Tag Archives: muni broadband

California’s next governor talks the broadband talk, but will he walk the walk?

by Steve Blum • , , ,

California governor-elect Gavin Newsom has a broadband development track record of sorts. Whether that will translate into sound telecoms infrastructure policy remains to be seen.

When he was mayor of San Francisco, Newsom made a big splash with a deal with Google and Earthlink to blanket the city with WiFi, with free service playing a prominent role in a difficult to understand business plan. That was back during the great municipal WiFi bubble of the mid–2000s. The deal collapsed, but Newsom pushed on with a small ball program to install WiFi hot spots, including in public housing communities.

Newsom didn’t talk much about it during the campaign, but broadband rated a mention on his website

We can’t build an innovation culture with global reach or reap the benefits of the information age without the capacity to send and receive vast amounts of information. As Governor, Gavin will align infrastructure decisions with regional strategies, pursue new and creative approaches to financing including Enhanced Infrastructure Financing Districts [EIFDs] and the new state bank, and lead the movement to make universal access to high-speed broadband a reality for every Californian.

It’s not exactly a jump over the big hurdle – finding the money to pay for modern broadband infrastructure – but at least there are a couple of small hops in front of it. EIFDs were supposed to be a fast track to bond financing, backed by the tax revenue that was expected to result from infrastructure-driven economic growth. Assembly bill 1999, passed by the California legislature and signed by governor Jerry Brown earlier this year, specifically allows EIFDs to get into the broadband business.

But pretty much everything under the sun rates a line or two in Newsom’s encyclopedic campaign platform. Whether any given issue makes it from the wish list to the to do list is anyone’s guess.

California’s new muni broadband law establishes rights, and net neutrality responsibility

by Steve Blum • , , , ,

California governor Jerry Brown actually signed two network neutrality bills into law on Sunday. The Big Kahuna was senate bill 822, which establishes net neutrality rules for Internet service providers doing business in California. But alongside it was assembly bill 1999, which, among things, requires publicly owned broadband systems to abide by net neutrality principles, whether or not their private competitors have to.

It’s a mixed blessing. On the one hand, it’s good thing for muni broadband systems to operate on a net neutral basis, both from a public policy and a customer service perspective. On the other hand, it might not always be a viable way of doing business. If SB 822 is tossed out by a court, and the current anything goes federal policy stays in place, then a few years from now the broadband business might look completely different. If muni broadband systems are handcuffed to a business model that is no longer competitive, the only ones who will benefit are the big, monopoly model ISPs like AT&T, Charter and Comcast. That’ll be a problem to worry about later, though.

AB 1999 does two other things. It lifts a restriction on community service districts (CSDs) that effectively bars them from the broadband business. It was the only meaningful restriction on public agency broadband on the books in California.

The bill also clearly spells out that cities, counties and certain kinds of special districts, including CSDs, county service districts, utility districts and infrastructure financing districts can offer broadband service. It’s long been assumed they can, but there wasn’t much in the way of explicit legal authority. Cities have a long history of precedent to rely on, but other kinds of agencies don’t have that level of confidence to fall back on. I know from experience that there is a huge difference between “there’s nothing that says you can’t” and “the law specifically says you can” when you’re trying to convince local officials that a broadband enterprise is a good idea.

But there’s also potential danger. A law that explicitly allows muni broadband service is a tempting target for corporate lobbyists who want to fiddle with it, to the benefit of their business models and at the expense of the public. We’ll have to keep a permanent watch on California’s new muni broadband law.

California muni broadband bill lands on governor Brown’s desk

by Steve Blum • , , ,

Net neutrality isn’t the only broadband issue awaiting a decision from California governor Jerry Brown. As the legislative session wound down to a close last week, the California senate and then the assembly approved assembly bill 1999 more or less on party lines – democrats mostly voted aye, republicans no.

