Broadband and Media Reform Update

Broadband Mapping & Digital Literacy

April 4th, 2008

http://www.progressivestates.org/

This email is part of a series of updates we release on a regular basis to highlight what is happening in states regarding broadband, media reform, and economic development.  We hope this is helpful for you as you pursue and track reforms in your state and across the country. Please feel free to send any feedback or suggestions you may have to jschwartz@progressivestates.org.

Julie Schwartz, Broadband, Media Reform, and Economic Development Policy Specialist                                                 

Update

Washington Passes a Broadband Deployment and Adoption Initiative

Washington State took a bold step forward to provide greater access to the Internet with the passage of a bill that uses an intra-government partnership approach to ensure that deployment of the Internet will provide smart utilization in addition to increased access.

Washington Senate Bill 6438, introduced by Senator Kohl-Welles, and strongly supported by Senator Kauffman, Representative Hudgins and Representative McCoy, sets forth a comprehensive and integrated statewide, high-speed Internet deployment and adoption strategy.  The bill unites several different government agencies, requiring the Department of Information Services to work in partnership with  departments such as trade, economic development, utilities, transportation, and education, to achieve the following goals: (1) ensure all residents and businesses have access to affordable and reliable high-speed Internet services; (2) achieve improved technology literacy, increased computer ownership, and high-speed Internet use among state residents and businesses; (3) establish and empower local technology planning teams and partnerships to plan for improved technology use across multiple community sectors; and (4) establish and sustain an environment ripe for statewide telecommunications and technology investment, including solicitation and receipt of grants, loans, and other financial mechanisms.  

 Key elements of the bill include:

  • Collecting mapping data down to the census block level. This will ensure that state leaders can see if there are digital divides within zip codes.
  • The creation of partnerships between different government departments -- such as trade, economic development, utilities, transportation, and education -- to ensure that broadband deployment will not only provide increased access to, but also smart utilization of the Internet.
  • Strong digital literacy legislation, thanks in large part to strong efforts by the Communities Connect Network. This section creates a web-based map of all community technology programs, creates a community technology grant program, and allocates $500,000 for that program.

A major drawback of SB 6438 is the provision that prohibits the public release of data collected from broadband service providers.  This lack of transparency creates a hurdle to public verification of data and a barrier to ensuring that all communities have ubiquitous broadband and quality service.  Gov. Gregoire signed the bill into law on March 31, 2008; it will go into effect later this year on June 12, 2008.

West Virginia Adopts Legislation to Provide Broadband to Underserved Areas

Thanks to new legislation, West Virginia is one step closer to meeting its goal of universal high speed Internet by 2010.  Last week, Gov. Joe Manchin signed into law HB 4637, a bill he proposed, which will create a Broadband Deployment Fund and a Broadband Deployment Council to extend high speed Internet access to unserved areas of West Virginia.  The bill has three main components: it establishes a state Broadband Development Council, provides for a mapping project, and creates a deployment plan.

One drawback of the legislation is that the mapping plan set forth is very broad and the council is authorized to delegate much of the mapping project to an outside organization.  If the council does delegate a large part of the mapping project to an outside organization, it is critical that  any of the data related to broadband availability, connectivity speeds or existing infrastructure be collected at a census block level and be given to the Broadband Deployment Council, a public body, for verification.  Public interest organizations, such as the Center for Public Integrity, Public Knowledge, and Free Press, have all highlighted the need for underlying mapping data to be aggregated by a public body, as a means of protecting broadband consumers.  Doing so ensures that the mapped data is an accurate depiction of the broadband infrastructure landscape.

Another drawback is that the Broadband Deployment Council is heavily weighted towards industry representation, opening the possibilities of biased findings and hindering the committee's ability to protect the public interest.  While the Council has nine members from different segments of the community, including a representative from the Communications Workers of America, telecommunication industry representatives have four of the nine seats on the council.

Lastly, HB 4637 will provide for the development of a strategy and mechanism to extend broadband access to unserved areas across West Virginia by stimulating demand for those services and by constructing the necessary infrastructure to meet that demand.  In an effort to minimize deployment cost, West Virginia decided to limit public funding of broadband to only specific unserved areas.  In order to receive state money for broadband build-out it must not be economically feasible for service providers to build-out to the unserved area or state money must be needed to make it economical for broadband service providers to build-out to the unserved area.

Idaho Recognizes Broadband as a Key Component To Education

Slow bandwidth in schools limits potential opportunities for students, creating a major economic and policy challenge for the U.S.  As Keith Kruger, CEO of the Consortium for School Networking, stated "We need wise investment in broadband in our classrooms, one that enables a robust infrastructure and continuous innovation."  But by using broadband, schools are able to run more advanced applications that increase learning opportunities, such as video streaming, videoconferencing, secure data submission, voice over IP, digital downloading, online courses and 1:1 computing. 

