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S.316

Introduced by   Committee on Economic Development, Housing and General Affairs

Date:

Subject:  Economic development; Vermont broadband task force; Vermont economic development authority; community broadband grant program; Act 250; appropriation

Statement of purpose:  This bill proposes to:

1.  Create a broadband task force to oversee and coordinate broadband expansion projects and develop innovative approaches for rural broadband deployment.

2.  Continue the competitive community broadband grant program that provides subsidies for broadband infrastructure deployment projects in difficult‑to‑serve areas of Vermont.

3.  Enable the Vermont economic development authority to access up to $750,000.00 in existing mortgage insurance capacity under subchapter 2 of chapter 12 of Title 10 to insure up to $1,500,000.00 in technology infrastructure loans for its technology infrastructure loan program.

4.  Streamline the permit process to accelerate deployment of broadband infrastructure.

AN ACT TO ACCELERATE ACCESS TO BROADBAND SERVICES THROUGHOUT VERMONT

It is hereby enacted by the General Assembly of the State of Vermont:

Sec. 1.  POLICY; IMPLEMENTATION

The policy of this state is to take an active role, through policy and funding, to promote development of broadband infrastructure and access to advanced telecommunications services in rural as well as urban communities in Vermont.  Although the state preference is that broadband deployment would best be effected through market forces, the rural character of Vermont makes it unlikely that market forces will fulfill the need for these services throughout the state without state subsidy for projects in remote and difficult‑to‑serve areas.  Up-to-date telecommunications systems are essential to Vermont’s economic viability and competitiveness by assuring business success, job growth, healthy economic development, improving delivery of health care, expansion of educational opportunities, and providing public safety services. 

Sec. 2.   EXPANSION OF ACCESS TO BROADBAND SERVICE; STATE

              REGULATIONS AND PROCEDURES

Each state agency or department that has regulations or procedures that affect broadband deployment within the state shall review and inventory those regulations and procedures and, as needed, propose changes that are likely to stimulate broadband deployment throughout Vermont.  Each appropriate agency or department shall submit an inventory of those regulations and procedures and proposals to accelerate broadband deployment to the Vermont broadband task force on or before November 1, 2006.  

Sec. 3.  PUBLIC SERVICE BOARD; TELECOMMUNICATIONS

             EQUIPMENT DISTRIBUTION PROGRAM; EXPANSION

The public service board shall expand the telecommunications equipment distribution program in order to provide subsidies to consumers for voice‑over‑internet protocols, broadband, and assisted services for people with disabilities, including screen-reading and voice recognition software.

Sec. 4.  VERMONT BROADBAND TASK FORCE; CREATION; DUTIES;

             REPORT

(a)  The Vermont broadband task force is created and shall be composed of a total of ten members to include the secretary of commerce and community development and the commissioner of public service or their designees, the directors of the Vermont broadband council, the Vermont council on rural development, the center for media and democracy, the Vermont business roundtable, the economic development council of northern Vermont, and the telephone association of Vermont, or their designees, and two representatives, to be appointed by the previously designated members of the task force, one from the Vermont-based wireless internet provider industry and one from the cable television/broadband provider industry.  The agency of commerce and community development shall provide administrative support for the task force.

(b)  Duties of the task force shall include the following:

(1)  Overseeing and coordinating public and private and state and local broadband infrastructure deployment projects that will expand access to broadband and advanced telecommunications services in the state.

(2)  Reviewing maps that indicate areas that have broadband service and areas in which major providers are expected to provide service to identify areas that are not expected to attract broadband infrastructure deployment in order to focus broadband deployment efforts on those areas with the ultimate goal to provide universal rural access to high speed broadband service.

(3)  Proposing creative ways to stimulate broadband infrastructure development in unserved or underserved communities and to promote consumer awareness and usage of available broadband services.

(c)  The task force shall issue a report on or before January 15, 2007 to the senate committee on economic development, housing and general affairs and the house committee on commerce that includes at least the following:

(1)  Identification of barriers, including department regulations and procedures, that inhibit deployment and development of broadband infrastructure and access to advanced communications services and solutions to minimize or remove those barriers.

(2)  Evaluation of the effectiveness of the community broadband grant program to date to expand broadband deployment with suggestions for legislation or other government action and innovation designed to further stimulate broadband deployment.

