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Garrett Kaske on July 25, 2011 - 10:12am
More than two years since the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act was passed, national news coverage of the U.S. economy is still doom and gloom. We have seen job growth stagnate for the past two months, state jobs cut, a federal deficit debate seemingly going nowhere, and unemployment rise to 9.2 percent in June. To make matters worse, employers are even discriminating against the currently unemployed in their hiring practices.
Adam Nelson on July 22, 2011 - 4:28pm
The most daunting obstacle for rural communities trying to achieve universal broadband access is a lack of understanding. On the community level, there is a lack of understanding among local populations about the importance of becoming digitally literate and the benefits that broadband can bring to their everyday lives. On the local leadership level, there is a lack of understanding by elected officials who fail to see the fundamental role that broadband can play in bettering their constituents’ future. And finally, on the federal level there is a lack of recognition of the depth of the digital divide and the reasons it exists, resulting in a lack of urgent action. Communities must identify and communicate their own needs by getting involved in the decision-making spheres, such as state broadband task forces and advisory committees, to shore up their shortfalls into productive policy action.
These were the findings of a listening session held by the Center for Media Justice and the New America Foundation’s Open Technology Initiative at this year’s National Rural Assembly in St. Paul, Minnesota.
More than 300 rural advocates, including Progressive States Network, gathered at the conference to discuss rural needs, challenges, strategies, and policy recommendations for increasing broadband access. At the core of these discussions was a concern about the dearth of information and understanding about the scope of the broadband gap, the problems that rural communities face, the dangers of falling behind the information curve, and the range of potential solutions. Communities must find effective avenues for creating the change necessary to thrive in the 21st century.
Before the broadband gap can be communicated, it must be thoroughly understood. To move campaigns forward in educating populations and policymakers alike, advocates are requesting academic research on media and telecom’s predatory practices, the connection between broadband access and quality of life, and the economic benefits that increased broadband access can bring to a community. This information would help them draw strong, convincing conclusions about the obstacles they face and the most effective strategies available, both for the short and long run. These strategies can then be crafted into a cohesive, intuitive narrative that can be used to motivate and educate communities and generate momentum behind change by tying broadband policy to the daily lives and agendas of community members and policymakers.
Once the research and messaging components are in place, rural communities have several advantages in effectively communicating them on the local level. Rural communities are typically more closely knit than urban populations and possess strong anchor institutions, such as libraries and schools, which provide Internet access and education and that can help identify specific local needs and the most appropriate best practices from neighboring areas. Close relationships with elected and appointed officials will also help keep the message on track from a people’s mandate to a political priority. The next step for advocates will be a connection to federal policymakers in D.C. to communicate the needs of America’s rural communities and help implement effective policies. Much of the most important broadband policy development happens at the federal level, so this connection will be crucial to creating substantive change.
Outcomes of the Workshop
By identifying what is at stake for rural communities, what specific challenges must be overcome, and what communities can actually do, the strategy sessions helped show where local broadband advocacy can be most effective. The list of benefits to increased broadband penetration runs the gamut from improved health care quality to better education to more effective business development, civic engagement, emergency response systems, city planning, and more. What emerges is a vision of a better, more efficient future in a myriad of ways. Inspiring as this vision is, its broadness lacks an easily communicable clarity and specificity. Any call to action will not be heeded until citizens and lawmakers alike understand the missed opportunities and substantial costs that come with inadequate broadband access.
These and other challenges expose both the limitations of local level broadband policy as well as the central role that education will have to play in this debate. Local and state funding and infrastructure are limited, receiving federal funding is a complex process, and eligibility requirements are already confusing and continuing to change (as the Universal Service Fund is overhauled to include broadband). However, from these challenges emerge areas where local communities can make a difference by learning more about the issue and leading a statewide conversation. By thoroughly understanding their own needs and getting involved in state broadband task forces and commissions, local representatives can most effectively advocate for policies that help their communities at the local and state levels. By sharing rural success stories and best practices, local advocates can educate local officials and communities on these issues while pushing for improved policies.
Several policy recommendations came out of the sessions, each of which is directly tied to community education and improved communication about the need for expanded broadband access. Most of the recommendations focused on putting control over broadband infrastructure in the community’s hands by defining broadband as community infrastructure, recognizing Internet service as a public utility, and public ownership and community-broadband networks that allow local entities to ensure that every member of the community is offered access. Another recommendation was to reform the Universal Service Fund, which the FCC is currently doing, to encourage universal adoption and availability of broadband and facilitate other common goals.
