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Jim Baller Testimony Outlines the Consequences of State Preemption Laws
In September, we wrote about the elimination of significant state barriers in Arkansas and Washington as legislators at the state level pushed to overturn the laws protecting monopoly providers which prevent localities from building and operating their own broadband infrastructure.
The result of those moves is that the number of states which maintain barriers to community-owned networks fell to 17, heralding significant progress for the future.
The same week, Coalition for Local Internet Choice (CLIC) President Jim Baller testified before the Missouri House of Representatives' Interim Broadband Development Committee to address the state of preemption across the U.S. There, he argued that the "Missouri Legislature should follow the lead of Arkansas and Washington State and repeal the restrictions in R.S.Mo. § 392.410, once and for all. It should also reject any proposed new restrictions on municipal, cooperative, or public-private broadband projects."
During the course of his remarks he makes a powerful case against "state barriers to municipal, cooperative, or public-private broadband initiatives":
[The] are not only bad for the communities involved, but they also hurt the private sector in multiple ways. They prevent private companies from making timely sales of equipment and services to municipal or cooperative networks. They impede companies from using advanced public or cooperative networks to offer businesses and residential customers an endless array of modern products and services. They thwart economic and educational opportunities that can contribute to a skilled workforce that would benefit existing and new businesses across the state. They also deny the community the economic and social benefits from which everyone in the community can benefit, including the private sector.
Republican Broadband Agenda Would Preempt Local Authority and Ban Municipal Networks
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.
Master the Basics of Broadband with ILSR’s Christopher Mitchell on Merit Webinar
Need better Internet access in your community but don’t know where to start? Want to educate your local leaders on broadband solutions but they can’t tell DSL from fiber optic?
Join the Institute for Local Self-Reliance’s Christopher Mitchell on Tuesday, May 5 at 12 p.m. ET for a webinar on broadband basics as part of Merit’s Michigan Moonshot Educational Series. The conversation will introduce various broadband solutions and technologies, giving participants the necessary foundation to start working on better Internet access locally.
Merit, a statewide educational and research network run by Michigan’s public university system, is hosting the event. Michigan Moonshot is Merit’s effort to improve Internet access in the state by collecting accurate data, disseminating educational resources, influencing policy decisions, and connecting communities to funding.
ABCs of Connectivity
Christopher’s presentation, on Tuesday, May 5 at 12 p.m. ET, will “explore the trade-offs, capacity, and economics behind common Internet access technologies, including cable, DSL, mobile wireless, fixed wireless, satellite, and fiber optic,” according to the event page. The webinar will aim to give participants “the confidence to engage in broadband discussions, debates, and efforts to improve broadband Internet access.”
This introduction is ideal for residents, community leaders, and business owners who want to engage with local efforts to increase connectivity. If you already have a good understanding of broadband technologies, consider inviting local officials or stakeholders to the webinar to build their knowledge.
Sign up online in advance for the webinar link.
Dust up on the Rules
Christopher Honored at October Broadband Communities Event
This past October at the Broadband Communities Economic Development event, Christopher returned with all sorts of news from different places around the country where people are taking control of local connectivity. He also returned with an award from the Coalition for Local Internet Choice (CLIC). The nonprofit organization champions the right for local communities to decide for themselves the best course of action when expanding broadband to their residents, businesses, and institutions.
CLIC honored Christopher with the organization's "Indispensable Contributor Award" and described their decision to recognize his work:
You have been chosen for this singular award in recognition of the indispensable contributions you have made to local Internet choice during the last decade, for your tireless opposition to barriers to local decision-making, and for your creation of a huge and immensely valuable body of knowledge about community broadband initiatives.
As a clever symbol of Christopher's "indispensable" work CLIC's President Jim Baller presented him with a special travel mug to add to his awards shelf:
In a follow-up email, Jim added:
“If Chris Mitchell and his team at ILSR did no more than tell the evolving story of community broadband in real time, their work would be invaluable. But that is far from all they do. They often write high-quality analyses and reports. They address countless audiences in person and through electronic means. They participate actively in our fights against state barriers to public broadband initiatives. They communicate regularly with the media to debunk industry myths and falsehoods. This list could go on and on. Chris and his colleagues have truly earned CLIC’s recognition for their indispensable work."
Thanks, Jim and CLIC, from all of us at the Community Broadband Networks Team at the Institute for Local Self-Reliance. We are truly thankful for the work you've done to lay a strong foundation on which we can build more support for local communities.
Preemption Detente: Municipal Broadband Networks Face Barriers in 19 States
Update: As of May 25, 2021, only 17 states retained their municipal barriers. Arkansas and Washington have removed theirs.
