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Spring 2023 Legislative Wrap-up!

Updated: Jul 7, 2023

MBC worked on a number of important bills in the legislative session that is wrapping up this week. Our position won out on most. Bills we supported which were signed into law will help the state make pole attachments more efficient, give municipalities better access to liability insurance for their networks, increase the transparency of influence campaigns in our towns, improve government planning coordination, and revive a telephone service for the deaf and hard of hearing. Bills we opposed which did not pass would have provided a tax subsidy to cable television providers in the guise of a broadband investment incentive and weakened access to information on municipal governance.


A few bills were introduced and had initial hearings, but did not have final votes and will carry over to the next term. One we support that would require ISPs to prorate their bills, and we look forward to backing it again in the fall. Another we will continue to oppose in the fall would rewrite our online privacy laws to include many big tech preferences backed by Facebook and Spectrum. One bill we partly supported was voted down after losing support from its sponsors. We supported giving the state the authority to regulate broadband infrastructure crossing privately-owned railroads, and will continue to seek solutions to this issue.


Granted, we had no huge lifts this term. This Coalition led important work in the last couple years to lay the groundwork for the Maine Connectivity Authority and to kickstart it with state funding. Our Policy Committee, composed of staff from ISPs, non-profit stakeholder groups, regional planning organizations and the Maine Connectivity Authority, met regularly to determine positions and strategies. MBC also staffed the legislative Broadband Caucus and hosted Maine Broadband Day at the Hall of Flags.


For a full review of the bills mentioned in the following sections including the bill text, a quick summary, our position and testimony if available, see the bottom of this document.


We’re spending some time this summer to review priorities for the next legislative session. We invite you share your thoughts on what we should push by dropping us a line directly or at connect@mainebroadbandcoalition.org!


  • Myles Smith, Executive Director & Joe Oliva, Outreach Associate

Summary


Bills signed into law:

The bills signed into law this session are notable for a variety of reasons and make improvements to broadband expansion and digital equity.


LD 1223 allows pole owners to require municipalities to purchase and maintain general liability insurance up to $5,000,000. We supported the passage of this bill based on our understanding of the complexities and costs associated with the pole attachment process especially for municipalities or broadband utility districts.


LD 1336 is a bill designed to close a loophole in the campaign finance reporting system at the state level in that it would require organizations that spend more than $5,000 to influence a municipal referendum campaign in towns with populations less than 15,000 residents to report to the Maine Ethics Commission. We supported the passage of this bill based on our belief that equal access to information is the backbone of community-led decision making and the presence of dark money in Maine’s smaller communities is antithetical to that notion.


LD 1456 resolves to better understand the effects of the current pole attachment laws in place. We supported the passage of this resolve because the pole attachment process often presents a bottleneck for broadband projects of all stripes. Striving to more fully understand the laws in place and how relevant parties navigate those laws is an important first step in enacting better legislation down the road.


LD 1934 resolves that the Government Office of Policy Information and the Future (GOPIF) will review opportunities and structural changes and provide recommendations that will improve coordination and implementation around planning grants and technical assistance grants programs. We supported the passage of this resolve because we believe that these recommendations will bolster funding and capacity to pursue broadband expansion and digital equity projects at the local and regional levels.


LD 1065 is a bill that will reduce membership and allow the Telecommunications Relay Services Council to hire an executive director. We supported the passage of this bill because the revival of this council will help to ensure protections for the deaf and hard of hearing.


Bills not signed into law:

LD 1504 was a bill designed to give a sales and use tax exemption on machinery and equipment to ISPs. We testified against this bill for two reasons – first, that there was no clear indication that the exemption would result in improved service, reduced prices, or increased access for consumers; and second, that the bill would allow for an exemption on outdated or irrelevant technologies. Similar bills were being discussed in several states this spring.


LD 1791 sought to do two things – establish the ConnectMaine Authority/Maine Connectivity Authority as being the entity responsible for pole attachment and a set of procedures for broadband infrastructure that crosses railroad lines. We testified in partial support of this bill, arguing that it doesn’t make sense for MCA to be the entity responsible for pole administration in the short term while supporting the attempt to streamline coordination between railroads and ISPs.


