A Broadband Plan for the States
Today we are pleased to release a white paper entitled The States’ Broadband Plan, a set of three suggested policies designed to promote broadband connectivity in the states. This white paper comes in response to legislators’ requests for proven ideas to foster more economic growth through technology and improve public safety in the wake of natural disasters.
The best way to address the economic problems facing the country is to increase economic opportunity, investing in and fostering potential growth areas of the economy that hold real promise to create jobs and wealth. Few areas hold as much promise as broadband access to the Internet. Over the past two years, the broadband industry has collectively invested over $120 billion in research, equipment and people.
While new products and services are constantly developed on the Internet through broadband, the laws on the books don’t account for the speed and breadth with which this broadband-enabled innovation takes place. These laws also don’t account for the market power in the Internet economy to disrupt monopolies and protect consumers. Unfortunately, policymakers continue to apply 20th Century laws, designed for monopolistic challenges from a bygone era, to 21st Century technologies like broadband. When old laws are applied to new technologies, costs rise and innovation slows. Our model Advanced Voice Services Availability Act protects innovation by protecting advanced broadband from antiquated 1930s-era regulations. The model Act exempts Internet protocol-based technologies from state utility regulation, and preserves several rights and responsibilities for states and providers, while also respecting the Federal Communications Commission’s jurisdiction. In other words, it creates a modern regulatory framework for a modern communications technology.
Americans also know well the sense of frustration that comes when their mobile phones drop calls or lose an Internet connection. What they may not know is how burdensome local government rules contribute to the problem. Wireless carriers recognize that poor reception remains an issue and continue to invest billions of dollars in their networks, most notably for cell towers. Carriers would invest more, but there is a barrier to more investment: local zoning rules. These rules govern applications for new towers, adding equipment to existing towers, and placing antennae on existing structures (e.g. office towers). Local zoning rules have dramatically slowed applications for permits to construct or improve cell towers.
Several states recognize wireless technology is an essential ingredient to broadband access and future economic and social success. These states are currently implementing policies to hasten the deployment of advanced wireless communications services. In response, we have developed the Model Wireless Communications Tower Siting Act for the purpose of: ensuring (1) the safe and efficient integration of facilities necessary for the provision of broadband and other advanced wireless communications services throughout the community and (2) the ready availability of reliable wireless service to the public and government agencies and first responders, with the intention of furthering the public safety and general welfare.
But economic growth is not the only concern of state legislators. The widespread destruction of broadband communications networks caused by Superstorm Sandy highlights the urgent need for policymakers to reexamine not only natural disaster recovery strategies, but also the current tax and regulatory policies that might slow response during these emergencies. When the goal of a business is to mitigate a natural disaster’s impact and hasten the return to normalcy, it does not make sense to subject companies and employees acting temporarily in the state to render critical assistance to burdensome taxes and regulatory requirements.
To ensure that companies and their employees focus solely on responding to the needs of the state and its citizens during a disaster, our members developed as a reference guide for state legislators the Facilitating Business Rapid Response to State Declared Disaster Act. Our model policy simply states that activities for repairing damage to critical infrastructure in a state for a reasonable period of time during and after an officially-declared disaster or emergency do not establish nexus for state and local business-activity tax purposes and business licensing. However, to ensure this policy remains focused solely on improving disaster responses, the policy does not exempt business from use taxes (i.e. gasoline taxes, hotel taxes, etc.) and the exemption only lasts as long as the disaster period.
We hope that our members and others find these policies helpful in addressing policy challenges in their states, and we look forward to feedback and additional requests for forward-looking ideas on other policy issues currently before the states in the weeks ahead.