Broadband and Technology Update: The Stimulus, A New Mexico Literacy Bill, and Much More

Broadband and Technology Update

Table of Contents

Stimulus Update

New Mexico Passes Media Literacy Bill

Washington State Legislature Passes Legislation Aimed at Increasing both Access and Adoption of Broadband

Re-Cap of North Carolina Municipal Broadband Battle To Date

2009 Sample Broadband and Technology Legislation

Stimulus Update

More than 1,400 associations, local governments, industry representatives, non-profits, and individuals submitted comments on the federal government's broadband stimulus plan.

While officials at the NTIA and RUS tasked with dispersing the federal stimulus broadband funds have yet to announce specific dates regarding the release of grant eligibility requirements or when funds will be allocated, they have recently stated that they hope to have the first notice of funding availability ready by no later than June. According to RUS Outreach Coordinator, Mary Campanola, the RUS will give applicants only 60 days after the notice is released to submit proposals.  A senior adviser at the NTIA, said the goal was to have some of the broadband stimulus money out by fall. 

The role that the states will play in the allocation, or as grantee, of stimulus money is still not clear. However, states have taken steps to gather information on their broadband needs. Here are some examples of actions:

  • Pennsylvania Governor Rendell announced that meetings will be held throughout the state to gather public comments on how the Commonwealth can best capitalize on broadband funds appropriated in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.
  • In Mississippi, broadband plans will go through the Governor’s office. In April, Governor Barbour created a broadband task force. According to a letter from the Governor’s office, the task force has been charged with reviewing proposals and then submitting a report regarding the proposals to the Governor by June 1, 2009.  
  • The Massachusetts Executive Office of Housing and Economic Development and the Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs (EEA) announced a partnership between the Massachusetts Broadband Institute (MBI) and EEA’s Office of Geographic and Environmental Information (MassGIS) to develop sophisticated mapping that will help the state determine the highest-priority areas for investments in broadband infrastructure and technology.

Commenters Weigh In On $7.2 Billion Broadband Stimulus Plan
Pennsylvania Governor Rendell Announces Statewide Public Meetings on Federal Broadband Stimulus Funds
TDA Seeks to Expand Broadband Connectivity, Create Economic Development

New Mexico Passes Media Literacy Bill

The proliferation of the Internet and emerging technologies has transformed the quantity, array of content, and speed at which information is communicated in our lives.  According to a Kaiser Family Foundation report, 8-18 year olds spend on average close to six and a half hours per day with various forms of media.  This evidence of media saturation underscores how important it is for young people to be able to think critically and create media in order to communicate effectively with society

This year New Mexico enacted HB 342, which states that media literacy courses may be offered as an elective for public school students in 6th-12th grade.  A statement released by Rep. Maestas, the bill's sponsor, said, “[m]edia literacy is a 21st century approach to education.  It provides a foundation for young people to decipher the countless media images and messages they receive on a daily basis... Media literacy builds an understanding of the role of media in society as well as essential critical thinking skills necessary for citizens in an advanced democracy.” 

The state legislature's decision to pass a law that will facilitate public schools incorporation of media literacy as a more central part of their curriculum is a victory for advocates who have argued, for years, that the changing communication landscape demands us to expand our educational priorities to include media literacy.  

While many state educational standards have incorporated either formally or informally, elements of media literacy, media education really only reaches a very small percentage of schools. By allowing for an elective to focus on media literacy, however, New Mexico's legislative action sends a clear message that "being literate in today's society requires more than knowing how to read or write," it requires being able to understand and create different types of media. 

Although HB 342 did not define media literacy, the New Mexico Media Literacy Project (NMMLP), which serves as a resource to school districts, defines media literacy as the ability to critically consume and create media, including understanding the “text” (surface content) and “subtext” (hidden meanings) in messages received from: television, radio, newspapers, magazines, books, billboards, signs, packaging, marketing materials, video games, recorded music, the Internet, and other media.  According to a statement from NMMLP,  "[m]edia literacy education helps empower learners to become active community and civic participants."  In addition, when media literacy education includes teaching students how to develop their own content, students' creativity and valuable problem solving and cooperation skills that will help them develop essential job skills are nurtured.


Kaiser Family Foundation, Generation M: Media in the Lives of 8-18 Year Olds
Toward Critical Media Literacy: Core concepts, debates, organizations, and policy
New Mexico Media Literacy Project
Center for Media Literacy

Washington State Legislature Passes Legislation Aimed at Increasing both Access and Adoption of Broadband

With the passage of HB 1701 the Washington State legislature once again demonstrated its understanding that when combating the digital divide states must not just address access issues, but must also focus on dealing with the barriers to broadband adoption by individuals. In addition to hoping to increase high-speed Internet access for residents, businesses, educational institutions, public health and safety services, local governments, and community organizations, HB 1701 also lists a menu of the types of digital inclusion programs that should be implemented in Washington State. By addressing both access and adoption barriers directly, Washington State hopes to ensure that all residents can be active participants in our 21st century digital society. According to Jonathan Lawson, Executive Director of Reclaim the Media, "connecting all our communities with fast broadband is a compelling public need -- to allow everyone to take part in our digital democracy, culture and economy. This new legislation clears a path for us to follow towards that goal." Unfortunately, while the legislation addresses the heart of the digital divide, the bill relies heavily on ARRA funds. A concerning clause says that if specific funding for the purposes of the act is not provided by June 30, 2009 in the omnibus appropriations act, the act is null and void. However, advocates hope that the bill will be funded.