No solution will be possible until the problem itself is fully understood and appreciated. Right now, it is the job of advocates and organizers to find effective ways to inspire communities to make broadband penetration a priority. Because the issue is so complicated and the costs and benefits so wide-ranging, this means working hard at finding the data and messages that best educate, inspire, and motivate each community and create momentum that will resonate with elected officials.
For a list of strategies and solutions, see Progressive States Network’s Policy Options Report for 2011.
Fabiola Carrion on July 8, 2011 - 12:12pm
The Allied Media Conference is a unique gathering for some of the most passionate media activists from across the country. The conference is one of the few spaces where the role of media is fully analyzed: its applications in our everyday lives, its impact on other social justice issues, and the public policies affecting us all. This year, I was lucky to get a chance to discuss the latter — specifically the importance of state legislation in this effort — as a Media Action Grassroots Network delegate. My goal was to remind attendees that, as the most involved advocates in their communities, they have the power to shape the policy that is created at the state and local level.
In pioneering innovative policies, building momentum, or simply shifting the national debate, local and state legislation has always mattered. We don’t need to look too far back into history to see how laws that have been enacted nationally or that stirred some of the heaviest controversies were first carried out by one single state. It was in Massachusetts where the precursor of our current federal health care law was first tested, and Arizona provided a destructive well-known legislative example on immigration reform. Similarly, media grassroots and policy organizations need to look to state legislation to get a truly comprehensive view on the different ways that media policy is shaped.
Among the lessons learned at this year’s conference were that the best state legislation assesses broadband needs, determines the build-out of critical infrastructure, and conducts short-term and long-term planning for Internet access. Some of the important decision makers in state broadband policy include state legislators, Public Utility Commissions, and Attorneys General – all of whom have a role to play in expanding access to the critical infrastructure that is broadband. And in building a campaign to promote open access to the Internet, advocates must reach out to a wide range of allies: small businesses, technologists, as well as teachers and librarians.
For more information about broadband policies at the state level, check out PSN’s Broadband Policy Options Report.
Suman Raghunathan on June 23, 2011 - 3:30pm
(Ed. Note: This article was first published on Immigration Impact)
Proposals to increase educational access for students (particularly the undocumented) continue to advance in state legislatures nationwide, even as they are being upheld in the nation’s courts. Earlier this month, the U.S. Supreme Court reinforced and upheld California’s tuition equity law, the nation’s oldest and one of the strongest tuition equity models nationwide, by choosing not to consider a challenge to the law. California’s law, AB 540, passed a decade ago and was already unanimously upheld by the State’s Supreme Court last November.
Tuition equity laws ensure that cost is not a barrier for talented and motivated immigrant students by allowing them to pay in-state tuition rates at state universities and colleges, provided they meet a set of requirements. Out-of-state tuition rates are significantly more expensive, often by a factor of up to 400%—so allowing immigrant students to get an affordable college education often hinges upon them being able to pay in-state tuition.
At least ten other states have introduced bills to increase access to higher education for undocumented students by allowing them to pay in-state tuition rates while attending state universities and colleges.
Maryland and Connecticut both passed laws that make a college education affordable by allowing undocumented students and others who are not considered state residents to pay in-state tuition rates at state universities and colleges. Proposals in Oregon and Colorado came very close to passage: Oregon’s bill was short of only five votes in the State House after passing in the State Senate. Similarly, Colorado’s proposal was postponed indefinitely in the House after passing in the Senate.
The victories in Maryland and Connecticut bring the total number of states that have passed tuition equity laws to thirteen. And advocates and legislators in Colorado and Florida are determined to continue their work to expand educational access for immigrant and non-resident students—many are already preparing to re-introduce their tuition equity bills next year.
Business executives, educators, and immigrant youth are unanimous in their support for in-state tuition rates, particularly as a workforce development issue. The nation as a whole desperately needs college graduates, particularly high-technology industries: in fact, the U.S. is poised to be short of roughly 16 million college graduates as soon as 2025. Allowing promising immigrant students to fill that need for college-educated workers simply makes sense for America’s future.
Michael Berman on June 17, 2011 - 2:02pm
New York Governor Andrew Cuomo recently announced a misguided compromise with conservatives in the state legislature to place a hard cap on the annual growth of property tax revenues. The cap would limit revenue growth to the lesser of a 2% annual increase or the rate of inflation. The only exception would require a restrictive super-majority vote of 60% in municipalities where the residents wish to opt out of the program. If passed into law, this proposal will lead to a drastic reduction in essential services for hardworking New York families and place an additional burden on middle class communities which have already been battered by the economic downturn.