AB 1999 explicitly sets out in law what has been the practice and, to the extent its been challenged, the long standing precedent that Californian cities and some kinds of special districts can build broadband systems and offer service, whether or not it’s in competition with cable and telco monopolies.

The bill also removes the only significant barrier to public broadband that’s clearly written into California’s statutes: the byzantine restrictions – amounting to a ban for all practical purposes – on community service districts (CSD) that want to get into the broadband game. CSDs are halfway houses for unincorporated communities that want a higher level of municipal services, but don’t want all the legal and financial overhead that comes with being a fully incorporated city. Yet.

Net neutrality requirements are also written into AB 1999, but it’s a double-edged sword. Broadband service provided by a local agency has to adhere to the basic net neutrality principles: no blocking, throttling or paid prioritisation. That seems to be a good deal for muni broadband customers, but it comes with a risk. If private sector Internet service providers don’t have to follow net neutrality rules, that may be a competitive advantage for muni ISPs. But if Internet fast lanes, slow lanes and no lanes become the norm, muni systems would likely face higher costs to swim against the tide, and would have to charge customers higher prices. Or would simply be undercut by monopoly-model competitors who can shift costs to make monthly subscription rates look cheaper.

Governor Brown has until the end of September to decide what to do with AB 1999, and the hundreds of other bills approved last week by California lawmakers.

California legislature to decide privacy, Internet commerce bills

by Steve Blum • , , , ,

Consumer privacy, police surveillance, online retailing, bots and social media were all targets of bills introduced this year in the California legislature. One major bill already passed, a couple are dead and the rest are queued up for a decision this week, as lawmakers prepare to finish up the 2018 session on Friday.

Assembly bill 375 established strict consumer data privacy rules. It was signed into law by the governor earlier this year. It’s being tweaked, though. Senate bill 1121 exempts some medical, financial and driving record information that’s already regulated by federal and/or state law. It also allows credit reporting agencies to continue to use personal information, whether or not consumers consent, to the extent permitted by federal law. It makes other changes, mostly regarding how the law is enforced.

As far as I can tell, the amendments are technical. But SB 1121 should put everyone on notice, too: the legislature can and will change California’s new data privacy law. Given the influence that lobbyists and their cash payments to lawmakers have in Sacramento, future changes may not be so benign.

Other bills introduced this year include…

  • AB 1906 and SB 327 – aimed at the Internet of things, these two, linked bills require passwords and other security features on Internet-connected devices. Awaiting floor votes in the senate and assembly, respectively. Each will have to go back to its “house of origin” for concurrence votes on amendments made along the way.
  • AB 2167 – defines information gathered by ingestible sensors that collect or send information about an individual, and linked apps and devices, as protected medical information. On the senate floor, with assembly concurrence needed.
  • AB 2511 – requires merchants to “take reasonable steps to ensure that the purchaser is of legal age” of anyone who might purchase or view age restricted products or services. It was originally targeted only at online sellers, but now includes all businesses. The range of products and services covered was narrowed, too. Waiting for a floor vote in the senate, then would go back to the assembly for concurrence.
  • AB 2935 – adds privacy protections to health monitoring programs, online and otherwise. Would have had implications for fitness and athletic social media, such as Strava. It died in a senate committee.
  • SB 1001 – requires bots – computer programs that mimic people, used by companies to chat with customers – to identify themselves as such. Only applies to websites that get 10 million visitors a month. On the assembly floor now, with senate concurrence also needed.
  • SB 1186 – required local governments to disclose the types and uses of law enforcement surveillance technology. Quietly killed in the appropriations committee by assembly leadership.
  • SB 1424 – formerly a far reaching attempt to police free speech on the Internet, it was neutered as it moved through the legislative process and now just calls for the California attorney general to study “the problem of the spread of false information through Internet-based social media platforms”. If someone donates the money to do it. Awaits an assembly floor vote and senate concurrence.

