Liveblogging the Senate Revenue and Taxation Committee: Feburary 20, 2009

As I normally do when attending government meetings, I’ll be liveblogging the entire affair. Today the Senate Revenue and Taxation Committee will be considering SB205, a bill that makes modifications to redevelopment agency funds.

Upon a closer examination, it looks like it will do two things that can affect UTOPIA: network infrastructure can only be paid for via RDA through tax expendetures and not by bonding and the infrastructure must remain open to any service provider’s use. I disagree that it is necessary to take away the ability of the city to bond RDA funds for such projects (especially since they are very capital-intensive) and the “open” provision might be interpreted to mean that services such as transparent LAN can be provided directly by the city as wholesale transport. Obviously these changes can be quite troublesome. I’m going to speak against both changes and voice my concerns when the time presents itself.

Keep on refreshing as the meeting begins to see what’s going on.

3:00PM Movement to pass with favorable recommendation has passed unanimously with the note that the bill will be amended. The meeting is now adjourned. I’ll keep an eye on the amendments.

2:51PM UTOPIA cities are working on some amendments to improve the language in the bill. This may not be as bad as initially thought.

2:41PM Yeah, this is a direct response to Centerville. Sen. Bramble is concerned that RDA funds could be used to pay off UTOPIA’s bond debt. That’s why they’re looking at closing the bonding option for telecommunications.

2:38PM Sen. Bramble is taking the floor to discuss SB205.

2:28PM Sen. Bramble has arrived. I still don’t see any Qwest or Comcast reps that I recognize.

2:27PM SB205 isn’t going first as originally planned since Sen. Bramble isn’t here yet. Instead, we get to hear about uniform fees on canoes. This is the kind of legislative stuff that’s good for a nap.

2:25PM Looks like we’re up to 5 senators. With a quorum established, they can finally get started.

2:22PM Re-ordered so that the latest updates are at the top. Don’t know why I was doing it the other way.

2:20PM Looks like the committee chair got tired of waiting. He just left to go find some of the other senators that should be here right now.

2:18PM Okay, I know Senators are busy. But, seriously, it’s almost 20 minutes past when this was supposed to get started. And I’m here on my own dime.

2:07PM I still don’t see any of the usual suspects from Qwest or Comcast here today. It’s entirely possible they don’t yet have a hand in it. If we stay on the down-low, it may stay that way.

2:01PM As with most committee meetings, this one is going to start late. Looks like there’s still at least 3 members not here yet including Sen. Bramble and Sen. Stephenson.

1:55PM It’s still a pretty empty meeting room. I’ll bet the Senate has been pretty busy with today’s media circus. I’ve also heard that the bill is likely to be modified.

SB205 Text Available, Would Ban RDA Funds for Telecom

The text of SB205 became available a few short moments ago and, as currently worded, would ban the use of RDA funds on telecommunications projects. (See lines 651-3.) The bill is a direct response to Centerville’s attempts to build out fiber optics infrastructure in the city to promote next-generation networks. Given Sen. Bramble’s significant power and influence, it is critically important that each of you contact your state senator and representative to ask that the provision either be stricken or amended to allow use of RDA funds for telecom provided that the infrastructure is open to any provider.

(Update 2/18/09 by Mike Taylor) – Here is the actual text of the bill, the link above shows the status.

Centerville Inches Closer to RDA-Funded Fiber Hub Despite SB205 Threat

Centerville is getting closer to using RDA money to build a fiber hub in the city even as the threat of Sen. Bramble’s RDA amendments loom. The city council was unanimuous in voting to draft final documents to make it all happen. Once built, it would rescue about $2M worth of “stranded investment” at a cost of around $100K.

Sen. Bramble’s boxcar legislation for the changes, SB205, may contain provisions that would allow such carrier-neutral infrastructure to be built with RDA money, but there’s still a very strong chance that the provision would be nixed and telecom spending banned outright. You’d better contact your state senators and representatives to make them aware of what’s coming.

UPDATE: The Standard-Examiner has more on the story.

Sen. Bramble Looking to Ban RDA Funds for Telecom

Senator Curt “Take My Check, Pizza Girl” Bramble is working on amending RDA laws in Utah to make sure that funds aren’t spent on any telecommunications projects. This is reportedly a direct reaction to Centerville’s proposed use of RDA funds to build fiber-optic infrastructure within the city, even though the proposal on the table allows any network to use it. Sen. Bramble has a well-deserved reputation for being prickly, so be prepared if you decide to communicate directly with him.

It’s very important that you write, call or speak with your senator or representative to make sure they know how you feel about this change. UTOPIA cities are working to make sure that the language will allow for it so long as it is vendor-neutral, but your voices are much, much louder.

Cost for Centerville UTOPIA Hub May Top $100K

The Standard-Examiner reports that the network communications hub in Centerville may cost about $20K more than initially projected with the additional money paying for conduit to cross the railroad tracks. A vote on the spending could come as early as January 20. There’s no word yet on Qwest’s response to this new plan or if they plan to take advantage of the new facilities.

The bigger question, however, is why Centerville appears to be the only city willing to go “all in” to make the network succeed. I’m not aware of any other member cities looking at building and leasing infrastructure or spending RDA funds to help UTOPIA succeed. What’s the deal, guys?

No More Impasse? Centerville May Have Deal to Spend RDA Funds on UTOPIA

According to the Standard-Examiner, Centerville may be able to spend RDA funds to expand UTOPIA without facing legal action from Qwest. The deal would be to build a telecommunications hub within the city that would be open to all networks and providers willing to offer high-speed services to businesses and residents. Centerville could spend as much as $150,000 to expand UTOPIA to businesses along the I-15 corridor and complete the network hub.

Anyone at the meeting care to share additional insights? I couldn’t make it due to weather and preparing for another activity tomorrow night.

Broadband Bytes: 2008 Wrap-up Edition

Happy New Year! This Broadband Bytes covers from December 20 through the end of the year. The end of 2008 saw even more retransmission battles (in particular the 11th-hour showdown between Time Warner and Viacom), Qwest trying to unplug a rival that’s suing it for racketeering, and the pending launch of FTTH services in Lafayette, LA. I predict that 2009 will offer up explosive growth in broadband speeds and availability fueled by federal dollars, an increased flight of users from cable to online video streaming and continued greater-than-inflation rises in programming costs.

Qwest Threatens New UTOPIA Lawsuit, Wants to Block Centerville RDA Funds

Qwest’s business model should be “If you can’t beat ’em, sue ’em.” The Davis County Clipper reports that America’s least competent incumbent is threatening Centerville with a lawsuit if they decide to move forward with their plan to use RDA funds to build out UTOPIA. Qwest’s accusations are, natually, light on specifics and big on puffery. Maybe Qwest should take some cues from Comcast and try competing instead of litigating its way to success.

Centerville Mulls Using RDA Money to Expand UTOPIA

The David County Clipper reports that Centerville is thinking about using redevelopment agency funds to push UTOPIA construction in their city. The idea, which is in very early stages, is to use the presence of the network as a lure for high-tech companies. Nothing in final, but this presents a unique way for cities to expand UTOPIA using an existing funding mechanism.