Tag Archives: Internet

Court overturns FCC Chattanooga broadband order

MEMPHIS, Tenn. (AP) — A federal appeals court on Wednesday overturned a Federal Communications Commission ruling allowing city-owned broadband services to expand into areas overlooked by commercial providers.

The decision comes as part of a dispute between the FCC and two states, Tennessee and North Carolina, about expanding superfast internet service in their respective cities of Chattanooga and Wilson to surrounding areas.

Both states had passed laws preventing such expansion. The FCC last year voted 3-2 to override those laws. The states then asked the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals to review the FCC’s ruling.

The appeals court said that the FCC’s order pre-empted the state laws and “the allocation of power between a state and its subdivisions.” The court said the FCC’s action requires a “clear statement” of authority in federal law, but the law does not contain a clear statement authorizing pre-emption of Tennessee’s and North Carolina’s laws. Continue reading

ECD report: 13% of Tennesseans lack broadband

News release from Department of Economic and Community Development
NASHVILLE – The Tennessee Department of Economic and Community Development released today a study it commissioned to assess the current state of broadband access in Tennessee and options for increasing access and utilization.

Strategic Networks Group and NEO Connect, global leaders in broadband consulting, conducted the study on behalf of the department.

According to the study, 13 percent of Tennesseans, or 834,545 people, do not have access to broadband at the federal standard of 25 megabytes per second of download speed and 3 megabytes per second of upload speed.

More than 23,000 Tennessee residents and businesses responded to the survey portion of the study, which took place between January and March of this year. Continue reading

Haslam moves to require online retailers collect TN sales tax

Gov. Bill Haslam wants Tennessee to join a growing group of states seeking to force either Congress or the U.S. Supreme Court to revisit rulings preventing collection of sales taxes from out-of-state online retailers. reports the Times-Free Press.

State Department of Revenue officials will hold a rulemaking hearing in August on a proposed rule that administration officials hope will tear down that barrier and let the tax dollars roll in.

The rule would require out-of-state online companies with more than $500,000 a year in Tennessee sales to collect and remit sales taxes to the state starting July 1, 2017.

Adopting the rule is a multistep process. If adopted, it’s virtually certain to be challenged in court. And that’s the primary objective of the strategy being pushed by states like Alabama, South Dakota and now Tennessee.

At least a dozen states are pushing a patchwork of laws or rules they hope will pressure Congress to act or, more likely, force the issue back before the Supreme Court.

“The governor has been out front on this issue and trying to get something through Congress,” Haslam press secretary Jennifer Donnals told the Times Free Press in an email.

If Tennessee is successful, Donnals added, “we would also look at reductions on the sales tax on food to be as cost neutral as possible.”

…Tennessee revenue officials estimate a loss of $300 million to $450 million in sales tax collections annually. The National Conference of State Legislatures estimates states collectively lost out on $23.3 billion in 2012.

“Tennessee is a sales tax-driven state, and we have to be fair to our local businesses,” state Revenue Commissioner Richard Roberts said by email.

Roberts called the status quo “fundamentally unfair” to local retailers. “Just this past year more Americans shopped online over the Thanksgiving-Black Friday weekend than went to stores,” he said.

Broadband bill axed; Brooks blames lobbyists

A last-ditch effort by state Rep. Kevin Brooks, R-Cleveland, to save salvage his municipal broadband bill failed Tuesday, the Times-Free Press reports. Brooks had tried narrowing the bill from applying statewide to instead be a regional demonstration project.

As a platoon of AT&T and other lobbyists opposed to the measure stood outside the room watching proceedings on a video screen, House Business and Utilities Subcommittee members voted 5-3 against Brook’s proposed amendment.

Brooks had tried narrowing the bill from applying statewide to instead be a small demonstration project — xpected to let Chattanooga’s EPB extend its lightning-fast Internet broadband and video offerings to underserved areas of Hamilton and Bradley counties.

…”It’s a testament to the power of lobbying against this bill and not listening to our electorate,” Brooks told reporters after leaving the committee room. “We have thousands of petitions that were signed [and placed] in everybody s office. And the voice of the people today was not heard. And that’s unfortunate.”