(3)  Evaluation of the effectiveness of the state’s use of its own infrastructure, purchasing power, and facilities to leverage broadband deployment and proposals to improve the state’s use of its broadband resources.  

(4)  The successes and outcomes of the duties listed in subsection (b) of this section.

Sec. 5.  COMMUNITY BROADBAND GRANT PROGRAM

(a)  The community broadband grant program may provide at least three grants of up to $100,000.00 each to broadband development projects as required by this section.  A committee composed of the secretary of commerce and community development, the commissioner of information and innovation, and the commissioner of public service or their designees, and the executive directors of the Vermont council on rural development, the Vermont broadband council, and the Vermont economic development authority or their designees, shall competitively award grants to municipalities or service providers.  An award to other than a municipality shall be based on a demonstration of substantial municipal and community support for the project.

(b)  The committee shall award grants for projects that serve areas of the state that do not currently have, are not likely to be able to finance, and are otherwise unlikely to attract broadband service.  The committee shall strive to award grants to projects that offer:

(1)  Increased opportunities for the private sector to provide broadband service or opportunities for private sector partnership possibilities.

(2)  Access to broadband service to all residents and businesses throughout a logical and continuous service area.

(3)  A minimum of five years of service.

(4)  A maximum price for the original broadband service provided through the project and that price will not increase for at least five years.

(5)  Broadband service that provides a data transfer rate of at least two megabits per second.

(c)  When evaluating proposed projects, the committee shall consider the following factors:

(1)  The proposed price for service.

(2)  The number of people served accounting for population density of the service area.

(3)  The degree to which the project will provide an innovative solution for serving areas determined not to be economical.

(4)  The cost to the consumer of any new construction, equipment installation service, or facility required for the connection.

(5)  The level of demonstrated community interest.

(6)  The likely financial and technical viability and sustainability of the project.

(7)  The extent to which the project contributes to the required broadband access in underserved areas, including anchoring networks with the potential to expand services to neighboring areas.

(d)  Each applicant shall identify the equipment, facilities, or service to be purchased with the grant.  The agency of commerce and community development shall establish award contracts with each recipient, specifying a period of performance and a minimum period during which the applicant agrees to provide service.  For failure to perform during the specified period or for failure to provide service for the minimum period, the agency may, after notice and opportunity to cure the failure, take ownership of any equipment or facilities for which grant funds were used for purchase.

Sec. 6.  10 V.S.A. § 212(14) is amended to read:

(14)  “Mortgagee,” as used in subchapter 2 of this chapter, means the original lender under a mortgage and its successors and assigns if approved by the authority, and includes the authority when the authority is the lender of a loan made under the technology infrastructure financing program adopted pursuant to subchapter 10 of this chapter;

Sec. 7.  10 V.S.A. § 6001(3)(D)(ii) is amended to read:

(D)  The word "development" does not include:

* * *

(ii)  The construction of improvements for an electric generation or transmission facility that requires a certificate of public good under section 30 V.S.A. § 248 or a natural gas facility as defined in subdivision 30 V.S.A. § 248(a)(3) or for broadcast or communications support structures or facilities attached in whole or in part to those electric generation or transmission facilities, and structures auxiliary to those broadcast or communications support structures.

Sec. 8.  10 V.S.A. § 6001c is amended to read: 

§ 6001c.  JURISDICTION OVER BROADCAST AND COMMUNICATION

               COMMUNICATIONS SUPPORT STRUCTURES AND RELATED

               IMPROVEMENTS

(a)  In addition to other applicable law, any support structure proposed for construction, which will extend vertically 20 feet, or more, that is primarily for communication or broadcast purposes and which or in order to transmit or receive communication signals for commercial, industrial, municipal, county, or state purposes, and that complies with one of the following descriptions shall be a development under this chapter, independent of the acreage involved:

(1)  The structure will be located in a town that has not adopted permanent zoning and subdivision bylaws specific to the siting of wireless communications facilities and will extend vertically more than 20 feet.

(2)  The structure will be located in a town that has adopted permanent zoning and subdivision bylaws specific to the siting of wireless communications facilities and will extend vertically more than 50 feet above the tree line, an open ridgeline, the cleared ground, or host structure, including a farm structure, on which it is located.

(3)  The structure will be sited above 2,500 feet of elevation.

(4)  The structure will be a substantial or material change to a grandfathered project or a project subject to an existing land use permit issued under this chapter.

