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Bill Proposes Public-Private Partnership To Improve Rural Broadband Access

Bill Proposes Public-Private Partnership To Improve Rural Broadband AccessESSB 5679 would allow rural ports to enter public-private partnerships with telecom companies to provide broadband infrastructure and services to communities outside of their taxing district.

Although it passed overwhelmingly in the state Senate, state House lawmakers are concerned about some of the bill’s language. Photo: High Tech Forum.

In 2015, half a million Washington state residents lacked access to a broadband-speed Internet connection, according to the Broadband Now1 project. State lawmakers want to improve that accessibility to rural communities, where improved connections is often intertwined with economic development. Last month, the state Senate overwhelmingly passed ESSB 56792, a bipartisan bill that would allow rural ports to enter public-private partnerships with telecom companies to provide broadband infrastructure and services to communities outside of their taxing district. Proponents say the move would help Internet service providers add customers currently out of their reach due to insufficient return of investment.

Senate Bill Faces Skepticism In State House

Although the bill passed the Senate with only one dissenting vote, it came under heavy scrutiny at a March 16 public hearing of the House Committee on Technology and Economic Development. Top ranking committee members skeptical of the bill said it lacked clarity about its purpose and might result in ports requesting state subsidies to pay for the infrastructure. However, statements by bill sponsors and others indicated they are open to amendments enabling the legislation to advance.

Washington has 75 port districts in 33 of its 39 counties. Under a state law passed in 20003, rural ports can build telecom infrastructure, and use unlit (dark) optical fiber for their own use or to provide wholesale telecom services. However, they are prohibited from offering telecom services to end users, or private customers. ESSB 5679 would allow rural ports and ports in counties with less than 700,000 people to extend their telecom infrastructure outside their taxing district. The services would be provided to customers through an exclusive contract with a private telecom company operating the telcom facilities.

The bill is sponsored by Majority Caucus Vice Chair Sen. Judy Warnick (R-13) and cosponsored by Democratic Caucus Vice Chair Sen. Lisa Wellman (D-41). Other cosponsors include State Sens. Tim Sheldon (D-35), Ann Rivers (R-18), Lynda Wilson (R-17), Annette Cleveland (D-49), Majority Assistant Whip Maureen Walsh (R-16), Dean Takko (D-19), and Christine Rolfes (D-23). Its companion bill, HB 17024 received a February 7 public hearing of the House Committee on Technology and Economic Development, but did not advance. That bill was sponsored by State Rep. Mary Dye (R-9).

How To Improve Rural Broadband Access

Testifying at the public hearing, Wellman told committee members “It’s a vast concern to me that while we have a digital infrastructure certainly in our urban and suburban areas…many kids in our rural communities don’t have access to that technology…and that troubles me a great deal.”

The public-private partnership authorized by ESSB 5679 is necessary because “the service providers generally go where the action is, where the money is…where it’s easy to provide action,” she added. “Ports have been leading examples of private public partnership. I know that they can get the job done.”

Dye: Bill A “Model For Risk-Sharing”

Dye voiced similar views, calling the bill “a model for risk-sharing…that will provide certainty for both the ports, who have to absorb a longer return on investment than what telecoms could afford” and will “build fiber in places where nobody else will.”

“Rural communities…need the same kind of service and options that are available at the same prices in urban communities,” she said. “This bill creates more opportunities for private companies to provide (those) services. The end of the gravel road will be people served with good broadband.”

Some committee members such as Majority Floor Leader Rep. Gael Tarleton (D-36) were also supportive. She is a cosponsor of HB 1702 and served as a Port of Seattle commissioner for five years.

“I deeply believe in the poor districts to advance the economic opportunities of all the people in their district,” she said. Other testifiers such as Amber Carter called it “a rural economy jobs bill.” She is a lobbyist for the Port of Vancouver and Identity Clark County.

“Broadband capacity is the great equalizer between the urban and rural areas in our state,” she said.

Connecting Broadband Access and Economic Development

Brent Grening is the CEO for the Port Ridgefield, located in southwest Washington north of Vancouver. He told the committee that the bill “would be good for our constituents and constituents across the state, because broadband deployment is a high priority for many of these areas. For us, without it, we cannot build a state of the art economy without state of the art infrastructure.”

“We are looking to build infrastructure,” he added. “We’re not looking to be in the retail game. We want to simply build the infrastructure and then work with private partners.”

However, other industry leaders such as Betty Buckley said the inclusion of “exclusive” in the bill when referring to the public-private partnerships “make the hair on the back of my neck stand up.” She is the Executive Director for the Washington Independent Telecommunication Association.

“The bill also has a number of other loose ends that we would like to see tied up and defined,” she said.

Apprehensions Persist Over Bill Language

The meeting was chock full of questions by committee members such as Chair Rep. Jeff Morris (D-40) who were less enthusiastic about the legislation. He told the sponsors that he is “concerned with bills that don’t have a lot of definitions.” Although “wholesale telecommunication services” is defined in state law, “telecommunication services” that would be provided to end users is not. The bill also doesn’t specify limitations as to how far a port district could extend their telecom infrastructure outside their jurisdiction.