With a week left, California muni broadband bill still on legislature’s to do list

by Steve Blum • , , , ,

A bill that allows more types of local agencies to get into the broadband business, and requires such municipal broadband providers to abide by network neutrality principles, awaits a decision by the California senate. Assembly bill 1999, authored by assemblyman Ed Chau (D – Los Angeles), would remove a restriction that makes it all but impossible for community service districts to get into the broadband business.

It also explicitly allows other types of local agencies, such as county service areas and enhanced infrastructure financing districts (EIFDs), to provide broadband services. In theory, there’s nothing preventing that happening already, but on the other hand there’s nothing that says it can. To the extent restrictions exist, Chau says he wants to remove them

California law currently authorizes municipal utility districts and public utility districts to operate their own broadband networks, but other forms of independent local government have limited authority to do so. Restricting local governments from building out their own high-speed networks is counterproductive to closing California’s digital divide, especially in rural areas where only 43 percent of the population has access to broadband in their households, or in areas that only have access to one provider.

A parallel bill, SB 1145, gives EIFDs a little more financial flexibility. It would allow them to finance some ongoing maintenance costs, although not with money raised through a bond issue.

The net neutrality requirements – no blocking, throttling or paid prioritisation – aren’t as comprehensive as those proposed in senate bill 822, which would apply to public and private sector Internet service providers alike. But if SB 822 doesn’t make it into law or is thrown out later by a court, the net neutrality obligations in AB 1999 would remain.

AB 1999 is just one of hundreds of bills that have to be acted upon by next Friday, when the legislative session ends. It has to be approved by the California senate, and then go back to the assembly for concurrence with a technical amendment that was made a couple days ago.

No consensus on public property lease rates, but FCC committee moves ahead anyway

by Steve Blum • , , ,

Telecoms companies and local government representatives didn’t agree on how lease rates for assets such as street light poles should be set, but at least they were able to articulately lay out their positions and identify what they do agree on. The Federal Communications Commission’s broadband deployment advisory committee received a draft report last month that looked at how fees and rental rates are set. It was produced by a sub committee that had two members from local agencies, plus a municipal lobbyist and a state government representative. The other fifteen committee members are mostly lobbyists for telecoms companies.

The group agreed that one-time charges, such as permit application fees, should be based on costs, but there was no consensus on how lease rates for public property should be set. Industry lobbyists think those should be set on a strict cost basis, arguing that public assets “are intended for use for the public good”, which they equate with expansion of their networks.

Local government representatives prefer a fair market value approach because, among reasons…

It is unfair to prioritize one industry (wireless industry) over all others in pricing the public rights-of-way and public infrastructure access. Equal pricing of private access to public assets is especially a concern where there is no obligation for providers to serve all residents (which is required of other users of the rights-of- way who may pay market-based fees).

On the whole, the report is an even handed document that focuses on principles both sides accept, and outlines the remaining differences.

A model state law, developed by another sub committee, is, to say the least, not as well balanced. The State Model Code for Accelerating Broadband Infrastructure Deployment and Investment proposes to make all publicly owned assets that have some relevance to telecoms – including dark fiber – available on demand and on a narrowly defined cost basis. The full committee, which has been sharply criticised for its industry-heavy membership, adopted that recommendation.

Fight over federal muni broadband bill highlights preemption’s dangers

by Steve Blum • , ,

Although republicans and democrats often agree that broadband service, particularly in rural areas, needs upgrading, they can’t seem to agree on what constitutes improvement. A hearing earlier this month in Washington D.C. brought this conceptual digital divide into focus.

Silicon Vally representative Anna Eschoo (D – Santa Clara) introduced a bill in Januaryhouse resolution 4818 – that would preempt state-level restrictions on municipal broadband. It was discussed – not formally considered, just discussed – during a general broadband hearing held by a house of representatives sub-committee on communications and technology.

