Legislation alert: Washington State considers community broadband bill

Christopher Mitchell, Community Broadband News

Last year, Community Broadband News noted that a bill to expand local authority to invest in publicly owned broadband networks would return to the Washington Legislature in 2012. HB 1711 is in Committee and causing a bit of a stir. "A bit of a stir" is good -- such a reaction means it has a chance at passing and giving Washington's residents a greater opportunity to have fast, affordable, and reliable access to the Internet.

Washington's law presently allows Public Utility Districts to build fiber-optic networks but they cannot offer retail services. They are limited to providing wholesale services only -- working with independent service providers to bring telecom services to the public.

Unfortunately, this approach can be financially debilitating, particularly in rural areas. Building next generation networks in very low density areas is hard enough without being forced to split the revenues with third parties.

Last year, House Bill 2601 created a study to examine telecommunications reform, including the possibilty of municipality and public utility district provisioning. The University of Washington School of Law examined the issues and released a report [pdf] that recognizes the important role public sector investments can play...

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Victory! 3rd Circuit Court overrules FCC on media consolidation

The efforts of public interest advocates across the country were vindicated on July 7 when the Third Circuit Court of Appeals reversed the FCC's controversial 2007 decision to allow media companies to control both newspapers and broadcast stations in the same communities.

Across the country, hundreds of thousands of people had spoken out in favor of protecting independent journalism by banning excessive corporate consolidation. In Seattle, over 1100 people spoke out passionately against the FCC's proposal to weaken regulations at Reclaim the Media's standing-room only hearing on the issue. The new court ruling vindicates those efforts and sends the FCC an important message about their obligations to consider grassroots public opinion.

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Cantwell, Franken introduce legislation to protect net neutrality

Office of Senator Maria Cantwell

Today, U.S. Senator Maria Cantwell (D-WA) introduced the Internet Freedom, Broadband Promotion, and Consumer Protection Act of 2011 to ensure the broadband Internet continues to serve as a source of innovation, free speech, and job growth. Though Cantwell believes that the Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC) acted within its authority to issue its own net neutrality rules last December, she stated at the time that they were not strong enough to ensure the Internet remains a source of innovation and economic growth. U.S. Senator Al Franken (D-MN) is an original cosponsor of the Internet Freedom, Broadband Promotion, and Consumer Protection Act.

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From the blog

What's next for public access in Seattle?

Last fall, the Seattle City Council voted to reduce funding for public access television. Local community TV nonprofit SCAN-TV will continue to provide programming on cable channels 23/77 on an interim shoestring basis through mid-2011, when the City plans to begin a new, long-term contract with a public access provider.

What will public access TV look like in Seattle after this June? The budget cut means that a new provider will have to make do with dramatically fewer resources than have been available through 2010. How can web video or other Internet-enabled distribution systems augment cable TV? Will a new, trimmed-down public access provider still be able to offer training and studio resources to new video producers?

The City is holding a meeting on Jan. 11 to gather public input on its process for seeking a new public access provider. The community may have just a few opportunities to help shape the future of public access in Seattle--don't miss it! The meeting takes place Tues, Jan. 11, 2011, 6:30-8:30 pm at Garfield Community Center (23rd and Cherry).

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FCC's net neutrality compromise benefits industry at expense of small business, tech innovators and minorities

Reclaim the Media

Public interest advocates continue pushing for a level playing field online

Today, the Federal Communications Commission held a key vote affecting rules of the road for the Internet. Unfortunately, the rules approved today fall short of Chairman Julius Genachowski's rhetoric concerning Internet openness, and stand to benefit large providers like AT&T and Comcast at the expense of end users, small businesses, and technology innovators.

By treating wireless web access differently from wired broadband, the FCC's net neutrality order paves the way for a two-tiered Internet experience, with wireless users faced with predatory pricing tiers and discriminatory filtering. Latinos, rural Americans, blacks and low-income Internet users disproportionately favor wireless connections, and will be disproportionately impacted by the new rules.