Assistant Ranking Minority Member Rep. Richard DeBolt (R-20) said, “We’ve seen in the past bills that have intention, which I think are honorable and logical, to maybe serve an underserved community, and then somehow doesn’t do that.”

He also expressed concern that infrastructure might be built, but no telecom company will offer service, and ports will turn to the state’s capital budget to subsidize the construction costs.

“Doesn’t this bill open up to abuse of those ports in those areas to build out to where maybe they shouldn’t be building out?” he asked. Warnick said “we are open to protecting that from happening.

I would just like to see it (the bill) get through so we can start the conversations.”

References

  1. ^ the Broadband Now (broadbandnow.com)
  2. ^ ESSB 5679 (app.leg.wa.gov)
  3. ^ passed in 2000 (app.leg.wa.gov)
  4. ^ HB 1702 (app.leg.wa.gov)

Telecommunications, broadband study to help revise ordinances

BERRYVILLE — The Clarke County Board of Supervisors accepted a telecommunications and broadband study at its December meeting to use as a planning document. Now, the Clarke Planning Commission will use the study and other sources of information to revise county ordinances regarding cellular towers and fiber optics, so the county will be fully prepared to work with telecommunications and broadband companies that want to do business in Clarke. The Planning Commission and its Telecommunications Subcommittee met Tuesday in preparation for the commission’s regular meeting at 9 a.m. Friday. In the event of early morning snow, the meeting may be moved to 1 p.m.

Last year, the Atlantic Group, an Ashland-based consulting company that specializes in municipal wireless and wired communications, produced the study of current and potential infrastructure in order to provide much-needed telecommunications and broadband coverage in rural parts of Clarke County. In addition to locations of current and potential towers, the detailed study, which cost $25,000, proposes tower types and heights. As part of its study, the Atlantic Group worked with the Telecommunications Subcommittee, recommending ordinance revisions that address tower types and heights, specifically monopole regulations.

On Tuesday, Planning Commission members and its Telecommunications Subcommittee discussed using other sources of information in addition to the study to best serve the county.

“Although the Board of Supervisors charged us with using the study to amend text, we should charge ourselves with using all available information,” said Planning Commission Chairman George Ohrstrom. Telecommunications Subcommittee member Robina Rich Bouffault expects the Planning Commission will present the revised monopole ordinance text to the Board of Supervisors in February. Bouffault said the hope is the ordinance will serve the county and “make it possible for broadband providers to serve Clarke County.”

Companies want to do business where they can make the most profit, and Clarke County’s rural population has not been seen as profitable.

Clarke supervisors and planners are doing what they can to entice broadband providers.

“The county does not have the wherewithal to provide broadband service. We do want to make it possible for providers to come into the county,” Bouffault said. Choosing internet and broadband providers will — as always — be up to each individual consumer.

Attending the Planning Commission briefing meeting in the Berryville-Clarke County Government Center on Tuesday afternoon were chairman George Ohrstrom, vice chair Anne Caldwell, Robina Rich Bouffault, Randy Buckley, Scott Kreider, Douglas Kruhm, Frank Lee, Gwedolyn Malone, Cliff Nelson and Jon Turkel. Bouffault, Kruhm and Turkel are the Telecommunications Subcommittee. Supervisor Mary Daniel attended as Planning Commission liaison.

Virgin Media customers are suffering ANOTHER broadband service outage as the company works on a fix

Computer says no

It is the second time in a week this has happened, and they say there is not a “permanent fix” as yet for this evening’s problem

VIRGIN Media customers have reportedly been suffering another broadband service outage this evening. It is a second time in less than a week that it has happened after a similar issue last Tuesday night impacted Irish customers.

Virgin Media Customers Are Suffering ANOTHER Broadband Service Outage As The Company Works On A FixVirgin Media’s broadband is experiencing difficulties at the moment

A Virgin Media spokesperson told Independent.ie: “We’re aware that some customers are seeing intermittent issues with broadband our engineers are working on a permanent fix.

“If you’re still having trouble today please reboot your modem and reconnect all devices to restore service.”

Computer says no

Virgin Media customers are suffering ANOTHER broadband service outage as the company works on a fix

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There is no “permanent fix” as yet but it is understood that their customer service desk is taking a high volume of calls. There are also a number of enquiries to their Twitter account:

@VirginMediaIE1 Broadband down again. Power light flashing green and WiFi light constant green. In Dublin 1.

Any update?

— Kenneth Buckley (@kenneth_buckley) December 12, 20162

@domglennon3 So sorry Dom, we are aware of an issue and we are working on this urgently ^Toni

— Virgin Media Ireland (@VirginMediaIE) December 12, 20164

References

  1. ^ @VirginMediaIE (twitter.com)
  2. ^ December 12, 2016 (twitter.com)
  3. ^ @domglennon (twitter.com)
  4. ^ December 12, 2016 (twitter.com)