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hb 282 2013
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Municipal broadband networks have been gaining traction across the country. It's easy to see why: In many rural and low-income communities, privately offered broadband services are nonexistent. In its 2012 Broadband Progress Report the Federal Communications Commission counted nearly 20 million Americans (the vast majority living in rural areas) beyond the reach of broadband.
The Free Press' Timothy Karr's words are supported by the growing number of pins on our Community Network Map. We connect with places nearly every day where municipal networks fill the cavernous gaps left by the massive corporations. Large cable and telecom providers do not hide their aversion to servicing rural areas, yet year after year their lobbying dollars persuade state politicians to introduce bills to stop the development of municipal networks. Karr reviewed recent efforts to use state laws to stifle community owned networks in a Huffington Post article.
As readers will recall, this year's front lines were in Atlanta, where HB 282 failed. We hope that loss may indicate a turning point in advancing municipal network barriers because the bill lost on a 94-70 vote with bipartisan opposition. If it had succeeded, Georgia would have been number 20 on a list of states that, thanks to ALEC and big corporate sponsors like AT&T, Comcast, Verizon, and Time Warner Cable, have decided to leave their citizenry begging for the private market to come their way.
We were happy to report when HB 282 failed to advance on the floor of the Georgia General Assembly House in a bipartisan vote. We were equally pleased to learn that at least one Georgia community passed an official resolution opposing the bill while it was making its way through the committee process.
Alpharetta, an Atlanta suburb, is home to 57,000 people and calls itself the "Technology City of the South." The community has no municipal network and no current plans to invest in one, but nevertheless passed a resolution on February 25th which opposed HB 282.
A Bob Pepalis article on the decision quoted Councilman Jim Gilvin:
"Once again I think this is just a state legislator jumping into local business. And I appreciate their concerns, but we do a pretty good job around here, I think. And if residents don't think so, they will be more than happy to let us know," Gilvin said. "I'd appreciate it if they'd just let us handle our government."
Pepalis heard similar sentiments from Councilman Chris Owens via email
"This goes not only beyond local control, but also impacts our ability and other communities ability to be masters of our own destiny and influence on development as well as provides services to their constituents, both residential and commercial," Owens said. "If that's something in a community's best interests, who better to make that decision than a community rather than the state on behalf of the community."
First, the resolution [PDF] sums up the real world affects of the proposal, if it had passed:
WHEREAS, House Bill 282 would tie the hands of municipal officials in their efforts to build digital networks they need to attract economic development and create a high quality of life for their citizens; and
WHEREAS, House Bill 282 is a bill that would undermine self-determination of cities in the digital age as illustrated by the following:
Moultrie City Manager Discusses Origins of CNS Network in Georgia for Community Broadband Bits Episode 39
Mike Scott, City Manager of Moultrie in Georgia, joins us for Episode #39 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast to share the origins of the Community Network Services (CNS) network that joins four towns in four counties in rural southwest Georgia. In this interview, Mike Scott shares some of the benefits of the network for local schools and community savings. Built originally because the existing cable and telephone companies would not invest in their communities, CNS has proved itself an incredibly valuable community investment. CNS is credited with creating over 6,000 jobs in the communities it serves, a tremendous boon for the communities that joined together to create this network. During our interview (below), we note a video they created to show off some of the benefits of this network. Here it is: Read the transcript from this podcast here. We want your feedback and suggestions for the show - please e-mail us or leave a comment below. Also, feel free to suggest other guests, topics, or questions you want us to address. This show is 20 minutes long and can be played below on this page or subscribe via iTunes or via the tool of your choice using this feed. Search for us in iTunes and leave a positive comment! Listen to previous episodes here. You can can download this Mp3 file directly from here. Find more episodes in our podcast index. Thanks to D. Charles Speer & the Helix for the music, licensed using Creative Commons.