Broad Coalition in Support: The bill originally sponsored by Representatives Hudgins, Hasegawa, and McCoy and incorporating amendments championed by Senators Kohl-Welles and Kastama was supported by a broad coalition of advocates, such as the Communication Workers of America (CWA), the Communities Connect Network, and carriers and includes investments in digital training and inclusion programs. According to CWA's Washington State Council Political Director, Gail Love, "the broad coalition of organizations that lobbied on behalf of HB1701 has not always viewed issues from the same perspective. However, on HB1701, we found common ground. Bringing high-speed broadband accessibility to the residents of Washington will enhance their lives socially and economically and will bring jobs and new business to our region."

Capitalizing on Recovery Funds: The legislation was drafted, mainly, so that the state could capitalize on the approximately $7.2 billion in the ARRA earmarked for broadband initiatives. Aside from authorizing the Governor to take steps to carry out the purposes of the broadband provisions in the ARRA, HB 1701 has three major provisions: a data collection and mapping initiative, the establishment of the Community Technology Opportunity Program, and the reconstituting of the state's high-speed Internet working group.

Collection and Mapping of Access and Adoption Data: HB 1701 designates the Department of Information Services (DIS) as the eligible entity in the state to apply for funds under the federal Broadband Data Improvement Act. In addition, the bill directs DIS to develop a map of where broadband services are and are not currently available in Washington State and "to work with other agencies to identify the communities most in need of new or additional broadband Internet services."  Specifically, the legislation states that depending on the availability of federal or state funding, the department may develop an interactive web site to allow residents to self- report whether high-speed Internet is available at their residence and at what speed; may conduct a detailed survey of all high-speed Internet infrastructure owned or leased by state agencies; and is authorized, through a competitive bidding process, to procure a geographic information system map detailing high-speed Internet infrastructure, service availability, and adoption. The department may either contract for and purchase a completed map from a third party or work directly with the federal communications commission. In addition, the department may prepare regular reports that identify the geographic areas of greatest priority for the deployment of advanced telecommunications infrastructure and a detailed explanation of how federal funding for broadband mapping, deployment, or adoption will be or has been used.

One concern advocates voiced regarding the bill is that data collected from private providers will be considered 'proprietary' information and therefore not accessible to the public. Advocates in the state and nationally argue that such an approach lacks transparency, leaves the public unable to verify the collected information, and public policy researchers unable to access the data necessary to study which broadband policies are most effective. On a positive note, however, the legislation does establish an important accountability and oversight structure to ensure that there is transparency in the bidding and contracting process and full financial and technical accountability for any information or actions taken by a third-party contractor creating the map.

Digital Inclusion: The legislation recommits Washington State to addressing broadband utilization barriers by moving the Community Technology Opportunity Program (CTOP) under the Department of Information Services. The CTOP uses a competitive grant program to encourage broadband adoption in low-income and underserved areas of the state. Initiatives facilitated by the program include Internet adoption, training, and skill-building opportunities; access to hardware and software; digital inclusion and digital media literacy; development of locally relevant content; and delivery of vital services through technology. The CTOP will also provide organizational and capacity building support to community technology programs throughout the state. According to Betty Buckley, Executive Director of Communities Connect Network, a national leader in promoting digital inclusion programs and creating state demand-side policy, "HB 1701 takes another significant step forward in building the policy framework for how our state will ensure digital inclusion for all. Passing this bill in the current economic climate speaks volumes about the strength of the multi-faceted broadband coalition we’ve built here in Washington State."

Reconstituting the State's High-Speed Internet Working Group: The law allows for the continuation of the high-speed Internet working group, under the new title, the Council on Digital Inclusion. As the council's new name denotes, the group will now focus on broadband adoption, not just deployment issues. The Council on Digital Inclusion will include representatives from government, education, public health, and industry sectors, and will advise DIS and further strategize about expanding broadband deployment and adoption across the state.

House Bill 1701
Increase Technology Literacy and Inclusion

Reclaim the Media

Community Connect Network

Re-Cap of North Carolina Municipal Broadband Battle To Date

The North Carolina Public Utilities Committee recently considered HB 1252 (SB 1004) which, if passed, would have effectively prohibited North Carolina municipalities from building and operating community broadband networks. While supporters of the legislation framed it as merely an effort to level the playing field between private and public providers, opponents argued that the bill would handicap public Internet service providers and unnecessarily hinder local governments from providing broadband service. They argued that this was even possible in areas where private companies do not offer service to approximately 20% of a town’s population.

