On Friday July 12, the T&T Steering Committee convened for official business during the NACO Annual Conference. Outside the temperature was in the 105-108 range but inside the facility we moved the business of NACo and MACo forward.

At the outset of this report I would like to express my continued thanks to the membership of MACo for allowing me to serve on the Telecommunications and Technology Committee.  It is an important committee for the future of Montana and serving you on it allows me to work on issues of great importance to my county and the rest of the counties of Montana.

Each meeting of the T&T Committee is devoted to a mixture of education for our members, status reports on legislative and regulatory initiatives and policy discussions and this meeting was no different.  This time we were joined by one guest who provided information regarding current actions and efforts by the FCC to expand Broadband internet capability as well as other FCC efforts currently underway. The second speaker was from “Mission Broadband”, an organization proposing drastic changes on how federal funding is allocated for broadband deployment.  This new model would greatly increase local control over the process.

The first speaker was the newly appointed Director of the Office of Intergovernmental Affairs at the Federal Communications Commission, Mr. Gregory Cooke.

Mr. Cooke highlighted many of the resources and programs underway at the FCC aimed at helping local officials address connectivity disparities. It was an extremely interesting presentation with a huge amount of information compressed into a rather short time frame. Rather than attempting to summarize all his remarks, I have included links which Mr. Cooke has provided to the key elements of his presentation.

  • The Rural Digital Opportunity Fund – https://www.fcc.gov/document/fcc-proposes-204-billion-rural-digital-opportunity-fund
    • This links to the Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (and associated press release) to establish the new $20.4 billion fund to expand broadband in unserved rural areas.  Once the Notice is published in the Federal Register, the Commission will release a Public Notice to notify the public of the comment and Reply dates.

Our second speaker was John Dougherty who is the Vice President and General Manager of Mission Broadband.  According to their website at: https://www.missionbroadband.com/who-we-are, they were created to change the deployment model for the federal funding available to fix the problem they describe below:

The Unserved / Underserved Broadband Problem

Many communities across America have inadequate broadband coverage to support their community (residents, farms, businesses and community institutions).  Broadband service providers, such as telephone companies, internet service providers (ISP), cable TV providers, wireless and cellular do not currently reach everywhere. Federal efforts have expanded broadband availability, however, the high cost of building infrastructure in the remaining unserved and underserved locations are preventing universal broadband coverage.  Gaps in broadband coverage will persist without a process that is specifically designed to ensure all locations in a service area get served.  A public-private partnership program allowing local communities to direct the broadband buildout in their service areas can best leverage federal, state and local money with private investment from broadband companies to solve this problem.

According to their website their solution to the stated problem is:

The Mission Broadband Solution

 Public/Private Partnerships: Couple federal funding with local government funding and private investment to cover the capital costs to build the network infrastructure required to expand broadband access to unserved and underserved areas.

Currently, the Federal Communications Commission utilizes a reverse action for broadband funding where service providers underbid competitors for the opportunity to build their networks. Funding is awarded directly to the lowest bidding provider. Mission Broadband is pushing for a locally controlled “Request for Proposal” (RFP) process to federal funding for broadband investments. During his presentation we heard about the work of Mission Broadband and discussed their alternative for local control over federal broadband investments. To view his presentation, click here.

Finally, the committee met to discuss proposed changes to the American County Platform and policy resolutions. The committee considered several verbiage changes to the American County Platform and ten policy resolutions, all of which were adopted. These resolutions and platform changes were adopted by the NACo’s Membership on Monday, July 15.  The complete text of the revised American County Platform and Policy Resolutions can be found on the NACo website at  https://www.naco.org/sites/default/files/documents/2019-2020%20American%20County%20Platform%20FINAL.pdf.  (The T&T Committee section starts on page 176.)

Policy resolutions passed at the 2019 Annual Conference are valid for one year until NACo’s 2020 Annual Conference. 

Resolutions Approved

1. Resolution Calling on Congress to Actively Engage Counties Prior to Developing 5G Wireless Infrastructure

Adopted Policy: The National Association of Counties (NACo) urges Congress to work with local officials when drafting legislation that would encourage the use of state or county owned land, including public rights-of-way, to build new wireless infrastructure including fifth (5G) wireless networks, to expand service to rural areas, or to promote digital equity. NACo has long advocated for universal access to reliable wireline and wireless high-speed broadband service – as crucial for education, employment, and economic development – and NACo further urges Congress to oppose any legislative or regulatory proposals that would limit or preempt local zoning authority, or the ability of local governments to charge reasonable fees for the use of publicly owned land to build wireless infrastructure.

Passed T&T, Unanimously

2. Resolution in Support of Empowering Counties to Be Active in the Deployment and Operations of High-Speed Internet

Adopted Policy: The National Association of Counties (NACo) supports the removal of barriers to counties supplying infrastructure to the private sector, partnering with the private sector or operating internet services as a public utility when no commercial service is available.

