(With legislative sessions largely adjourned in statehouses across the nation, this is the third in a series of issue-specific session roundups from Progressive States Network highlighting trends in different policy areas across the fifty states. Read the full session roundup here.)
A recent report by McKinsey & Co. highlighted the importance of the Internet worldwide, concluding that, "in two decades, the Internet has changed from a network for researchers and geeks to a day-to-day reality for billions of people." During recent electrical outages in the mid-Atlantic and mid-west, local philanthropic and government cooling stations were offering emergency charging stations to go along with temporary shelters for displaced residents. Broadband has become essential, not optional — critical to the jobs, health, and welfare of millions of Americans.
State legislatures around the country were focused on telecommunications infrastructure during 2012, although many bills this year seemed to be born of the rush to deregulate from last decade, seemingly unconcerned about the possibility that we could find ourselves without recourse when the technology goes down or fails to ensure that all people have access.
This year, Progressive States Network has focused on two major areas of broadband legislation. The first has been community broadband, which ensures that local governments and non-profits can create their own broadband infrastructure when needed. The second has been the wave of right-wing inspired deregulation bills that would divide our country into haves and have-nots by eliminating the tools states use to ensure that small businesses, the labor force, and individuals have access to new technology. Both are, unfortunately, connected by strong efforts on the part of the ultra-conservative, corporate-backed American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC). [Read more]
Community broadband is an excellent solution for communities where local leaders recognize that they are not receiving the technology infrastructure they need. The option to create a public broadband network, just like the public water and electric networks of previous generations, can spur economic development where it is needed most. As detailed by the Institute for Local Self Reliance's Community Broadband Project, many local communities are successfully developing these initiatives, yet many states still have laws on the books which limit municipal options.
Several very bad bills were blocked or turned back this year, and several good bills didn't make it through the legislative process either. One expert was also pleased to see the groundswell supporting several victories this year. "People are beginning to wonder about state legislatures that only take action blocking broadband deployment, rather than spurring it on,” said ISLR's Christopher Mitchell. “Legislators who cannot point to solutions are going to look foolish." [Read more]
Two types of deregulatory bills have worked their way through the states in 2012 sessions. The first category leaves residents without access to traditional telephone service, and the second would eliminate any state authority to monitor or safeguard new technologies. These proposals, if adopted, would deprive states of any power to ensure reliable, competitive, and affordable services that serve all state residents — from small businesses to those on the other side of the digital divide.
As word spread about the dangers of these bills, a number of them were turned back. A number of other bills based on a model ALEC bill would have the same impact as the old-technology oriented bills even though they focus on deregulating Internet-enabled services. Alabama, Mississippi, New Hampshire, and Utah all adoptedf ALEC-inspired bills prohibiting states from taking action with regard to Internet Protocol services this session. [Read more]
No session review would be complete without looking in detail at SB 157 in Colorado. This legislation, clocking in at 69 pages, attempted to address a range of issues — everything from universal service to the rates families pay to contact loved ones in prison. The bill combined many of the deregulatory trends of 2012, along with an attempt to move universal service funding from its traditional main recipient in Colorado (CenturyLink) toward other carriers. Like the ALEC-inspired bills in other states, SB 157 proposed stripping state oversight of all IP services as well as permitting carriers to stop offering basic local telephone service with minimal oversight. Among the successful opponents of the bill were local governments in Colorado, in particular the Southwest Council of Governments (SWCOG). [Read more]
President Obama has identified an advanced "information technology ecosystem" as a critical component of his innovation agenda and as being essential for economic security for the United States. Legislative sessions on broadband this year demonstrate that many in the states understand its importance and its potential.
The states most likely to see increases in broadband deployment and adoption in the coming years — and thus increases in jobs and the numbers of skilled people to fill those jobs — are the states that are proactive in ensuring their residents can benefit from this critical and necessary infrastructure.
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Progressive States Network works to build a network of progressive legislators, grassroots advocates, progressive policy institutions, unions and community groups to move progressive policy and transform the political debate across the fifty states.