According to a story in The Hill by Maya Lora, Eshoo defended her bill against an attack made by the chair of the committee, representative Marsha Blackburn (R – Tennessee). She claimed Eshoo’s bill would “undo much of the progress that is being made across the country”. It’s unclear exactly what progress Blackburn was referring to, or how municipal broadband projects would undo it, but Eschoo was absolutely clear about how she saw it…

Eshoo said state legislatures are “screwing” local communities that want to invest in their own networks. She said many Americans, even those in some parts of Silicon Valley — the center of the country’s tech industry, have trouble accessing broadband.

As do residents in Blackburn’s state, particularly those who live just outside Chattanooga, Tennesse, which has a municipal fiber to the home system. It can’t expand beyond its current boundaries because Tennessee state law prohibits it. The city convinced the Obama administration’s Federal Communications Commission to preempt that law, but to no avail. A federal appeals court said congress never gave the FCC the authority to preempt state control over local governments.

Although Eshoo’s bill would solve that problem as far as many municipal broadband advocates are concerned, federal preemption is the wrong approach. It’s a double edged sword and, with republicans wielding it, it’s likely to come down on muni broadband systems, rather than on state legislatures that restrict them. It’s best not to pull it out at all.

California legislature says yes to broadband, online privacy bills

by Steve Blum • , , , ,

With Friday’s deadline behind us, we know which bills are getting serious consideration in the California legislature. Any bill that didn’t make it through a full floor vote and get sent from one house to the other is now dead (with the caveat that death is never final so long as the California legislature is still in session).

Short answer: all the bills I’m still following and, for the most part, blogging about live on…

Muni broadband

Net neutrality

  • Senate bill 460 – resurrects net neutrality rules as consumer protection law; requires state and local agencies to buy Internet service from companies that follow those rules. Passed by senate, now assigned to the assembly communications and conveyance committee – which also defers to industry lobbyists – and the privacy and consumer protection committee.
  • SB 822 – a stronger net neutrality revival, it was passed by the senate and is in the hopper at the assembly. Expect it to be paired with its weaker cousin, SB 460, in the committee process.
  • Senate resolution 74 – a high sounding but completely meaningless endorsement of net neutrality principles by the California senate. Passed on a party line vote and is probably hanging on someone’s wall, somewhere.

Privacy

  • AB 1906 – aimed at the Internet of things, it requires passwords on Internet-connected devices. Passed by the assembly, sent to the senate.
  • AB 2511 – potentially the legislature’s most fraught Internet bill this session, it would require online merchants to “take reasonable steps to verify the age” of anyone who might purchase or view age restricted products or content. Also restricts commercial use of information posted by minors. Passed by the assembly, sent to the senate.
  • AB 2935 – adds privacy protections to health monitoring programs, online and otherwise. Could have implications for fitness and athletic social media, such as Strava. Passed by the assembly, sent to the senate.
  • SB 327 – another shot at requiring security features on connected devices. Passed by the senate, now with the assembly privacy and consumer protections committee.
  • SB 1001 – requires bots – computer programs that mimic people, used by companies to chat with customers – to identify themselves as such. Passed by the senate, sent to they assembly.
  • SB 1186 – requires local governments to disclose the types and uses of law enforcement surveillance technology. Passed by the senate, sent to the assembly.
  • SB 1424 – formerly a far reaching attempt to police free speech on the Internet, it was neutered by senate committees and now just calls for the California attorney general to study “the problem of the spread of false information through Internet-based social media platforms”. Passed unamimously by the senate, sent to the assembly.

Emergency preparedness

  • AB 2910 – a weak response to the fire storms that ravaged California last year, it would require the California Public Utilities Commission to file a report about restoration efforts in the black hole of Sacramento with the legislature. Passed by the assembly, sent to the senate.
  • SB 1076 – a rare attempt by the legislature to prepare for a disaster before it happens, it would require the California office of emergency services “to update the state emergency plan to include preparedness recommendations to harden the critical infrastructure of electrical utilities against an electromagnetic pulse attack, geomagnetic storm event, or other potential cause of a long-term outage”. Translation: start thinking about how to keep the lights on if a nuclear bomb explodes (possible, but not inevitable) or Earth is hit by another Carrington event (definitely inevitable). Passed by the senate, sent to the assembly.