Additionally, while the order provides many consumers with a new level of protection from net neutrality abuses by service providers, it lacks a clear, enforceable ban on paid prioritization--a practice which would allow Internet providers to impose discriminatory speed limits on some websites unwilling or unable to pay for special access.

The FCC's decision ignores overwhelming public support for stronger, enforceable net neutrality protections, and commonsense requests for a single set of rules recognizing that there is a single set of rules recognizing that there is one Internet, not two.

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From the blog

Senate passes community radio bill: Low power FM to be expanded nationwide

With the clock ticking toward the end of this year's Congress, the Senate on Saturday passed a new law which will enable community groups, churches and schools across the country to establish new non-commercial, low-power FM radio stations in their cities and towns.

The Local Community Radio Act, which will allow the FCC to issue possibly thousands of new noncommercial LPFM radio licenses, earned broad, bipartisan support after some ten years of organizing by grassroots media democracy advocates from coast to coast. Backers of the bill included a stupefying range of civil rights groups, religious organizations, musicians, unions and garage-bound radio dreamers around the country.

Washington State elected officials played a pivotal role in passing the bill into law; Senator Maria Cantwell championed the bill in the Senate, and House cosponsors included Washington Rep. Jay Inslee.

"This is a huge win for communities across the northwest and across the country who have been pining for more and better local radio, more support for local music and more diversity on the airwaves," said Jonathan Lawson of Reclaim the Media, a Seattle-based media justice organization which has worked alongside other advocacy groups since 2002 to expand community access to media, including LPFM. "Senator Cantwell deserves our thanks for seeing this through to the end."

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From the blog

Grassroots groups to FCC: We need real net neutrality

Reclaim the Media joined 80 other grassroots organizations in calling upon the FCC and Chairman Julius Genachowski to enact genuine open Internet principles,including enforceable net neutrality protections. Read our letter here.

Our strong recommendations include a ban on paid prioritization, so that internet providers cannot arbitrarily slow down certain websites or services, and no second-class status for wireless Internet when it comes to net neutrality.

Chairman Genachowski recently outlined a proposal for Internet policy which unfortunately falls far short in these and other areas, and would completely fail to fulfill President Obama's promise to protect an open Internet for all Americans. The FCC is scheduled to vote on the issue on Dec. 21.

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NAB using dishonest tactics to hold back community radio bill

Paul Riismandel, Radio Survivor

The National Association of Broadcasters has never been a friend to low-power community radio. Back in 2000, when the FCC first created the service, the NAB did everything it could to try and keep it from becoming a reality. While the broadcast lobby failed to stop it outright, the NAB did succeed in getting Congress to significantly curtail LPFM with a last-minute attachment to an omnibus budget bill passed in December of that year. One of the weapons the NAB used was a bogus CD that purported to demonstrate harmful interference caused by low-power stations, that was later disproved by an independent report ordered by Congress.

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Public access channels remain a major source for local TV programming

Alliance for Community Media

The Alliance for Community Media, in partnership with The Buske Group, recently completed an online survey regarding first-run, locally produced programming on public, educational and governmental (“PEG”) cable access channels. More than 200 PEG Access Centers participated in the survey, with responses from 37 states and the District of Columbia. Key findings indicate that PEG Access facilities are very often the leading provider of local, original programming in communities across the United States.

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From the blog

Take Action to protect Community TV in Seattle!

UPDATE 2: Watch SCAN's recent press conference responding to city budget cuts. UPDATE: City Council is not responding to our calls for restored funding, but issues a wish list for seeking a new public access provider with limited funds. As you may be aware, the Seattle City Council is soon to vote on a budget which dramatically slashes the budget for public access television. The cuts are so severe that public access channel SCAN-TV announced that they will be forced to close their doors in less than two months—leaving Seattle with no public access TV studios, training facilities, and nobody to run the channel.

This week is our last chance to tell the council members that it is not acceptable to ignore the hundreds of Seattle residents and organizations that have already spoken out in favor of maintaining funding for public access. Please contact members of the City Council directly and tell them: don't throw community TV under the bus—restore funding for SCAN TV in the city budget!

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The media's job is to interest the public in the public interest. - John Dewey