Did you have a glimmer of hope that you’d be able to get UTOPIA service in your city once Macquarie comes in? Sen. John Valentine just smashed it with a hammer. His floor amendment to SB190 makes it so that only current UTOPIA cities can use a utility fee to finance construction of the network. Any new cities that join would be unable to do so at all.
Why does this matter? Because Macquarie has structured the entire deal around it. If future cities can’t do it, they can’t get the same terms that Macquarie is offering UTOPIA. This could derail their rumored plans to cover the entire state in gigabit fiber with over a dozen competing providers.
Right now, the bill is in the Senate and will come to a floor vote. It’s urgent that you contact members of the Senate, particularly your senator, to tell them to oppose this amendment. Sen. Valentine is working in bad faith by not involving UTOPIA cities either in this new amendment or the original bill.
Click here to email the entire Senate body and voice your opposition! They need to hear from you.
UPDATED 2-27-2014 2:25PM: We won! Valentine has committed to UTOPIA mayors to pull Amendment 2. Now if it can just go through without any other trickery…
On a 4-0-3 vote, SB190 was amended and passed from the Senate Business and Labor Committee this morning. XMission founder Pete Ashdown and myself both spoke in opposition to the bill while Macquarie themselves endorsed the amended bill. Layton sent Gary Crane to represent them to oppose the unamended bill and support the amended bill. It now goes to the second calendar of the Senate for its first floor vote.
During the bill presentation, Sen. Valentine explained the rationale behind the bill as a potential ambiguity in the state code. As currently worded, it prohibits any subsidy of a municipal network by the city. His interpretation is that this could include a utility fee that covers existing bond debt but not operating expenses. Naturally, I disagree and think it’s silly to call paying your debts a subsidy. All the same, the state code now explicitly states that it’s not a subsidy provided that there’s a plan to waive the fee for the indigent.
Speaking of that provision, I found out that it was something the cities were all planning on doing anyway. In the end, SB190 codified what cities were already doing on their own, but only after first attempting to kill the Macquarie deal without input from UTOPIA cities. Kind of a useless bill if you ask me.
This doesn’t mean it’s all a done deal, however. The bill also needs to be voted on in the Senate, go to a House committee, then get voted on in the House. Amendments to the bill could be proposed at any step. Right now, the best thing you can do is email your legislators and make sure they’ll accept the bill as-is so we don’t get anything worse.
I’ve been looking over some amendments that Sen. John Valentine has made to SB190 and it appears to be much improved over its original form. The utility fee is back on the table, but it does require that municipalities carve out exemptions for “economically indigent” persons if they can’t afford the fee. It also conveniently still omits Provo from these new requirements despite its large low-income student population.
The changes came after Sen. Valentine met with mayors from UTOPIA cities, something he probably should have done before even drafting the bill. It also cites unnamed “mayors” who initially pushed him to run the bills, presumably not from UTOPIA cities. I’d personally like to know who they were and why they would care what UTOPIA cities are doing with their budgets and bond debts.
One lingering concern I have is that “economically indigent” isn’t a defined term I can find in either in the bill or elsewhere in the chapter. The best I can find is in Title 77-32-202, paragraph (3)(a)(ii) where indigent is defined as under 150% of the federal poverty level for purposes of assigning free legal counsel. Based on the current federal poverty level, that would work out to $35,325 for a family of four. It’s unknown if that would be the standard by which all cities would be judged or if they’d be free to establish their own guidelines.
Even with the improvements, I still plan to speak against this bill. If it’s a good idea, there’s no reason to exempt Provo (thus providing an indirect advantage to Google). I’m also not comfortable with leaving terms undefined as a “gotcha” to try putting the original restrictions in place in another session. Finally, I don’t like the legislature trying to dictate terms to cities as if they are a super-city council. If they want to run the city, they should get on the council themselves.
I just got a notice that SB190, the bill that could chase off Macquarie, will be heard Monday February 24 at 8AM in the Senate Business and Labor committee. Word on the street is that members of the committee have been getting a lot of emails in opposition (good job, folks), but we also should show up to speak against it. Make sure you spread this around so we can show up in force!
