Bills, legislation, and ordinances

Congress tries to bring down the Internet

Congress is at it again. Apparently our Federal legislators don't have enough to do, so they have cooked up a new bill that would require every service provider and Web site to maintain access records indefinitely. Sponsored by Colorado Democrat Diana DeGette, the bill is supposedly to fight child pornography. But the bill would give law enforcement officials unlimited rights to snoop everywhere that anyone has ever been online, forever.

Knowledge Democracy:

Who owns and controls right of way?

Right of way issues are central to the future of communities. Right now, cable and telephone companies are trying to wrest control of right of way from local government. They want the Federal government and/or the states to control right of way, and they may well win if local officials don't get involved quickly.

National franchises work against communities

A fight is brewing in Congress over COPE, a new telecom bill that seeks to create national franchise agreements for video. As the phone companies try to get into the video services marketplace, they are at a severe disadvantage--the cable companies have had decades to negotiate local cable TV franchises. For every community the phone companies want to approach with video, they have to negotiate a franchise, which can take six months to a year.

New Hampshire HB 653 approved 22-1 in Senate

New Hampshire state senators voted 22-1 in favor of HB 653, which gives local governments in the state the authority not only to create and own communitywide broadband networks, but also to use bonding authority to pay for such networks, just as communities use bonds to build other municipal infrastucture like roads, water, and sewer.

Community news and projects:

Vermont lowers barriers to broadband

Vermont legislators are debating legislation that would provide low interest loans to wireless providers that offer broadband in underserved areas of the state. And even better, the state lawmakers may waive onerous state-required impact reviews and red tape for new wireless towers if local communities have an approved review process in place.

Community news and projects:

It's now illegal to be annoying

In yet another vivid demonstration of why scissors and other sharp objects should be kept away from members of Congress, our esteemed lawmakers have passed a bill that *seems* to make being annoying illegal. A bill passed to protect women from sexual harrassment has language in it that was apparently added to address online harrassment as well (e.g. repeated unsolicited email).

BellSouth voted for network neutrality before they voted against it

BellSouth has somewhat humorously agreed that network neutrality is important in principle but the company then went on to say that no legislation is needed to ensure that because, "We're a big telecom company and would never do anything bad."

Okay, I made that last quote up--BellSouth did not actually say that in exactly that way, but read the article [link no longer available] and see what you think.

Free speech fight on the Internet

Congress is fighting over a bill that would protect bloggers from having to file onerous reports on their activities. Part of the fall out of the 2002 campaign finance law is strict regulations on campaigning and candidate support. The problem arises because the law is so vague that a private citizen with a lightly read blog who endorses a candidate for election would fall under the regulation of the Federal Election Committee.

Knowledge Democracy:

Bloggers fight free speech restrictions

In a perfect example of the Law of Unintended Consequences, a Federal campaign reform law has created confusion about whether or not it applies to blogs, which are normally written by just one or perhaps a handful of people.

The Federal Election Commission (FEC) officials don't even agree on what is correct. Some commissioners think bloggers and Internet campaigning generally are exempt, and others disagree.

Knowledge Democracy:

SBC, Verizon, win in Texas

Unlike a lot of other folks, I'm not greatly worried that SBC and Verizon spent millions to influence some new laws in Texas. The Texas legislature, after a lengthy fight, has agreed to give the phone companies a statewide franchise to offer television content in Texas. This saves them the trouble of going to every community in Texas and negotiating individual franchises.

But let me also be perfectly clear--I don't like this, but--but--I'm not greatly worried by it. Two different things.

Here's why I don't like it.

First, it takes authority away from local communities and gives it to the state. This actually has nothing to do with telecom per se; I am always troubled when communities lose decisionmaking power.

Community news and projects:

U.K. arrest for wireless theft

Here is the second case of a person being arrested and charged for using someone else's wireless access. The perpetrator was caught deliberating cruising a residential neighborhood in the U.K. looking for open wireless access points (called wardriving).

Community news and projects:

Lafayette says "yes" to fiber

In what may become a milestone in the quest for broadband, a public referendum in Lafayette, Louisiana to use municipal bonds to fund a fiber network passed by a wide margin (62% of voters said "yes"). Lafayette's public electric utility wanted to offer fiber broadband to its customers a couple of years ago, and the city became ground central for a bitterly fought battle led by the telephone and cable companies, which spent millions to stop the initiative.

Community news and projects:

Community Broadband Act is the right direction

Introduced by Senators McCain (Arizona-R) and Lautenberg (New Jersey-D), the Community Broadband Act of 2005 would give communities the right to build out telecom infrastructure and/or offer telecom services to their citizens. The bill would prevent states from pandering to the incumbent providers by prohibiting local governments from getting involved in telecom.

