces, and how they influence decisions that impact the ability for local communities to make decisions. The conversation touches on media and perception, economic analysis and language, and other factors that influence how people who may have opposing political beliefs may still be able to organize for a common local policy.
“Talking about economics is one way to get there, but also, there are these shared values that we have around democracy, local control, liberty,” says Stacy Mitchell of organizing for better local solutions to national problems. “Those are things that are widely all American. I think, also, going back to those basic values and motivations are really helpful in getting past being trapped in an unhealthy partisan conversation.”
The conversation is free flowing and last about 34 minutes. You can also read the transcript of the show.
Update: Traverse City, Michigan, took home the prize as 2017 #StrongestTown. Congrats to Traverse City!
Keeping with the spirit of March Madness, the nonprofit StrongTowns ran the second annual #StrongestTown contest based on the nonprofit’s Strength Test and Principles. Of the 16 communities that participated, almost a third have been featured on MuniNetworks.org for their Internet infrastructure plans: Ellsworth, Maine; Lafayette, Louisiana; Traverse City, Michigan; and Valparaiso, Indiana.
These five communities have battled their way forward against steep competition. Through articles and podcasts on Strong Towns, they tried to showcase how their residents are active in their communities and committed to change at the local level. All five overcame the initial rounds, and Traverse, City, Michigan made it to the final round against the Canadian city of Guelph. The winner will be announced Monday, March 27th on the contest page.
Community Networks Support Vibrant Towns
It comes as no surprise to us that these communities would be in the running for #StrongestTown. Building a community network takes public support and a realistic look at financials. Publicly owned networks encourage job creation, improve healthcare, and connect low-income residents. The towns that made the cut took different approaches to better connectivity.
Even though they don't have to chip in any local funds, the town of Shutesbury, Massachusetts, rejected Charter’s proposal to build a hybrid fiber coaxial network in their community. They don’t consider the proposal a “good long-term solution to bring broadband to our town" and prefer to build a publicly owned fiber-optic network for future-proof technology, provider accountability, and local control.
You Get What You Pay For
Unlike Charter’s proposal to serve only 96 percent of the homes in the community, the town made a commitment to include all members of the community some time ago. Charter would not extend its proposal to include about three dozen properties that are further out unless the town committed to providing funds above and beyond what the state offered to provide as part of the proposal. Board of Selectmen Chair Michael Vinskey went on to tell MassLive that Charter would not commit to a specific cost for extending a network to those additional homes.
In the words of Vinskey, committing to such an ambiguous arrangement, “would not be fiscally responsible.” No kidding.
Shutesbury authorized spending for a Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) network once already. In 2015, folks at the annual Town Meeting voted to approve $1.7 million in bonding to pay for the infrastructure. They’ll take another vote this May for the debt exclusion authorization, as required by state law.
Community leaders estimate deployment to every property at approximately $2.57 million. Their share of the state grants that are to be distributed by MBI come to $870,000 for construction and professional services. Like the community of Leverett, Shutesbury intends to use a modest property tax increase to fund the infrastructure investment.
The community of Rock Falls, Illinois, is well on its way to developing a gigabit municipal network to offer better connectivity to residents, businesses, and public facilities. Last week, the City Council adopted an ordinance that allows the city to issue general obligation bonds to fund citywide fiber-optic Internet infrastructure.
The city’s plan will expand first in business corridors and then use the fiberhood approach in residential areas, building only after a certain percentage of households preregister. The plan divides the city into 14 fiberhoods with each area’s build out cost estimated to be approximately $250,000. Residential fiberhoods will require 45 percent participation prior to construction. Consultants estimate citywide buildout costs will be $13 million; the City Council authorized bonding for that amount. The first bond issue will be $4.1 million likely to happen in early May if approval proceeds as planned.
The City Council authorized the first phase of the project to begin - network design and project administration - which will cost approximately $207,000. The process to issue GO bonds will start in March and city leaders hope to have the backbone completed by the end of June.
Most publicly owned Internet infrastructure is funded by revenue bonds, avoided costs, or interdepartmental loans rather than GO bonds. When funded by general obligation bonds, a project is backed by the credit and taxing power of the issuing jurisdiction and the resource is always publicly owned. Clearly, the community of Rock Falls recognizes how critical the investment is to the community's future.
From The Mayor
In his recent State of the City address, Mayor Bill Wescott focused on three factors that drove the initiative: growth, the city’s strong finances, and local control.
While it’s common knowledge that economic development needs better connectivity than what is now available in Rock Falls, Wescott noted that residents stuck with 10 - 20 Megabits per second (Mbps) download Internet access need and deserve higher capacity connectivity to participate in the modern economy. He defined “growth” broadly, encompassing jobs, education, innovation, public safety, and government.
In December Centennial, Colorado’s City Council voted to establish Centennial FiberWorks, a program focused on making optimal use of the city’s fiber-optic backbone. In January, they took the next step by creating a Fiber Commission to manage the program.
One Step At At Time
In 2013, voters chose to opt out of Colorado’s restrictive state law SB 152 that prevents municipalities from offering telecommunications services alone or with a partner from the private sector. As in most other local referendums on the opt out question, Centennial overwhelmingly supported reclaiming local authority.
Since then, the community has established a Fiber Master Plan, which includes investing in a 50+ mile publicly owned fiber backbone. Last fall, Ting Internet announced that it had put Centennial on its list of cities where it’s considering offering fiber-optic connectivity. Since then, Ting has been assessing demand from the Centennial community and should decide soon whether or not they intend to bring Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) to the city.
Ducks In A Row
Regardless of whether Ting offers residential Internet access, or some other entrants wish to bring services to Centennial, the city now has a commission to manage the use of the network and the future network. According to a recent press release:
Centennial FiberWorks and the Fiber Commission will continue efficient and cost effective planning, construction, operation and management of the City's fiber optic infrastructure. FiberWorks is formed as an operational department of the City and serves as a publicly-owned business operation. The continuing construction, use, maintenance, and extension of the City’s fiber optic infrastructure falls under the purview of FiberWorks. The Commission provides policy direction, management and day-to-day oversight of FiberWorks.