Municipal broadband networks already serve more than 500 communities across the country, but some states are trying to keep that number from growing. Nineteen states have established legal barriers or even outright bans on publicly owned networks, according to well-respected communications law firm Baller Stokes & Lide.
These state laws, often enacted at the behest of large telecom monopolies, slow the development of community owned connectivity in various ways. From Alabama to Wisconsin, states have implemented everything from direct prohibitions on municipal networks to oppressive restrictions and requirements that limit competition.
The outlook for municipal connectivity may be starting to improve though, despite incorrect reports that state-level broadband preemption increased over the past year. Baller Stoke & Lide’s list of states with restrictions on municipal broadband investment actually shrunk this year from 20 states to 19 — a result of downgrading Colorado’s SB 152 from bonafide barrier to mere annoyance. Still, barriers to community networks remain in more than a third of all states, leaving millions of Americans unconnected and tens of millions more without local Internet choice.
Bans, Blocks, and Burdens
Common approaches to preempting municipal broadband networks range from straightforward bans to confusing financial restrictions and complicated legal requirements. While some states have established one main barrier to community broadband, many more have adopted a bird’s nest of regulations that kill any possibility of municipal connectivity, if only because of the legal uncertainty created by complex and vague laws.
The State of State Preemption, Nineteen is the Number - Community Broadband Bits Podcast 368
An increasing number of local communities are investigating ways to improve connectivity through municipal networks. Some of these communities must find a way to overcome state laws that preclude them from investing in broadband infrastructure, or have established requirements that make doing so prohibitive. Recently, we’ve seen reports on state laws that inflate the number of states with these types of preemptive barriers in place. It's important that folks researching options for their communities get accurate information, so we decided it was time to address the confusion and recent state changes.
This week, Christopher and our Communications Specialist Jess Del Fiacco critique a list of states with preemptive barriers created by BroadbandNow. While we consider BroadbandNow a great resource, their definition of what makes a barrier goes a little farther than what is generally accepted among municipal network policy advocates. Christopher and Jess explain our definition and discusses the more general criteria BroadbandNow has adopted.
Jess and Christopher also discuss why we decided to remove a couple of states from our list, reducing it from 21 to 19. They offer recent examples of state legislation that rolled back tight restrictions and the reasoning behind those changes. Finally, Christopher and Jess talk about ongoing efforts, places where there is still significant risk of increased restrictions, and possible outcomes for state or federal preemptions that may reduce state barriers.
For details on the specific state laws that limit local authority, be sure to check out the most recent version of "State Restrictions on Community Broadband Services or Other Public Communications Initiatives" [PDF] from Baller, Stokes & Lide.
Do you want us to get into more detail about state legislation? Let us know by sending us an email.
You can also hear Jim Baller talk with Christopher for episode 67 of the podcast on the history of municipal networks, a great conversation on several state battles.
This show is 32 minutes long and can be played on this page or via Apple Podcasts or the tool of your choice using this feed.
We want your feedback and suggestions for the show-please e-mail us or leave a comment below.
Listen to other episodes here or view all episodes in our index. See other podcasts from the Institute for Local Self-Reliance here.
Thanks to Arne Huseby for the music. The song is Warm Duck Shuffle and is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution (3.0) license.
Baby Step Toward Better Broadband in Arkansas
Earlier this month, we learned about a Senate bill in the Arkansas State Legislature that, in it’s original form, would have rescinded state restrictions preventing many municipalities from improving local connectivity. After amendments, SB 150 lost most of its effectiveness, but the bill that became law this week is still a small step in the right direction for a state where the rate of broadband connectivity is some of the lowest in the country.
For years, Arkansas has been one of the states that doesn’t allow government entities from providing broadband services to the public. The ban specifically disallowed “directly or indirectly, basic local exchange, voice, data, broadband, video, or wireless telecommunication service.” There has always been an exception to the ban for communities that have their own electric or cable utilities and want to offer telecommunications services. No municipality may offer basic exchange service, interpreted as telephone service.
Only a few communities have taken advantage of the legal exception, such as Paragould, Clarksville, and Conway. In recent years, electric cooperatives are deploying in rural areas, but many of the state’s rural residents rely on DSL, fixed wireless, and satellite. In the few more populous communities, there may also be scattered cable connections available.
Even though large incumbent ISPs have collected federal grant funding in the past, deployment in Arkansas has been inadequate to connect all Arkansans. According to the FCC, connectivity to households is near the bottom of the list.