State telecom deregulation activity

NRRI has a great summary of what is happening in individual states ontelecommunications deregulation, and there is a link at the top of the page to see the actual bills.

Sessions bill garners attention

The Pete Session bill (R-Texas) would create a Federal law prohibiting states and munipalities from offering broadband as a public service. Sessions has this to say:

Overview of anti-muni broadband legislation

Here is an excellent and relatively optimistic summary of what's happening at the state and Federal level with respect to anti-muni broadband, or as my old friend Gene Crick would say, "...the best laws money can buy."

Broadcast flag yanked down

In a great victory for the rest of us, a Federal appellate court told the FCC to quit mucking with television receivers and to stop meddling in areas for which the Commission has no authorization. If that sounds harsh, it's mild compared to what the judge actually said:

You're out there in the whole world, regulating. Are washing machines next?" asked Judge Harry Edwards. Quipped Judge David Sentelle: "You can't regulate washing machines. You can't rule the world."

Knowledge Democracy:

Colorado interested in a "Qwest Monopoly Protection Act"

Dave Hughes, one of the true pioneers of community broadband, has a hard-hitting article about the "Qwest Monopoly Protection Act" that is close to being passed in Colorado. Like a similar and very bad Pennsylvania law, it would bar communities from investing in their own future. The most sobering part of the article is Hughes' point that some communities in Nepal have better broadband services than some rural communities in Colorado.

Community news and projects:

Holland and the iPod tax

The Register reports on a new law enacted in Holland that can charitably only be described as "stupid." In a misguided effort to prop up the ailing music industry, the Netherlands has decided to impose a per megabyte tax on all hard drive-based music players, with the proceeds going to the music industry.

This means, according to the article, that the 60 gigabyte model of the iPod would have a tax of $235! According to the Register, Germany also has a tax on computer hard drives, and as they get bigger, the hard drive tax could exceed the base cost of the computer (that is, the tax will be several thousand dollars).

There are so many things wrong with this approach that it is hard to know where to begin. In the first place, the Holland law assumes that all music stored on portable music players is stolen, when in fact only a very small percentage is. So music lovers have to pay royalties twice--once when they buy the music, and again when they buy the music player. It's a windfall for the music industry, since only a small part of royalties actually go to the artist. It forces the music player retailers to become tax collectors, which is always a bad idea. And it will simply drive the purchase of music players out of the country. Holland is an easy drive from a half dozen other countries, and it's barely an afternoon trip to take the train to France, pick up an iPod, and go home.

The music industry does not have a "right" to make money. As markets and technologies change, businesses have to change too. This business of using laws to protect monopolies hurts communities and whole countries, as innovation and new products are simply driven elsewhere. It's a global economy, and Dutch lawmakers are naive in extreme to believe this law will work. It will only hurt the country's economic development as businesses see their customers go elsewhere, and not just for iPods. While they are across the border, they are likely to shop for other items as well.

Community news and projects:

Knowledge Democracy:

NH HB 653 to let communities use bonds to finance broadband

This bill was held over in committee for more work this year. Text as of March, 2005 is below.






AN ACT relative to bonds for construction, development, improvement, and acquisition of broadband facilities.

SPONSORS: Rep. Maxfield, Merr 6; Rep. Osborne, Merr 12; Sen. Gallus, Dist 1

COMMITTEE: Municipal and County Government


This bill grants municipalities the ability to issue bonds for the development of broadband services.

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Explanation: Matter added to current law appears in bold italics.

Matter removed from current law appears [in brackets and struckthrough.]

Matter which is either (a) all new or (b) repealed and reenacted appears in regular type.




In the Year of Our Lord Two Thousand Five

AN ACT relative to bonds for construction, development, improvement, and acquisition of broadband facilities.

Be it Enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives in General Court convened:

1 New Section; Broadband Infrastructure Bonds. Amend RSA 33 by inserting after section 3-f the following new section:

33:3-g Broadband Infrastructure Bonds Authorized.

I. In this section:

(a) “Broadband” means the transmission, between or among points specified by the user, of information of the user’s choosing, with or without change in the form or content of the information as sent and received, at rates of transmission as defined by the Federal Communications Commission as “Broadband”.

(b) “Broadband carrier” means any provider of broadband services, except that such term shall not include aggregators of broadband services, as defined in section 226 of the 1996 Telecommunications Act.

(c) “Broadband infrastructure” means any and all equipment and facilities, including any and all changes and modifications and expansions to existing facilities as well as the customer premises equipment, used to provide broadband, and includes any and all software integral to or related to the operations, support, facilitation, or interconnection of such equipment, including upgrades, and includes any and all installation, operations and support, maintenance and other functions as may be required to support the delivery of broadband.


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