Taking a page from the Utah Education Network and recognizing the increased educational opportunities broadband can offer citizens,  Idaho state legislators recently passed House Bill 543 to establishes a statewide educational broadband network to link public schools, universities, and private industry.

HB 543 would use broadband Internet with a bandwidth high enough to support two-way interactive video and consisting primarily of fiber optic transmission media, to deliver advanced high school and college curriculum and ongoing teacher training on an equitable basis throughout the state. The legislation charges the Department of Administration with coordinating the development, outsourcing and implementation of a statewide network for education.  

The bill was also designed to allow Idaho to "leverage its statewide purchasing power for the IEN to promote private sector investment in telecommunications infrastructure that will benefit other technology applications such as telemedicine, telecommuting, telegovernment and economic development."  Statewide economic development impacts will specifically be considered in the network's implementation and development.  The hope is that, in the future, Idaho state agencies will migrate into the network.

Whats Moving Around the States

Newly Introduced Legislation

Minnesota SB 1918:  Establishes an Ultra High Speed Broadband Task Force which is responsible for submitting a report containing recommendations, including  possible legislation, for the development of a comprehensive statewide plan designed to  achieve a state ultra high-speed broadband goal that the task force considers appropriate.

Minnesota HF 2351 and SB 2216 : Directs the Department of Commerce to contract for a study of the impact of legislation enacted in at least three states that requires franchises for video service to be issued by a state agency. The contractor conducting the study shall, prior to its initiation, consult with associations representing municipalities and communities of color. 

South Carolina HB 4843: Provides that the South Carolina public service commission shall adopt regulations that require broadband providers to submit reports periodically to the commission on the deployment of broadband Internet service to the public, to specify the required contents of the reports, to require the commission to publish the reports on the commission web site, and to define certain terms.

Moving Legislation

Alabama HB 346:  Creates the Alabama Broadband Task Force to expand the deployment and adoption of broadband telecommunications services for educational, health, and economic purposes.  This bill has passed the House.

Connecticut HB 5542: An act concerning the use of telemedicine to promote efficiency in the delivery of health care services. The bill has passed the House and Senate Committees. 

Connecticut SB 570: An act to promote energy conservation by providing property tax credits for expenditures on development of CT high speed Internet infrastructure and providing tax credits for employers participating in telecommuting programs.  The bill has passed the House and Senate Committees.

Connecticut HB 5814: An act to improve community access television in the state. PEG advocates are calling for two amendments to this legislation including: 1) The certified competitive video service provider shall provide to subscribers public, education and government access channel capacity at equivalent visual and audio quality and equivalent functionality, from the viewing perspective of the subscriber, to that of commercial channels carried on the holder's basic cable or video service offerings or tiers without the need for any equipment other than the equipment necessary to receive the holder's basic cable or video service offerings or tiers. Each channel shall be capable of carrying a National Television System Committee (NTSC) television signal.  2) All costs associated with transmission equipment and installing, connecting, and maintaining the inter-connectivity between a PEG facility and the provider's head end shall be borne by the certified competitive video service provider.  This bill has passed the Senate Committee.

Kansas SB 570: Broadband mapping requirements are included as part of the Kansas universal service fund bill providing exemptions for certain local exchange carriers.  The House and the Senate are working to reconcile a final version of the bill.

New Hampshire SB 412:  Establishes the office of technology development and telecommunications planning and the position of director of telecommunications in the department of resources and economic development.  This bill has passed the Senate.

Tennessee SB 4021:  A negative statewide video franchising bill that lacks build-out requirements, enough PEG protections, or necessary consumer protections.

Additional Resources

Digital Divide

America: The Growing Digital Divide, a study by the Pew Internet & American Life Project, provides an analysis of the growing digital divide across America.

DigitalDivide.org analyzes what the digital divide is and why it matters.

National Telecommunications and Information Administration is the sixth report released by the U.S. Department of Commerce that  examines the use of computers, the Internet, and other information technology tools by the American people.

Broadband and Education

Broadband For Higher Education Coalition

Consortium For School Networking:  Advocate for K-12 education leaders to use technology strategically to improve teaching and learning.

Which Technologies Will Shape Education in 2008?: A report discussing how mobile broadband, collaborative Web technologies, and mashups will all significantly impact education over the next five years, along with "grassroots" video, collective intelligence, and "social operating systems.

TechLearning: A resource for using technology in classrooms.

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