(Note: With legislative sessions largely adjourned in statehouses across the nation, this week’s Dispatch is the first in a series of issue-specific session roundups from Progressive States Network highlighting trends in different critical policy areas across the fifty states.)
The United States lags in 16th place globally when it comes to broadband access, and according to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, we also rank among the countries with the highest costs for broadband subscriptions. With one third of the country remaining digitally disconnected, we clearly need to examine and allow alternative models of ownership, technology, economic development, and digital inclusion in our states.
This year, legislation introduced and enacted in statehouses across the nation demonstrated that policymakers understand now is the time to invest in broadband infrastructure in order to rebuild prosperity.
By advancing measures to create and improve existing broadband task forces, expand the build-out of needed infrastructure, support community-based broadband while countering corporate attempts to increase their own profits at the expense of communities, provide more affordable services to unserved and underserved communities, and fight back against the removal of consumer protections, state lawmakers took critical steps forward in ensuring the economic competitiveness of small businesses and the economic security of their residents.
Creating and Improving State Broadband Task Forces
Universal broadband access and adoption cannot occur without having a plan in place and an agenda that addresses each state’s own needs. An advisory body must be established to outline state goals in high-speed Internet in order to effectively deploy networks and make sure that communities use them. More than 22 states have created broadband task forces, and even those that already have them are working towards improving their composition to address various concerns of every state’s diverse community.
Improving Broadband Infrastructure Build-Out
As states continue to deal with the fallout of the Great Recession, expanding access to broadband is absolutely critical to creating jobs and rebuilding prosperity. Working families and small businesses alike increasingly depend on broadband in order to succeed in a global economy. While large for-profit providers continue to ignore many communities where it is not profitable for them to operate, local entities — including municipalities, co-ops, and private non-profits — have thankfully shown leadership in building out this the critical infrastructure.
Affordable Access to Telecommunications Services
Having a plan to deploy broadband networks and giving our communities the authority to allow access is not enough. The adoption of broadband by all members of society is critical to truly achieving an equal playing field, providing opportunities for all, and allowing all communities to fully engage in the democratic process.
Removing Protections for Consumers
If curtailing basic rights to collective bargaining was not enough, conservatives in Wisconsin also attempted to reduce broadband access for schools, libraries, and university researchers this year.
Conclusion: Broadband Critical to State Economies
The fate of many states’ uncertain economic recoveries depends on investing in 21st century infrastructure like broadband, supporting small businesses, and putting people back to work. No one disputes that technological infrastructure plays a critical role in the public’s access to needed services like education and health care and the future of state economies. As Progressive States Network has noted previously, the benefits from broadband are long-term, and as such, the facilitation of Internet services must be seen as part of any comprehensive local economic development strategy.
“In the twenty-first century, the capacity to communicate will almost certainly be a key human right. Eliminating the distinction between the information-rich and information-poor is also critical to eliminating economic and other inequalities between North and South, and to improve the life of all humanity.”
— Nelson Mandela on the global importance of increased access to information, October 3, 1995.
Research Roundup: Hiring Discrimination Against the Unemployed, State Abortion Restrictions, Paid Sick Days and Much More
In this week’s Research Roundup: Reports from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation on how states may spend $90 billion less on health care due to the implementation of the Affordable Care Act, the Political Economy Research Institute at the University of Massachusetts Amherst on how states and local governments can fight austerity measures and reclaim their futures, the Guttmacher Institute on the record number of state abortion restrictions enacted in 2011, the National Employment Law Project on hiring discrimination against the unemployed, the Institute for Women’s Policy Research on how paid sick days would save $1 billion per year on health costs, the Carsey Institute at the University of New Hampshire on how rural workers have less access to paid sick leave, and the Columbia University Institute for Social and Economic Research and Policy on the empirical case for streamlining the NLRB certification process.