LD 422’s intent was to eliminate a longstanding requirement that municipalities post public notices in local newspapers so long as public notices are posted on town websites or other similar outlets. We testified in opposition to this bill as a matter of access and equity – as of now, not every resident has the ability to get online and taking public notices out of print would harm peoples’ ability to access important information about their town.


LD 1452 aimed to have the three Public Utilities Commission be elected rather than appointed (as they are now). Though we were tracking this bill, we did not have a position.


Bills carried over to next session:

These three bills were introduced in committee this spring but will be carried over to the next session so they may be further discussed and refined. The Maine Broadband Coalition will track these bills in the next session.


LD 1973 proposes to repeal and replace Maine’s nation-leading internet privacy bill. The 2019 internet privacy bill currently in place limits the ability of internet service providers to use and monetize their customer’s data in the same way that platforms like Google or Facebook do. The Maine Broadband Coalition has worked hard with organizations like the ACLU of Maine to oppose this bill and we plan on continuing to do so in the next session. Like LD 1504, this bill has appeared in legislatures around the country.


LD 1932 will force internet service providers operating in the state to prorate their bills if a customer switches services in the middle of the billing period or there is a significant outage. We did not submit testimony in advance of the hearing for this bill, though we support prorating as a business practice and consumer protection – especially given that the member ISPs of the Maine Broadband Coalition already do so.


Full Report


Bills signed into law:


LD 1223: An Act to Clarify Cost Allocations and Insurance in the Joint Use of Public Utility Equipment (Amended)


What the bill says:

  • The owner of a shared-use pole may require a municipality, as a condition of the municipality's attachment to the owner's shared-use pole, to purchase and maintain a general liability insurance policy meeting the pole owner's insurance requirements. The pole owner may not require that the general liability insurance have a coverage limit in excess of $5,000,000 per occurrence.

Our position:

  • Ought To Pass: "Our support for this bill is predicated on the understanding that towns will not be the installers or operators of broadband equipment. That work is done by the towns’ contracted internet service providers, or ISP subcontractors, each with their own licenses and insurances."

Testimony:


LD 1336: An Act to Increase Transparency in Municipal Ballot Referenda Expenditures


What the bill says:

  • ​This bill requires organizations that qualify as ballot question committees and spend more than $5,000 to influence a municipal referendum campaign in a town or city with a population of less than 15,000 to comply with the same campaign reporting laws that currently govern their actions in larger municipalities.

Our position:

  • Ought To Pass: "At MBC, an element of our “all tools available” approach includes open and equal access to information. We believe that the presence of dark money is antithetical to the type of informed decision-making in which all stakeholders deserve to participate when it comes to investing in the broadband future of their communities."

Testimony:


LD 1456: Resolve, to Study the Effect of Current Laws and Rules on the Expansion of Broadband


What the bill says:​

  • That the Public Utilities Commission, in consultation with the Maine Connectivity Authority, established in the Maine Revised Statutes, Title 35-A, section 9404, shall study current pole attachment laws and rules and the effects of those laws and rules on broadband.

Our position:

  • Ought To Pass: "[W]e offer support to LD 1456 due to its intention of streamlining the pole attachment process. We believe that, in the face of a challenge as monumental as connecting every Mainer to high-speed, affordable broadband, all options should be on the table. One of the biggest obstacles facing municipal and non-incumbent providers in implementing broadband projects – often community-led projects and as the result of substantial volunteer effort – is the pole attachment process."

Testimony


LD 1934: Resolve, To Improve The Coordination And Delivery Of Planning Grants And Technical Assistance To Communities In Maine


What the bill says:

  • That the Office of Policy Innovation and the Future shall review opportunities and structural changes in the organization of State Government and make recommendations that will result in the improved coordination and implementation of planning grants and technical assistance programs for communities in this State and regional planning and development organizations.

Our position:

  • Ought To Pass, MBC did not provide testimony.


LD 1065: An Act To Improve The Telecommunications Relay Services Council By Reducing Its Membership And Allowing For The Hiring Of An Executive Director


What the bill says:

  • This bill proposes to reduce the membership and allow the Telecommunications Relay Services Council to hire an Executive Director in pursuit of ensuring protections for the deaf and hard of hearing.

Our position:

  • Ought To Pass, MBC did not provide testimony.


