NATOA Annual Conference: FCC Chair Wheeler on Network Compact, Competition and More

The NATOA (National Association of Telecommunications Officers and Advisors) held their annual conference in St Paul this week. I was able to attend some sessions.

The big highlight was FCC Chairman as lunchtime keynote. He could be a coach! He spoke about Net Neutrality, competition, the role permit-decider have in attracting providers, the (You can find his remarks online.) I thought his remarks on the network compact were interesting:

I also heard an update on policy issues – federal and local. The Internet sales tax was a hot topic. From the world of not-so-shocking – no one wants to pay taxes, people want the benefits tax supports. It seems as if NATOA is hoping for a temporary extension to the No Sales Tax plan rather than a permanent decision. They also discussion the Wireless Tax Fairness Act and touched on Net Neutrality and the Comcast Time Warner Merger. League of Minnesota Cities’ Laura Ziegler gave a nice run down on the Minnesota Broadband Fund and how it came to be:

Next I attended a session Public Options for Broadband Deployment. William Aycock from Wilson NC spoke about how their local existing municipal utility took on the issue of broadband. Joanne Hovis framed the option of public networks for communities – by posing deployment as ownership as opposed to  renting from someone else. Jim Baller was able to add the Minnesota spin:

I was sorry to miss the first day, which focused a lot of adoption. I posted the agenda late last week. I’ll try to post more details if they come out.


Read on for more notes…

The View from the Hill, the FCC, and the States (Notes from Session)

Local governments have to pay attention to a variety of legislative and regulatory actions at both the federal and state levels. Issues such as the IP transition, public safety communications, rights-of-way authority and management, and protecting local revenue streams are on the front burner in Washington, DC and in state capitals across the nation. Hear from the experts advocating for local governments on these and other issues and become better equipped to address them in your jurisdiction.

Moderators: Steve Traylor |

Speakers: Yejin Jang | Julia Pulidindi | Laura Ziegler


Internet Tax Freedom Forever– expires in November. House passed permanent version- everyone on stage opposed because it extends tax free status and removes ability for states to tax. In Senate, they added as short term extension (Dec 11) plus the marketplace fairness act.

We are meeting with Senate to support the fairness legislation.

This topic should come up after the election.

MIFA 2609 – we hope moratorium deadline will be incentive enough to deal with MFA (Marketplace Fairness Act).

MFA makes it easier for states to collect taxes – expected resulting tax is $24 billion.


Wireless tAx Fairness Act – Prohibits states or local governments from imposing any new discriminatory tax on mobile services, mobile service providers, or mobile service property (i.e., cell phones) for five years after the enactment of this Act. Defines “new discriminatory tax” as a tax imposed on mobile services, providers, or property that is not generally imposed on other types of services or property, or that is generally imposed at a lower rate, unless such tax was imposed and actually enforced prior to the date of enactment of this Act.




A coalition is working on letting the FCC know where local governments stand. And we expect to see the benefits of the coalition in the next order – on speeding up access to rights of way.


Net Neutrality


Support free and open Internet. WE drafted comments on Net Neutrality.


Remove state barriers prohibiting new entrants in broadband deployment. We support that concept that local government can make the decision.


Comcast Time Warner Merger


We like Internet Essentials but it could be better. Maybe include services for seniors and vets. Treat PEG access the same as other channels. And let PEG funding go to any expense – operating funds as well as programming.


View from Minnesota



What’s the role of industry?


We have been pushing for best practices. We want to fill in the blanks with compromise rather than regulations.


What about broadband speeds?


A few years ago we advocated for 10 Mbps symmetrical. It seems like the speeds make change – but at a 10 Mbps down and 1 Mbps up rate.


How can you argue against unserved vs underserved?


In Minnesota industry recognizes that there are geographic and economic barriers. There is conversation about changing the speed goals in Minnesota. But one hiccup is that the needs change.


We want the areas that are unserved to get services – but sometimes they are surrounded by underserved areas.




FCC tried to modernize and streamline the program and we support that. There’s no new funding but hopefully the changes will help make better use of the funding.


Consumer Issues?


There was a promise to look at consumer issues – more on satellite than cellular. Several states have raised the issue in terms of the Comcast Time Warner merger.


What’s your take on the Comcast Time Warner?


It seems like it’s an antitrust matter. It’s a big deal!


It seems like no one will want to support sales tax on the Internet. Why not create a constituency for the tax by ear marking the funds for something important – like public safety?


Right now there are 7 states that do tax Internet purchases. SO there is a constituency to build upon. MIFA is not likely to expire. We are really hoping for a temporary extension – rather than a permanent.