Specifically, opponents argued that to achieve some form of fairness between public and private enterprises, public Internet provider should have to abide by numerous obligations that private broadband companies do not have to meet. For example, private providers are not subject to the burdensome rules created by the bill, such as the prohibition on cross-subsidies, rate setting provisions and annual reporting, auditing, and public disclosure requirements. For more analysis of the bill's details, click here. Municipalities would be exempt from the proposed restrictions if a high-speed Internet provider did not exist in their community or the local provider's service was available to fewer than 80 percent of households in that community, but the bill failed to specify who would determine when these thresholds are met.

The battle in North Carolina over the bill escalated during the weeks leading up to the Public Utilities Committee vote. For example, the N.C. Cable and Telecommunications Association funded push polls throughout the state to create support for the bill. Americans for Prosperity, the group that has recently been in the news for holding "tea parties" on tax day, ran robocalls in support of the legislation. Opponents of the legislation, which includes N.C. League of Municipalities and N.C. Metropolitan Mayors Coalition, filled hearings and contacted legislators to make sure that their voice was heard. Additionally, a large number of North Carolina's young adults mobilized to oppose the legislation, becoming engaged citizen activists on the issue.

At the end of the day, the Public Utilities Committee’s voted unanimously, on May 6, to have a study committee look at HB 1252. Click here to view the study bill. On May 7, 2009, at an unprecedented 8:00 a.m. meeting, the Senate companion bill, SB1004, was also converted to a study bill, yet with control directed to only one of the two committees named in the House version. Upon hearing that the legislation was turned into a study bill, Catharine Rice, an advocate who worked tirelessly to oppose the legislation, and President of SEATOA, an organization of local government cable regulators and broadband planners, thanked the bill's sponsors for "their recognition of the need to take more time to study North Carolina's broadband availability issues in more detail."  She also promised that she and other advocates would "keep [their] hands on the pulse of this legislation, as there remains the unresolved issue of who exactly will be responsible (and in control) of the study, which must properly address the lack of broadband in North Carolina, an essential infrastructure for the economic survival and future of our great state."

No State Can Afford To Outlaw Municipal Broadband
NC League of Municipalities, SB 1004/HB1252 — Level Playing Field/Cities/Service Providers Act (really the “Block Broadband to NC Communities” bill)
Broadband battle brewing on Jones Street

Incumbent Dirty Tricks In Wilson, NC

2009 Sample Broadband Technology Legislation

Sample Broadband and Technology Legislation Enacted in 2009 Across the Nation

NM HB 342 states that media literacy courses may be offered as an elective for public school students in 6th-12th grade.

VA H 2423 establishes the Governor's Broadband Advisory Council. The purpose of the Council shall be to advise the Governor on policy and funding priorities to expedite deployment and reduce the cost of broadband access in the Commonwealth.

VA HB 2665 creates the Broadband Infrastructure Loan Fund. The legislation aims to support broadband projects undertaken by local governments. The program will prioritize projects where private industry will operate and maintain the broadband systems, projects where private involvement results in cost savings, and projects that serve two or more local governments and underserved areas. While passage of the bill indicates Virginia’s recognition of the economic and social benefits of broadband deployment, the legislation leaves the definition of the very important unserved term up to two political appointees.

Sample of Broadband and Technology Legislation Sent to Governors Across the Nation

WA H 1701 authorizes the Department of Information Systems to engage in high-speed Internet activities and requires the department, subject to the availability of amounts appropriated for this specific purpose, to implement a high-speed Internet deployment and adoption strategy on behalf of the state. (See above for more detail.)

IA SF 372 requests the establishment of a telecommunications regulation interim study committee to evaluate the need for statewide broadband access, the extent to which such access exists, and the necessity for and content of a statewide broadband policy.

Sample of Broadband and Technology Legislation Under Consideration Across the Nation

CT HB 6426 enlists a public-private partnership to implement a high-speed Internet deployment plan to ensure that all residents and businesses in Connecticut have access to affordable broadband service and to increase technology literacy.

OR HB 3158 would establish an Oregon Broadband Advisory Council focused on encouraging and supporting deployment and adoption of broadband services, especially within unserved and underserved populations. The legislation calls on the council to report on the affordability of and access to broadband in the state, as well as how the state can leverage broadband applications across various sectors, including health care, energy management, and education.

RI HB 5396 creates a broadband strategy council to study and recommend the adoption of high-speed Internet services and technology throughout Rhode Island for the benefit of the state's citizens and employers.

TX SB 640 establishes an Authority and Cooperation regarding technology infrastructure.