"Making Connections" With Next Century Cities in Pittsburgh; Still Time to Register
The Next Century Cities’ Regional Broadband Summit is quickly approaching. Summer tends to slip by without notice, but we don’t want this summer opportunity to also slip by. You can still register for the July 23 - 24 event in Pittsburgh, “Making Connections,” and touch base with elected officials from cities, towns, and counties from across the U.S. Municipal, nonprofit, and academic staff can register for free.
On Monday, Next Centuries Cities will bring together experts in policy, broadband champions, and community leaders from all levels of government to tackle issues surrounding broadband deployment. Some of the topics they will discuss include digital equity, financing, rural connectivity, 5G, and they’ll offer success stories.
In addition to Christopher, you can expect to see presentations by:
- Jonathan Chambers of Connexon and formerly of the FCC
- Jim Baller from the premier law firm Baller, Stokes & Lide
- Melanie McCoyfrom Sebewaing, Michigan
- Tom Coverick from KeyBanc Capital Markets
Blair Levin, Senior Fellow from the Brookings Institution will provide the Keynote Address. Check out the agenda to see more about panel discussions and breakout sessions.
On Monday evening, attendees are invited to a welcome reception in Pittsburgh City Hall where vendors and public officials can connect in a casual setting.
Tuesday’s Speed Networking
On Tuesday, the event will focus on the Second Annual City-Vendor Connect, a “speed networking” event in which participants can speak to each other individually:
Broadband Communities Summit 2018 Next Week! Still Time To Register!
Is it here already?! Next week is the 2018 Broadband Communities Summit in Austin, Texas. Will you be there? You can still register online for the the event; this year the discussions will concentrate on FIBER: Putting your Gigs To Work.
Check out the agenda for all the scheduled panels, lectures, and discussions.
There's still time to get there so you can see Christopher and other experts, such as Jim Baller, Joanne Hovis, Catharine Rice, and Deb Socia. This is an opportunity to ask experts the questions you've been pondering and hear opinions from different perspectives in the industry.
On May 1st at 3p.m., Christopher will be part of the "Economic Development Track Blue Ribbon Panel" along with Nicol Turner-Lee, Ph.D., from the Center for Technology Innovation Brookings Institution and Will Rhinehart, Director of Technology and Innovation Policy at the American Action Forum. Lev Gonick, CIO from Arizona State University, will be leading the discussion.
Look for Christopher to participate in other discussions and sit in on other panels. You can also check out who else will be speaking at the Summit; it’s a long list that covers a broad range of expertise.
If you're able to arrive by April 30th, you can make the Coalition for Local Internet Choice Special Program (CLIC). CLIC will to bring community leaders from different organizations and entities across the U.S. to discuss the growing importance of local authority. There will be a panel discussion on local authority and preemption featuring a talk about Westminster and their award winning partnership with Ting Internet. Christopher will also be part of the CLIC program - look for him.
The Summit only comes around once a year and it's a great time to get caught up and connect with new people. So much has happened in the past year, it will be a challenge to take it all in, but you'll definitely have fun trying.
BDAC "Model" State Code: CLIC Is Having None Of That
The Broadband Deployment Advisory Council (BDAC), established by the FCC in January 2017, has caused concern among groups interested in protecting local authority. On April 12th, the Coalition for Local Internet Choice (CLIC) voiced those concerns in a precisely worded letter to Ajit Pai’s FCC that spelled out the way the BDAC is running roughshod over local rights.
Leaving Out The Locals
As CLIC states in the beginning of their letter, the lack of local representation on the BDAC indicates that the FCC has little interest in hearing from cities, towns, and other local government. There’s plenty of representation on the Council, however, from corporations and private carriers.
From CLIC’s letter:
The audacity and impropriety of the process is clear from the fact that this entity, comprised primarily of corporate and carrier interests, is empowered by the Commission to develop model codes that could potentially impact every locality and state in the United States without any serious input from the communities it will most affect.
This group of individuals has been tasked with developing model codes that may be adopted at the local level; local input is not only necessary to create policies that are consider the needs of local folks, but that will work. To achieve productivity, BDAC needs to understand the environments in which their proposals may be adopted, otherwise their goal to be increasing broadband deployment may be compromised. Omitting a broad local perspective is not only improper it’s counterproductive.
The BDAC has already released a draft model state code, which has stirred up resistance and CLIC explains why. A key problem with the legislation is that it doesn’t appear to be backed up with anything other than philosophies, ideals, or self-interest, writes CLIC. Policy this important should be based on data.
They lay out eight specific and definable reasons why the proposed legislation falls flat for local communities.