Teetering Tacoma muni cable system finds five potential partners

by Steve Blum • , , ,

Five companies are bidding to partner up with the City of Tacoma to help run its municipal cable system, which offers Internet and video services. The city issued a request for information and qualifications in March, and received five responses, according to a story by Candice Ruud in the Tacoma News Tribune (h/t to the BSL List for the pointer)…

One of the parties that’s interested in being a part of the future of Click Cable TV is Wave Broadband, the same company whose 2015 offer to lease Click for 40 years sparked a local political movement to keep the municipally-owned network in public hands…

Wave responded to the call and said it seeks long-term use of the Click network in exchange for compensating [the City of Tacoma’s municipal utility operation] with leasing fees, network upgrades and performance guarantees.

Local internet service providers Rainier Connect and Advanced Stream, both of which currently lease space on the Click network, submitted responses. European-based Yomura Fiber and relative newcomer Wyyerd also expressed interest in taking over Click’s operations.

According to the article, the two smaller, local ISPs – Rainier Connect and Advanced Stream – don’t appear to have the financial horsepower to meet the city’s requirements. Wave, which is also based in the Puget Sound area, and the two outside companies seem to have more financial and operational heft behind them.

The Click system needs financial help. It’s a 1990s cable system, mostly limited to 750 MHz of analog bandwidth, with an average node size of 1,200 homes. Click needs a big injection of cash to upgrade its infrastructure to support current, industry standard service levels, and stem its losses.

All of the five companies said they would meet the city’s 12 policy goals, which include adhering to network neutrality principles and running the system on an open access basis, maintaining public ownership and “maintaining financial stability”.

You can download the five responses here.

Muni broadband virtue should be a choice, not a chastity belt

by Steve Blum • , , ,

Well intentioned or not, assembly bill 1999 could work against efforts to preserve network neutrality, and prevent municipal broadband systems in California from competing against big, monopoly-model Internet service providers.

Authored by assemblyman Ed Chau (D – Monterey Park) , AB 1999 was approved by the California assembly and awaits action in the senate. It would: 1. explicitly allow more types of local agencies – e.g. county service areas, community service districts, enhanced infrastructure financing districts – to get into the broadband business, and 2. require all publicly owned, i.e. muni, broadband systems to abide by net neutrality principles.

Muni broadband is about local choice. Creating more options for local voters to choose from is a big step forward. But locking them into a 2017 business model might prove deadly a few years from now.

It’s a bad idea if net neutrality obligations only fall on muni broadband systems. We don’t know what the economics of the Internet will look like five or ten years from now, and handcuffing munis could prevent them from competing in the marketplace. That would benefit big, monopolistic providers like AT&T, Comcast and Charter Communications, at everyone else’s expense.

Consider this scenario: all limits on big ISP business practices disappear (say, on 11 June 2018), paid prioritisation kicks in, with AT&T, Comcast and Charter blending their subscriptions video packages into their broadband packages. For example, AT&T might offer you all their DirecTv channels for $80 per month – delivered via broadband, as they intend to do – and let you use any spare capacity to check email and browse the web. “Free” Internet access, in other words. You’re still paying for it, but you don’t notice it so much.

Muni broadband systems will struggle to match the level of control that AT&T, Comcast and Charter have over the market for video services. Forcing them to run their business within 2017’s norms might make them completely uncompetitive in 2022. Granted, it would be a bad thing if muni providers back pedalled on net neutrality principles, but it would be an absolute disaster if they went out of business completely.

I don’t know what will eventually happen, but I get nervous whenever business decisions are based on political positions. It’s good business right now for small ISPs – public and private sector – to wholeheartedly embrace net neutrality; it might be different tomorrow. The whole point of muni broadband is to keep the power of choice within local communities.

That’s where it should stay.