The Internet has enjoyed a light regulatory touch. It’s an information service and therefore protected. It’s regulated by the Communication Act.


Considering the Public Option in Broadband Deployment (Notes from Session)

More and more communities are considering how they can work, either alone or in partnership with private investors, to deploy next generation fiber optic networks. And a wide range of new models are emerging for public broadband initiatives. In this session, we’ll explore some of the innovative new models that communities are using to meet local needs for world class broadband networks.

Moderators: James Baller |

Speakers: William Aycock | Brandon Bowersox-Johnson | Joanne Hovis |


William Aycock from Wilson NC – from a tobacco built town. SO they have had to reinvest themselves. They had a long history of investing in infrastructure. The ethic of investment goes back to the 1800s.


Joanne Hovis – Why are we where we are with broadband being a hot topic?


This is a community that said we need big broadband 10-12 years ago. And we’ve said we need to have competition. BUT not everyone agreed. So investment was made in lesser broadband. A wasted investment.


ARRA opened the door to investment and they focused on fiber – and that was a big boon to the community and infrastructure. Google has also had a big impact. And reaction to Google had an impact.


Google Fiber’s RFI challenged communities to make their case. That got people thinking and talking.


Wilson has an Electric Utility – but you had to convince the community to invest. They used an online tool:


Wireless and fiber complement each other but they cannot replace each other.


How do you get a community involved?

  • A set of stakeholder who are already concerned and/or engaged.
  • One or more champions in local government. He will command attention and will build culture and collaboration over time
  • People talking to each other
  • Starting with a vendor waiting to make a sale does not work as well


What features does a community with a municipal utility bring to the table?

  • Access to ownership
  • Customer service
  • Billing presence
  • Qualified linemen
  • Ongoing business relationships with industrial and others
  • Reputation in the community
  • Decades of universal service experience & ethics
  • Our priority is the local people!! That allows for high degree of responsiveness. And we are more aware.


What happens in Wilson?

  • They manage the service because they were unable to find a private partner.
  • We still seek opportunities for private partnership – such as the wireless provider in the area. We provide bandwidth to them. They provide value added services.


What about public private partnerships?

  • It’s early days for public private partnerships – and it’s exciting
  • Where it can happen we are seeing lots of renaissance and new models that meet local needs
  • We are seeing models emerge – public sector wants broadband and is willing to invest at local risk but wants to share risk with private sector.
    • Lowest risk – look at existing assets and find a way to make them available to private business as a way to attract/engage private providers
    • More ambitions – UC2B Champaign Urbana & the University worked together to raise money. They built a fiber backbone for government entities and serve as FTTH; they started with least served areas. They found private partners in open access format to serve the rest of the community. They agreed to sell service at pre-approved rate.
    • Westminster (Maryland) town of 10,000. They build roads and highways – so they laid the fiber. They are looking for a private partner to manage the network and build the FTTH business


Negotiation – used to mean people asked for a public sector network (and sometimes schools). But providers no longer offer those government networks. (Answered below)



Where are dollars to be found?

  • Reduced expenses
  • Certificates of participation
  • In rural areas there is federal funding
  • Some states have funding programs
  • E-Rate
  • Funding for Rural Hospitals



  • In Wilson we wanted 350 miles of fiber in 18 months; we didn’t sleep
  • Talk to folks who have built successful networks. Mitigate risk by asking questions!
  • Know why you are building the network: economic development, better health care, education.
  • It’s not about the technology, it’s about what the technology can do for your community
  • There are strategies to gauge how far you’ve moved the needle use them.
  • Iterative progress is progress


What lef Wilson to ask FCC to remove barriers?

  • We were prevented from providing service beyond Wilson County but we have customers in 6 counties.


CLIC – Coalition for Local Internet Choice

  • Local governments should be free to choose their broadband plan – not a private business, not state or federal government
  • Partners include Google, smaller ISPs, lots of public sector groups…
  • We want to raise the debate.
  • This isn’t public vs private it’s about local choice.


What about finance? In Europe they look at pension funds.


What applications and businesses are you seeing because of the Gig?

  • 5000 devices – that manage infrastructure and utilities
  • We’re attracting Creative Class businesses
This entry was posted in Conferences, MN by Ann Treacy. Bookmark the permalink.

About Ann Treacy

Librarian who follows rural broadband in MN and good uses of new technology (, hosts a radio show on MN music (, supports people experiencing homelessness in Minnesota ( and helps with social justice issues through Women’s March MN.

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