Asked who was lobbying against the bill, Brooks said, “the list of who was not would be shorter. I heard they hired 27 lawyers to fight.”

…Rep. Dan Howell, R-Georgetown, whose Bradley County district would have benefited from the bill, said the proposed amendment “was the perfect opportunity for EPB to be a pilot and to prove they can do what they say they can do. And if they can’t do it, it’s a perfect opportunity to put it to rest forever.

“They wouldn’t even let us do a pilot to prove that EPB can do what it claimed,” Howell added.

Brooks said “it just shows that this is not a statewide issue. This is not even a local issue. This is a who’s-got-the-most-power issue. And right now it was not us.”

AT&T, Comcast and other opponents say it’s unfair to let EPB and its municipal counterparts extend their Internet and video offerings outside their service areas.

Senate balks at revising social media stalking law

Tennessee lawmakers have rejected a plan to fight stalking over social media, reports WPLN.

The proposal, Senate Bill 1962, would have made it illegal to use “third parties” — like social media platforms — to follow, threaten or spy on someone.

In Tennessee it’s already illegal to stalk through e-mail and text messages sent by phone, but the state’s stalking laws don’t include indirect messages, like Facebook posts or tweets. Supporters of the bill say this is a loophole that should be closed.

But opponents said banning indirect messages went too far. Some recalled a 2011 effort by the Tennessee legislature to ban cyberstalking on social media. That law drew fire from legal experts, who said it violated free speech.

Legislators were ridiculed. They responded by repealing the law in 2012 and replacing it with the current statute.

Note: The bill, sponsored by Sen. Jeff Yarbro, D-Nashville, got 14 votes on the Senate floor — three shy of the 17 needed for passage — while 13 voted no and five did not vote. Officially, it goes back to the Calendar Committee and could be re-scheduled for another try.

Haslam pans broadband bill

Gov. Bill Haslam says efforts by municipal electric services to expand high-speed Internet to rural areas won’t fully solve Tennessee’s broadband accessibility issues and doesn’t fairly treat for-profit servers like AT&T and Comcast, reports the Times-Free Press.

“The easy thing everybody can say is, ‘We need broadband,'” the Republican governor told Times Free Press editors and reporters last week. “The difficult thing is to say, ‘How are we going to do it?’ I mean, one of the current bills won’t really do that. It’ll provide broadband to some additional areas but it really won’t take it to everyone, anywhere.”

Proposed legislation would lift restrictions on where municipal utilities such as EPB can offer services. Chattanooga’s EPB has said the city-owned utility is eager to offer its fiber-optic telecom services throughout Bradley County.

The municipal broadband bill, sponsored in the House by Rep. Kevin Brooks, R-Cleveland, would allow EPB and other public utilities to expand into areas served by rural electric cooperatives if the co-ops agree. But for-profit companies oppose the legislation.

As proponents of the years-long effort to expand municipal broadband began cranking up another attempt this year, Randy Boyd, Haslam’s commissioner of economic and community development, announced he was launching a statewide assessment of broadband access and usage in Tennessee…. Haslam said Boyd will determine what parts of the state do not have broadband and how many people are without the service.

The governor said his own “best read of the numbers” is there are 200,000 households that don’t have broadband.

Sen. Janice Bowling, R-Tullahoma, sponsor of the upper chamber’s broadband bill, took issue with a number of the governor’s statements. The 200,000 estimate is “totally bogus” and too low, she said, adding she’s heard that estimate previously “from people who stand to profit by saying it’s that low.”

“The truth is there are hundreds of thousands, more than 200,000,” she said. “There’s a significant number of homes that have no access and an equally significant number of homes that have no competition, no choice and something that is unreliable, unaffordable and that’s not their product choice.”

Broadband expansion bill proponents blast AT&T

Proponents of rural broadband services on Wednesday demanded Tennessee lawmakers quit listening to for-profit telephone and cable giants and allow municipal electric power services to expand their lightning-fast Internet offerings to underserved areas, reports the Times-Free Press.

“We’re talking about AT&T,” Sen. Todd Gardenhire, R-Chattanooga, bluntly told a rally of business owners, families and local officials gathered in the state Capitol. “They’re the most powerful lobbying organization in this state by far.”