(b)  If jurisdiction is triggered for such a support structure as described in this section, then jurisdiction will also extend to the construction of improvements ancillary to the support structure, including buildings, broadcast or communication equipment, foundation pads, cables, wires, antennas, or hardware, and all means of ingress and egress to the support structure.  To the extent that future improvements are not ancillary to the support structure and do not involve an additional support structure, those improvements shall not be considered a development, unless they would be considered a development under this chapter in the absence of this section.  The criteria and procedures for obtaining a permit under this section shall be the same as for any other development.

(c)  Notwithstanding any provision of law to the contrary, a structure that extends vertically not more than 20 feet above a farm structure or above a ski area structure on which it is installed shall not trigger jurisdiction under this chapter or be considered a change in use under chapter 117 of Title 24 or any local land use regulations adopted pursuant to that chapter.  For the purposes of this section, “ski area” means an area with trails for skiing served by one or more ski lifts and any other areas within the boundaries of the ski area and open to the public for winter sports.

Sec. 9.  30 V.S.A. § 248(m) is added to read:

(m)  The board shall establish by rule or order standards and procedures that govern application for and issuance, amendment, or revocation of a certificate of public good for construction of broadcast or communications support structures or facilities attached in whole or in part to electric generation or transmission facilities requiring a certificate of public good under the provisions of this section and structures auxiliary to those broadcast or communications support structures or facilities.  Construction of those broadcast or communication support structures or facilities shall be exempt from the requirements of subsection 202(f) of this title and shall be deemed to promote the public good of the state if the structure or facility is in compliance with the criteria of this section, and the board so rules or orders.  In developing the rules, the board:  

(1)  May waive the requirements of this section that are not applicable to construction of support structures or facilities attached to generation and transmission facilities subject to this section and to structures auxiliary to those broadcast or communication support structures or facilities, including criteria that are generally applicable to public service companies.

(2)  May modify notice and hearing requirements of this title as it deems appropriate.

(3)  Shall simplify the application and review process as appropriate.

(4)  May establish procedures for the approval of categories of structures or facilities deemed to have a substantially similar impact.

(5)  May establish procedures for the approval of multiple-site installations.

(6)  Shall establish adequate safeguards for safety and reliability for electric systems.

Sec. 10.  30 V.S.A. § 516 is added to read:

§ 516.  MODIFICATION OF CABLE TELEVISION TARIFF

            REQUIREMENTS

(a)  The board may modify, reduce, or suspend requirements under sections 225, 226, 227(a), and 229 of this title if it finds that provisions of federal law have the effect of substantially preventing the board from exercising its authority under those sections to investigate, suspend, or determine if cable television rates are just and reasonable.  In exercising authority under this section, the board may adopt terms and conditions it finds reasonable, provided it ensures that the remaining requirements under this title will afford the public at least as much protection as the applicable regulatory requirements being suspended or reduced.

(b)  When exercising authority under this section, the board may act by rule or, after notice and opportunity for hearing, may act by order.  The modifications, reductions, or suspensions may apply to one or more classes of cable television service providers and may apply differently to each class.

(c)  Upon petition of the department, the board shall and upon its own initiative may investigate whether it should reimpose any regulatory requirements that have been modified, suspended, or reduced under this section.  If the board finds, after notice and opportunity for hearing, that the public is not sufficiently protected as required by this section, the board may reimpose any regulatory provisions that the board deems necessary.  Pending any final order, the board may reimpose any regulatory requirements on a temporary basis as it determines is just and reasonable.

Sec. 11.  EFFECTIVE DATE; TRANSITIONAL PROVISIONS;

               RULEMAKING

(a)  This act shall take effect on passage.  

(b)  For the purposes of implementing the amendment to 10 V.S.A. § 6001 in Sec. 7 of this act and the amendment to 10 V.S.A. § 6001c in Sec. 8 of this act, no later than July 1, 2006, the board shall adopt an emergency rule to establish or modify necessary definitions and procedures, and thereafter the board shall adopt this rule pursuant to chapter 25 of Title 3.

(c)  Secs. 7 and 8 of this act shall take effect when the emergency rule required in subsection (b) of this section has been adopted.



Published by:

The Vermont General Assembly
115 State Street
Montpelier, Vermont


www.leg.state.vt.us