Passed T&T, Unanimously

3.  Resolution Encouraging Congress to Undertake a Systemic Rewrite of the Telecommunications Act of 1996

Adopted Policy: The National Association of Counties (NACo) believes that the time has come for Congress to engage in a systemic rewrite of the Telecommunications Act of 1996. We believe this action is necessary to realign the telecommunications policies of the United States to match current and developing technologies.

Additionally, we believe that NACo can be a valuable resource during this process due to our unique relationship with this issue. NACo and its members are not only critical users of these Telecommunications systems, elected representatives of the consumers of these systems, facilitators of deployment of these systems but also in some states, regulators of these systems.

Passed T&T, Unanimously

4. Resolution Encouraging Congress to Pass Legislation that Would Ensure Local 911 Service Fees Are Only Used for Emergency Communications

Adopted Policy: The National Association of Counties (NACo) encourages Congress and the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to adopt legislation or take regulatory action that ensures that fees collected for local 911 services are only used to repair, replace or improve 911 communications technology and services at our nation’s public safety answering points or call centers.

Passed T&T, Unanimously

5.  Resolution Encouraging Congress to Pass Legislation to Formalize the Process Through Which Data Gathered by the TestIT App is Used to Modify the Broadband Coverage Map

Adopted Policy: The National Association of Counties (NACo) encourages Congress and the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to create a formal process by which crowd-sourced data gathered by applications such as the TestIT app can be used to create new or update the existing FCC broadband coverage maps. Further, NACo believes that such legislation should require the FCC to test and certify the accuracy of these crowd-sourcing applications.

Passed T&T, Unanimously

6.  Resolution in Support for Federal Legislation to Implement Next Generation 911

Adopted Policy: The National Association of Counties (NACo) urges Congress to pass legislation that affirms nationwide implementation of Next Generation 911 (NG911) as a national imperative and national priority, and provides funding to facilitate implementation across all states, U.S. territories, tribal lands and the District of Columbia.

Passed T&T, Unanimously

7. Resolution in Support Preserving Public Safety’s Access to the T-Band (470-512 MHz)

Adopted Policy: The National Association of Counties (NACo) urges Congress to support the Don’t Break up the T‑Band Act of 2019 (H.R. 451), which requires the auction of the spectrum and the relocation public safety incumbents from the T-Band spectrum.

Passed T&T, Unanimously

8. Resolution in Support of the Creation of a Nationwide 2-1-1 System

Adopted Policy: The National Association of Counties (NACo) supports the creation of a nationwide 2-1-1 system to connect unconnected residents to 2-1-1 services anywhere in the United States by leveraging the 240-plus 2-1-1 providers that currently cover 94 percent of the population, and should be used as the non-emergency number during regional and statewide disasters to connect residents to critical information and resources.

Currently 94 percent of Americans have access to a 2-1-1 service in their local communities, but serious gaps in access to a 2-1-1 service remain for millions of Americans due to a lack of federal resources to support the network’s 24/7 nationwide capacity. More work is needed for the 2-1-1 network to attain its full potential to be a nationwide resource that can strengthen families and local communities. We urge our federal partners to help bridge the gap of access for Americans by supporting the creation of nationwide 2-1-1 texting capability so every American can connect with vital services 24/7; supporting opportunities for 2-1-1 to secure funding from federal agencies to expand their current capabilities to reach unconnected communities and regions; and supporting investments in 2-1-1’s disaster recovery services through partnerships with government agencies like the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).

Passed T&T, Unanimously

9. Resolution on Preserving Local Franchise Obligations

Adopted Policy: The National Association of Counties (NACo) affirms the importance of cable franchising in granting permission for cable companies to use valuable public property for their lines and opposes any regulatory proceeding or legislation that seek to alter the terms of existing franchises, including any effort to require that non-financial obligations be subject to offset against franchise fees.

Passed T&T, Unanimously

Resolution Calling for the Federal Communications Commission to Address the Lack of Cellular Phone Coverage for Unserved and Underserved Areas of the United States

Adopted Policy: The National Association of Counties (NACo) urges the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to direct additional funding for the build-out of additional cellular communications capabilities in the unserved and underserved areas of the Unites States through the High Cost Program administered by the Universal Service Administrative Company (USAC).

Passed T&T, Unanimously

Over the past few years, the efforts of the T & T committee have advanced NACo’s credibility in the area of Broadband expansion and have allowed the concerns of underserved states like our to be heard both in congress and within the FCC.

Our TestIT app has attracted national attention not only to NACo’s direct efforts but has also served to highlight the problem with the existing Broadband covereage maps.  As a result of our efforts several pieces of legislation have been introduced in congress this year to utilize crowdsourcing tools such as TestIT to correct the broadband coverage maps.

We have seen how the actions of MACo members can positively affect national policy in the area of Public Land policy, PILT and SRS.  We have seen results from our efforts on the Energy Land Use and Environment committee as well as other NACo committees over the years.  We are now starting to see our impact in the area of Broadband deployment as well through the T&T Committee.  I am very proud to have been a part of these efforts representing our 56 counties.

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