It appears the legislature is determined to chase off a $300M investment in our state’s broadband infrastructure to appease CenturyLink. Sen. John Valentine is running SB190 which has been very specifically crafted to prevent any UTOPIA city from using the same utility fee that Provo has to pay down the bonds. Moving to a utility fee to provide transparency on the cost of the UTOPIA bonds has been a key part of the Macquarie discussions so far, so it could very well put the deal in jeopardy.
Just like with Rep. Curt Webb, all you have to do is follow the money. Since 2008, Sen. Valentine has taken $200 from the Utah Rural Telecom Association, $1500 from CenturyLink/Qwest, and a whopping $7250 from Comcast with at least one donation every single year. He’s heard from the incumbents; now he needs to hear from us.
SB190 isn’t currently on the Senate Business and Labor Committee agenda, but I’ll let you know when it is. If it passes, it could hamper the deal to have Macquarie complete gigabit fiber to over 150K homes and prevent them from expanding beyond current UTOPIA cities. Now is the time to contact the members of the committee and tell them to kill this bill.
I’m beginning to think that Rep. Curt Webb is trying to win a “most indecisive legislator” award or something. I’ve gotten word (from three sources) that HB60 has been pulled from the House Government Operations Committee hearing yet again. There’s no indication yet on when it will now be heard, but we’re certain to get at least 24 hours of notice. With the President’s Day holiday coming up, I think we can at least stand down for the weekend.
As always, I’ll provide updates when they’re available.
Despite looking like it’s dead, HB60 is coming back for a committee hearing on Friday at 8AM. This is the best chance to kill the bill for good, so it’s very important that as many opponents as possible come to the hearing and voice their opposition. The bill is currently fourth on the agenda, so even if you’re a bit late, you’ll likely be able to get a chance to speak.
Now is the time to email, call, or visit members of the committee to urge them to oppose this bill. Showing up will make the most difference. If it dies in committee, there’s a good chance it won’t come to a floor vote at all.
I went to check the status of HB60 this morning and noticed the status has changed to “House Comm – Not Considered”. This means that the committee responsible for hearing the bill has declined to do so. Without a committee hearing, the bill has little chance of passing at all. There’s still the possibility that once the rules are suspended that it could be brought to a floor vote, but that appears to be unlikely and would be a “hail Mary” kind of move.
As always, I’m going to keep watching this one until the session is over, but it looks like we may have won this round handily.
Rep. Curt Webb has held HB60 again to make some additional modifications. It will be heard again either Wednesday or Friday. I’ll post more as it becomes available, though notice of the agenda change wasn’t made until minutes before the committee meeting. CenturyLink is definitely watching this one as their head lobbyist, Eric Isom, was spotted outside the committee room.
Rep. Webb was also on a radio interview opposite Pete Ashdown and was reportedly unable to articulate a good reason to pass the bill. I’m hoping he withdraws it before there’s more egg on his face.
In a completely ill-considered move, Rep Curt Webb is running a bill, HB60, which would restrict any municipal fiber network (but, curiously, not cable, DSL, wireless, or any other technology) from building anything outside the boundaries of member cities. This is aimed squarely at UTOPIA only, and it is meant to be a purely punitive measure.
So what prompted this? Probably the developers and companies who paid out of their own pockets to expand the network. Hamlett Homes extended it into South Salt Lake communities, and a number of businesses near the backbone but outside of member cities have done the same. These extensions help lessen the burden on taxpayers as a whole by shifting more of the costs onto subscribers, but it doesn’t cost any city a red cent.
As the bill is currently written, UTOPIA wouldn’t just be prevented from building to people willing to pay for it. They could also be required to shut down any existing services and be prohibited from maintaining their backbone that links cities together. It would effectively be a death sentence on any network that isn’t entirely within member cities AND can connect to an exchange point to reach ISPs and the rest of the Internet.
Naturally, I had to follow the money and it explains a lot. Rep. Webb has taken contributions from CenturyLink and the Utah Rural Telecom Association. What’s he got planned next? Duplicating the anti-Google Fiber bill from Kansas?