Hard caps create systemic revenue shortfalls in which municipalities lack the resources necessary to fund services, including education and public safety, leading to teacher, police, and firefighter layoffs and deterioration of essential programs. Other states – such as California, Colorado, Massachusetts, and Illinois – that have tried this approach have learned the hard way just how harmful it can be for state residents.
One need look no further than Massachusetts – the supposed success story of property tax caps – to see the vast reduction of municipal services that will inevitably result. Throughout that state, schools were closed, libraries were shuttered, educational programs were reduced, senior centers were eliminated, public works projects were cut, police officers and firefighters were laid off, and even street lights were turned off in order to weather the storm of revenue pressures.
Proponents of hard caps argue that they result in forced efficiency in municipal budgets. Studies have shown that this is a myth, as many inevitable expenses are simply outside the control of municipalities. Governor Cuomo’s own projections indicate that property tax revenue would have to increase at a rate of 5% just to keep up with current demand. As such, the inevitable result of a rate cap will be to limit the ability of local communities to generate revenue, leading to severe cuts to the essential services which many residents can ill afford to go without in a time of economic hardship.
The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities further outlines some of the deleterious consequences of severe property tax caps, which include, increasing disparities between wealthy and moderate income districts, disproportionately impacting the fiscal security of low-income communities, and placing the majority of the burden of the cap on the middle class.
Supporters of the cap argue that high property taxes are hurting New York by causing wealthy residents to leave the state. However, statistics indicate that people care more about good schools and safe streets than property tax rates.
Karen Scharff, Executive Director of Citizen Action of New York, commented:
“[T]he tax cap is one more fake Albany quick fix. After severely cutting state school aid, and forcing more costs onto local property taxpayers, the Governor and Senate now want to squeeze schools from both directions by capping local taxes. And they want a cap that doesn’t even have exemptions for costs that schools and local governments can’t control, like rising energy and health care costs. Albany politicians want to tie the hands of local schools and governments.”
Several state-based advocates have been working diligently to oppose this damaging policy, including New Yorkers for Fiscal Fairness, Citizen Action of New York, AFSCME, AFL-CIO, New York State School Boards Association, New York State United Teachers, Center for Working Families, and many others.
A better method of tackling the issue of property taxes is a “circuit breaker,” an approach that ties property tax increases to residents’ individual incomes. This system would provide tax relief for hardworking New Yorkers while giving municipalities the flexibility to provide adequate services for their residents. A more sensible approach like this would help protect the economic security of working families and the middle class without the drastic consequences that a hard cap is sure to bring.
Charles Monaco on June 16, 2011 - 9:06am
Progressive States Network is at Netroots Nation 2011 this week, the 6th annual gathering of progressive activists, bloggers, policymakers, elected officials, and advocates taking place this year in Minneapolis, MN. Be sure to say hi if you see us here, or follow along at home via livestreams of selected panels or on Twitter by following the hashtag #NN11 (we'll be tweeting some of the highlights at @PSNwire). Here are just a few of the highlights in a great schedule of panels and sessions that feature a focus on state policy:
Other sessions with a focus on state policy include:
Fabiola Carrion on June 13, 2011 - 11:40am
This month, in an unprecedented report to the United Nations, the UN's Human Rights Council declared that the Internet not only enables individuals to exercise their right to freedom of expression, but is also a critical tool to promote the progress of society as a whole. The report, delivered by Special Rapporteur Frank LaRue, also stressed that expanding Internet access is a necessity for economic development:
The UN report further maintained that there are two prongs to the right to Internet access: (1) access to content and (2) access to the physical and technical infrastructure required to access the Internet in the first place.
Progressive advocates and state lawmakers across the United States agree strongly with these conclusions. They know that our states cannot achieve economic prosperity without the necessary infrastructure to do so - and that in the 21st century, this infrastructure is now broadband.
As Progressive States Network has highlighted, expanded Internet access facilitates economic development in the United States and across the world. It is clear that the global community now recognizes the critical importance of broadband as well. Consistent with Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the Internet is the “enabler” of other rights, including economic, social and cultural rights, such as the right to education. Further, lack of access, in particular for minority groups and rural residents, perpetuates further economic inequality domestically and globally.
The UN report concludes that Internet expansion should be a priority for all levels of government, since the Internet is a crucial tool needed to realize a range of human rights. State lawmakers should heed this advice as they look to rebuild prosperity in their states and ensure the economic competitiveness of their communities in what is an increasingly global marketplace.