Consider Savings as Well as Costs: State Governments Would Spend at Least $90 Billion Less With the ACA than Without It from 2014 to 2019 – The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation released this analysis of the amount that states promise to save due to the implementation of the Affordable Care Act (ACA). Among the findings are that total savings would exceed new costs for states as federal funds replace projected state and local spending that would take place in the absence of the ACA and as some adults currently eligible for Medicaid would now qualify for federal subsidies in the state-based health exchanges scheduled to launch in 2014. The study concludes that "even under the limited savings categories" provided for state-level estimates, only five states would "have ranges of net spending entirely above zero," with the significant caveat that due to limitations in available data the study actually "understates the savings that states would achieve."
Fighting Austerity and Reclaiming a Future for State and Local Governments – This timely paper published by the Political Economy Research Institute at the University of Massachusetts Amherst argues that austerity policies currently being proposed by both Democratic and Republican officials on the state and local level “are not the only possible responses” to lingering state fiscal and unemployment crises. The authors propose a range of policy options that state policymakers interested in prosperity instead of austerity can advance to close budget gaps, promote a sustainable recovery, and help insulate state and local governments from future recessions. These include instituting tax rates on the wealthy that ensure they pay their fair share, pressuring banks to use their idle cash reserves to make productive investments, better uses for state “rainy-day” funds, ensuring infrastructure projects move more quickly, and getting rid of tax giveaways to corporations.
States Enact Record Number of Abortion Restrictions in First Half of 2011 – This report from the Guttmacher Institute charts the unprecedented wave of extremist anti-reproductive rights legislation that swept many statehouses in their 2011 sessions. Of the 162 new state provisions the analysis tracked that were related to reproductive health and rights this year, 49% sought to restrict access to abortion services, compared to only 26% just one year ago in 2011. The report goes details the different categories of the 80 abortion restrictions enacted this year, noting that that total number is “more than double the previous record of 34 abortion restrictions enacted in 2005 and more than triple the 23 enacted in 2010” and that all were enacted in only 19 states.
Hiring Discrimination Against the Unemployed: Federal Bill Outlaws Excluding the Unemployed from Job Opportunities, as Discriminatory Ads Persist – This report from the National Employment Law Project puts a spotlight on an often overlooked challenge facing many who are out-of-work and continue to face the effects of the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression: hiring discrimination against the unemployed. The report notes that “U.S. employers of all sizes, staffing agencies and online job posting firms are using recruitment and hiring policies that expressly deny employment to the unemployed — simply because they are not currently working,” and surveys many of the worst offenders. The Fair Employment Opportunity Act of 2011 is cited as “an important step in addressing this problem and limiting this disturbing practice.”
Access to Paid Sick Days Would Reduce Health Costs – The Institute for Women’s Policy Research previewed a new study showing that giving employees access to paid sick days would reduce the number of visits to hospital emergency rooms and estimating that paid sick leave enacted on a national level would save $1 billion in medical costs per year - about half of which is currently paid for by public insurance programs. The analyses in this report conclude that that paid sick days is “associated with better self-reported health, fewer delays in medical care, and fewer emergency department visits for adults and their children,” and that providing universal access to paid sick days would reduce ER expenditures by approximately 2%, saving $1 billion out of a total of $47 billion spent every year.
Rural Workers Have Less Access to Paid Sick Days – According to this new report from the Carsey Institute at the University of New Hampshire, rural workers have significantly less access to paid sick leave than other workers. Among the key findings of the report are that:
(1) A greater proportion of rural workers than urban workers (both suburban and central-city) lack access to at least five paid sick days per year, (2) Among business-sector workers, rural employees are less likely to have paid sick days than their urban counterparts, and (3) Rural workers who agree that workers are less likely to advance if they use flexible workplace policies have less access to paid sick days than their urban and suburban counterparts.
The Empirical Case for Streamlining the NLRB Certification Process: The Role of Date of Unfair Labor Practice Occurrence – This report published by Columbia University’s Institute for Social and Economic Research and Policy provides conclusive empirical evidence supporting proposed reforms to federal unionization rules. Researchers determined that, not only are litigation tactics increasingly used by employers to delay elections to determine union representation, but that employers engage in aggressive intimidation, harassment, and retaliation to pressure workers from the earliest stages of the campaign all the way through to the eventual election. Using litigation to delay elections, sometimes by several months, allots more time for these employer tactics to pressure employees against joining a union.
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