Bills not signed into law:


LD 1504: An Act to Exempt Broadband Equipment from the Sales and Use Tax


What the bill says:​

  • ​​This bill exempts from the sales and use tax sales of machinery and equipment used to provide broadband communications service to a broadband communications service provider.

Our position:

  • Ought Not To Pass: "We agree that broadband internet is an essential service that is deserving of public funding. But our Coalition, which includes several internet service providers that would benefit from the exemptions, opposes the bill as written, for two reasons: First, the bill does not direct the savings enjoyed by corporations to the expansion of internet availability, improved quality, or reduced prices for Maine’s internet users. Second, the bill provides tax breaks to outdated and/or irrelevant technologies that do not meet the state’s own definition of broadband.​"

Testimony


LD 1791: An Act to Make the ConnectMaine Authority Responsible for Attachments to and Joint Use of Utility Poles and to Establish Procedures for Broadband Service Infrastructure Crossing Railroad Tracks.


What the bill says:​

  • This bill directs that the ConnectMaine Authority be responsible for the management and administration of attachments to and joint use of utility poles. The bill also establishes a procedure by which broadband service providers that need to cross a railroad track with broadband infrastructure may apply to a railroad company, provides for responsibility of costs in the crossing by the broadband service provider and provides for payment of a license fee and reimbursement of expenses to the railroad company. The bill also establishes procedures for either the railroad company or the broadband service provider to petition the Public Utilities Commission if the railroad company and broadband service provider cannot agree on the terms of the crossing of the railroad track.

Our position:

  • Partial Support: "The bill makes three major positions. We oppose one, and support the other two. First, we oppose the provision that would make MCA the regulator of pole attachments, at least in the short term. [A]fter consulting with our coalition partners, we support the bill’s provisions to regulate make-ready costs and railroad crossings."

Testimony


LD 422: An Act To Eliminate The Requirement That Municipalities Provide Public Notice In Newspapers


What the bill says:​

  • "[A] municipality required by this Title to place a notice in a newspaper may meet this requirement by placing the notice on its publicly accessible website, as long as the notice on the website contains all information required to be published in a newspaper."

Our position:

  • Ought Not To Pass: "Until such time that everyone in the State has adequate broadband connectivity, and municipalities and counties are able to maintain adequate websites, and everyone knows how to navigate and engage with the internet, removing the requirement to print municipal public notices in newspapers is taking away the right to know for tens of thousands of Maine citizens."​

Testimony:


LD 1452: An Act To Require The Commissioners Of The Public Utilities Commission To Be Popularly Elected


What the bill says:

  • This bill provides that the 3 members of the Public Utilities Commission are elected instead of appointed.

Our position:

  • MBC was tracking this bill but did not hold a position for or against it.


Bills carried over to next session:


LD 1973: An Act To Enact The Maine Consumer Privacy Act


What the bill says:​

  • "This bill enacts the Maine Consumer Privacy Act to entitle consumers to certain rights concerning the use of personal data."

Our position:

  • Ought Not To Pass: "Unfortunately, LD 1973 does not meet the high standards for privacy that Mainers and this committee want to see. The bill was written to repeal the strong privacy protections of the 2019 ISP privacy law, and would otherwise codify Big Tech's current practices, requiring very little change or accountability. LD 1973 is largely copy-pasted from bills that Charter, Facebook, and other tech companies are trying to pass in the states, as the FTC and Congress have failed to take any action that protect the users they exploit."​

Testimony:


LD 240: An Act To Increase Public Access To Utilities


What the bill says:

  • This bill is a concept draft pursuant to Joint Rule 208. This bill proposes to enact measures to increase public access to utilities.

Our position:

  • MBC Policy Committee is reviewing and determining next steps.


LD 1932: An Act to Require Broadband Internet Access Service Providers to Prorate Customer Bills


What the bill says:

  • This bill requires a provider of broadband Internet access service to provide a pro rata credit or rebate for: 1. The days of the monthly billing period after the cancellation of service if the customer requests cancellation of service 3 or more working days before the end of the monthly billing period; and 2. Upon customer request, interruptions of service to a customer for 6 or more consecutive hours in a 30-day period. The bill requires the provider to include on each customer bill for service a notice of the customer's right to a pro rata credit or rebate under these circumstances.

Our position:

  • MBC Policy Committee is reviewing and determining next steps.

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