The corporate-funded American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) has been active for over four decades. Businesses pay for conservative federal and state legislators to take copy-ready bills to Congress and state legislatures. ALEC has been responsible for lax gun regulations—including the infamous “stand your ground” laws—as well as laws that roll back civil rights, pollution regulations, unions while privatizing public services which costs taxpayers far more money. Thanks to ALEC, schools, prisons, public transportation, and social and welfare services have been taken over by for-profit businesses that only help the private owners.
Since I learned about ALEC, I have longed for a way to fight back. Lo and behold, there is one! Meet ALICE, The American Legislative and Issue Campaign Exchange, that also provides “model bills,” ones free to state and national legislatures.
During the Occupy Movement about two years ago, New York City Councilman Brad Lander met with Seattle Councilman Nick Licata, Philadelphia Councilman Wilson Goode Jr., Chicago Alderman Joe Moore, and other progressive municipal elected officials in the United States to develop a national network for local progressive action. The goal was to coordinate ideas, narratives, legislators, and activists to build progressive strength.
Although Congress has demonstrated a never-before-seen inaction throughout the past few years, states and municipalities have shown a more progressive bent. Mississippi defeated “fetus personhood,” and Maine saved same-day voter registration. The movement for paid sick leave and higher minimum wage has gained momentum, and LGBT equality has advanced at both state and local levels. Lander pointed out that both large and small cities have sponsored legislation from responsible banking ordinances and local Community Reinvestment Act laws to anti-blight and foreclosure laws.
ALICE provides a link with existing organizations and networks such as New Bottom Line, Progressive States Network, Democratic Municipal Officials, PolicyLink, Center on Wisconsin Strategy (COWS, led by its director, Nation contributing editor Joel Rogers), Progressive Majority, Center for American Progress and the Working Families Party. As it grows, ALICE can be a one-stop web-based public library of progressive model law. Unlike ALEC, it won’t be hosting state legislators at all-expenses-paid retreats anytime soon, and as a 501(c)(3), it won’t be campaigning. It will, however, provide commentary, policy options, and written supports in argument for the proposed laws.
Currently, ALEC is battling the possibility that the Internet will have equal access to everyone using it. Tomorrow is the deadline for open comments to the Federal Communication Commission’s rulemaking about whether wealthy companies will be able to pay in order to download its product faster than poorer companies who can’t afford the fee. As of now, 677,000 comments have been submitted. Most of the cable, broadcast, and radio news haven’t covered the issue. When one program by John Oliver posted the email address for making comments, the website crashed from all the responses.
ALEC is also concerned that the FCC will stop restrictions on community broadband, allowing communities to create their own networks. ALEC-supported, corporate-friendly laws in 20 states stop this from happening through its model law, “Municipal Telecommunications Private Industry Safeguards Act.” These safeguards are only for the companies that make money because they have a monopoly on Internet transmission while refusing to upgrade or even serve many rural and remote regions in the nation.
Boulder (CO) already has 100 miles of fiber-optic cable, but the state’s ban is keeping Google from developing a network in that city. To build its own network, city voters have to approve a ballot measure because of the state’s ban.
The most recent battle over these restrictions is in Chattanooga (TN). Officials plan to ask the federal government for permission to expand the super-fast Internet service it offers city residents by pre-empting state law restricting the city. The city’s Electric Power Board operates a fiber-optic Internet service that competes with companies such as Comcast Corp. and Charter Communications Inc.
Over 130 cities operate their own Internet network, frequently with faster speeds than private service providers offer highly competitive in cost. AT&T gave almost $140,000 to Tennessee lawmakers’ campaigns in the 2014 election cycle, the most for any state. Comcast gave $76,800 during the same cycle, again more than to any other state.
GOP Sens. Deb Fischer (NE), Ron Johnson (WI), Ted Cruz (TX), and Marco Rubio (FL) wrote FCC Chair Tom Wheeler, warning him not to act on the state laws began they were troubled by the agency “forcing taxpayer funded competition against private broadband providers.” Sixty House Republicans also wrote, criticizing Wheeler for his intention to pre-empt state broadband laws “despite the states’ determination to protect their taxpayers.”
The day after his meeting with Chattanooga Mayor Andy Berke, Wheeler wrote in his blog:
“I believe that it is in the best interests of consumers and competition that the FCC exercises its power to pre-empt state laws that ban or restrict competition from community broadband. Given the opportunity, we will do so.
“If the people, acting through their elected local governments, want to pursue competitive community broadband, they shouldn’t be stopped by state laws promoted by cable and telephone companies that don’t want that competition.
“I believe that it is in the best interests of consumers and competition that the FCC exercises its power to preempt state laws that ban or restrict competition from community broadband. Given the opportunity, we will do so.”
Read anything about this in the mainstream media? No, I didn’t think so. We’ll see whether Wheeler or ALEC wins in this—and hope that ALICE can help us.
To learn more about ALEC, the laws that they have put through legislatures, and their members, go to ALEC Exposed.