The bill has been opposed for years by AT&T, Comcast and other providers who say it’s unfair for them to have to compete with government entities like EPB. But EPB, as well as some lawmakers like Gardenhire, say if the free market isn’t providing the service, someone else should.

“Don’t fall for the argument that this is a free market versus government battle,” Gardenhire said. “It is not. AT&T is the villain here, and so are the other people and cable.”

…Outside the state Capitol’s first-floor old Supreme Court room was a placard charging AT&T in Tennessee received $156 million from an Obama administration program aimed at expanding access to broadband. At the same time, Gardenhire said, they’re opposing governmental entities like EPB expanding.

AT&T spokesman Daniel Hayes said in an email “it is incorrect to equate the common practice of government providing incentives to encourage private-sector behavior with the concept of direct government competition.”

He said the Federal Communication Commission’s Connect America Fund provides private-sector incentives “specifically designed to encourage deployment to address a clearly defined and limited federal goal.

“Generating significant amounts of public debt to sustain municipal networks is a different animal,” Hayes added. “Taxpayer money should not be used to over-build or compete with the private sector, which has a proven history of funding, building, operating and upgrading broadband networks. Policies that discourage private-sector investment put at risk the world-class broadband infrastructure American consumers deserve and enjoy today.”

Harwell: No broadband bill this year

House Speaker Beth Harwell says he doesn’t expect the legislature to approve a bill this year to let Tennessee municipal electric utilities extend broadband service into areas not served by commercial, for-profit providers, reports Richard Locker.

Harwell, R-Nashville, told a group of small-business owners attending a National Federation of Independent Business lobbying day that the Legislature is likely to wait until after the state Department of Economic and Community Development completes a study of the issue that it launched last month before taking action.

The Tennessee Municipal Electric Power Association, comprising the state’s municipal-owned electric utilities, and other groups have scheduled a visit to the State Capitol Wednesday to press for action before the General Assembly adjourns its 2016 session by late April.

…”I would love to settle this issue. We’re tired of it,” Harwell said. “I think you have a very legitimate concern. It’s just a tough call because businesses like to provide the service where there’s high clientele and they can get quick customers. Where our problem does exist is in some of these remote areas — I’ve been to every small county and every little city in the state just about — and there are some areas that would be financially difficult for a private company to reach out and make a profit off of providing to those areas. That’s what we’re trying to balance.

“But we continue to work on it. We’re waiting for that study. There are bills put in every year so I can’t promise you anything is going to be done this year in the Legislature,” she said.

Afterward, Harwell told reporters she wants to see the ECD study before acting on legislation.

“My preference would be that the private sector take this over,” she said. “We’ll see if they can come to the plate and offer enough services to our rural areas. If they can, that would be my preference. If they can’t, then I do think it becomes necessary for the public to enter.”

AT&T expanding broadband in rural TN

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — AT&T says it will expand broadband Internet connection to more than 81,000 homes and businesses in rural Tennessee within six years.

Multiple media outlets report that the telecommunications giant announced Wednesday that it will use $26 million from telephone universal access fees to extend its broadband service.

The funding comes from the federal Connect America Fund, which will allow AT&T to deploy broadband connections where market forces and economics do not support such expansion.

As part of the deployment, AT&T says it will deliver broadband at speeds of at least 10 megabits per second for downloads and 1 megabit per second for uploads.

Tennessee Department of Economic and Community Development official Amy New says the increased connectivity is vital for residents and should lead to an increase in investment in their communities.

TN legislative website wins top award at NCSL 2015 convention

National Conference of State Legislatures news release
Seattle—The Tennessee General Assembly’s website took home the 2015 Online Democracy Award for having a superior legislative website this week during the National Conference of State Legislatures’ (NCSL) 2015 Legislative Summit in Seattle.

NCSL’s Online Democracy Award is presented annually to a legislature, legislative chamber or caucus whose website makes democracy user-friendly in an outstanding way. The winning website is chosen by a committee of legislative staffers who evaluate each site’s design, content and technological integration.

This is the second time Tennessee has won the award. The state’s first honor was in 2009. This year, the website swayed the panel of judges with its simple yet stimulating interface that facilitates public access to the workings of the legislature.
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