Fabiola Carrion on June 10, 2011 - 3:23pm
In the 21st century, even mom-and-pop stores need the ability to market their products, to purchase inventory and supplies, and to enable quick and safe transactions that high-speed Internet provides. A recent report by the prestigious finance research firm McKinsey Global found that 75 percent of the value added by the Internet is created in traditional brick-and-mortar industries, not online startups.
No matter what a business does, it will always benefit from high-speed Internet access.
A recent story from rural Nebraska, where a meat processing plant started collecting orders online, illustrates the type of immediate impact that connecting to global markets can have on a business and on an entire community. Since getting online and creating a website, the company doubled its gross volume of business to $1.8 million a year and went from having one part-time employee to 21-full time and 8 part-time employees.
There is no one who better understands the needs and benefits of small businesses than their own communities and the elected officials that serve them. With the economic recovery still sputtering in many places, state and local legislators are increasingly and understandably interested in guaranteeing that small businesses are more productive, more sustainable, and better able to create jobs and thrive in a 21st-century economy. It is through these local efforts – in cities and municipalities, through co-ops and non-profits – that we will better enable small businesses to access broadband at affordable rates, and encourage the increased competition that will also result in better service. It is crucial that these local alternatives be allowed to provide broadband, since their priority is to fulfill the community’s best interests.
This is not a new strategy.
Over the past 100 years, local entities have played a critical role in expanding access to other pieces infrastructure, like electricity and telephone service, which were once considered a luxuries but are now considered essential. Legislation should therefore promote, not restrict, the local build-out, operation, and maintenance of broadband networks.
As many analysts have highlighted, these types of investments in infrastructure are desperately needed to help rebuild prosperity and create jobs in struggling local economies. Small businesses have much to gain from legislation allowing community-based broadband networks. Diversifying the ownership of networks allows for more competition, resulting in higher speeds, better quality of service, and more affordable rates. Particularly in places were broadband is not offered – an area encompassing a full third of the U.S. population according to the Federal Communications Commission – small businesses have much to gain from community based broadband networks.
When governments invest in strong Internet ecosystems, analysts agree, huge and sustainable economic benefits result.
Charles Monaco on June 2, 2011 - 10:47am
(Connecticut State Representative Zeke Zalaski on the state's landmark Paid Sick Days legislation.)
Last week, Connecticut’s State Senate took a huge step towards ensuring the job security of workers in the service sector and the well-being of all residents by passing landmark legislation that would require that businesses offer paid sick time to certain employees. The paid sick days bill, S.B. 913, is now set to be considered by the state House of Representatives. If it passes there, the bill will head to the desk of Gov. Dannel Malloy, who campaigned successfully on the policy and has promised to sign it into law. While San Francisco has already enacted Paid Sick Days (with little resulting outcry from the business community), and while other cities like Philadelphia and Seattle are considering similar legislation this year, enacting the first statewide law would make the Nutmeg State a national trailblazer in protecting workers and promoting public health.
As the legislation is about to be considered in the House, Progressive States Network asked Connecticut State Rep. Zeke Zalaski, Chair of the Labor & Public Employees Committee and a chief sponsor of the bill, for his thoughts on the benefits that Paid Sick Days promises to bring to workers and families in his state, the motivations behind corporate opposition to the measure, and how Connecticut may be setting an example for the rest of the nation:
Charles Monaco on May 26, 2011 - 5:51pm
This morning, Vermont Governor Peter Shumlin signed into law a groundbreaking health care bill that puts his state on a path towards universal coverage for all residents. The legislation, H.202, sets Vermont on course to become the first state in the nation to implement a single-payer system, and had previously passed both the House and Senate chambers by significant margins. At the signing ceremony, Gov. Shumlin commented on the historic nature of the legislation, and the increased benefits it promises to bring to the Green Mountain State:
Dr. Deb Richter, a single-payer advocate who attended the bill signing, warned in comments to the Associated Press that, "we're going to hear all kinds of scare stories that this is a thoughtless experiment or that it is too bold. But I would remind you that every other industrialized country is doing what we are trying to do. And they do it for far less money, they live longer and they get better-quality care."
One key piece of the legislation is the enactment of the Vermont Health Benefit Exchange, which will serve as the marketplace for consumers provided for under the Affordable Care Act until the enactment of a state-based single-payer system scheduled for 2017.
Community Catalyst's Health Policy Hub provides a great breakdown of the exchange and other key provisions of the Vermont bill signed into law today:
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