As we monitored Georgia's HB 282, a bill to limit the capacity of local governments to invest in Internet networks that spur economic development, we learned of many existing networks that have helped communities to thrive.
Brian Thompson, Director of Electric and Telecommunications in Monroe took some time to tell us a little about their city network. Located in the north central section of Georgia, with a population of 13,000, the network now offers triple play services to residents and businesses. Its network started in the 1970s with a municipal cable tv network. Today, the network is a hybrid with fiber having been added as an expansion to its cable network.
Monroe's investment in its fiber began as a way to improve connections for education. The Walton County School District could not find a private provider willing to collaborate on an affordable network between school facilities. The city took on the challenge and built a point-to-point network which the School District paid for in 10 years. In the mean time, the city expanded its network in other areas. Now, the Walton County Schools have gig service between facilities and to the Internet. The District pays only $500 per month for a service that would cost five times more from a private provider.
Thompson also confirmed what we hear from other communities with publicly owned networks - prices for business and residential services are very competitive and service is superior. He notes that customers often express appreciation for local representatives, rather than dealing with a huge bureaucracy like those at Verizon or AT&T. New connections can be created in a matter of hours or days instead of weeks.
Brendan Fischer of the Center for Media and Democracy's PR Watch examines the ties between HB 282, the people behind it, and how it evolved into a threat to connectivity and local control. Brendan gave us permission to repost the story in full here. Since authoring this story, HB 282 was defeated in Georgia in a floor House vote. However, understanding where these bill comes from is critical, so we still wanted to run this piece.
Community-Owned Internet, Long Targeted by ALEC and Big Telecom, Under Fire in Georgia
Members of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) in the Georgia Legislature are pushing a bill to thwart locally-owned internet in underserved communities, an industry-sponsored effort that effectively reinforces the digital divide. A vote in the Georgia Assembly is scheduled for Thursday, March 7; if Georgia passes the bill it would be the twentieth state to eliminate community control over internet access.
Rural and Poor Communities Take Control of Internet
As many as one in ten Americans cannot get internet connections that are fast enough for basic activities like streaming video or file sharing, largely because big internet providers like AT&T and Time Warner Cable have refused to provide adequate service to communities where the population is too dispersed or too poor. As local economies become ever more dependent on internet access, though, this digital divide is leaving rural and low-income communities in the dust.
We finally see television news outlets asking the tough questions of bill pushed by powerful cable and telephone companies to prevent giving residents a real choice in cable and Internet service providers. We been covering this Georgia bill closely, and were glad to see this segment:This video is no longer available. The segment makes an error in suggesting that tax dollars are commonly used by local governments in building networks. They are not. Most municipal networks are built using revenue bonds, where the community does not pledge its full faith and credit. Instead, they sell bonds to private investors who are then repaid by the revenues generated by the network. But this mistake is more than outweighed with the reveal at end of the video, that the municipal network in Thomasville allowed the city to drop its local property entirely. Yet another community benefiting tremendously from owning its own network.
Community leaders from several Georgia cities made the trek to Atlanta to oppose HB 282 on Thursday, February 28th. Opposition to this bill to limit investment in Internet networks includes community leaders, high tech companies, and citizens all over the state. Nevertheless, legislators on the House Energy, Utilities, and Telecom Committee chose to ignore the needs of communities, prefering to tell them from afar how to run their towns. Winners? Incumbents Windstream, AT&T, CenturyLink, and Comcast.
A substitute bill [PDF] was introduced that exempts communities with municipal electric utilities from the prohibition to provide telecommunications. Additionally, the bill's definition of "broadband service" is now defined as service equal to or greater than 3.0 Mbps. "in the faster direction." While these look like compromises at first blush, they do very little to change the real world application of the bill.
Our earlier analysis of the bill addressed the fact that the expense and time required to prove locations of unserved areas as defined by the bill, would foreclose the possibility of communities making investments in this essential infrastructure. Likewise, communities that already have networks would be similarly burdened.