VERMONTERS RAISE THEIR VOICES IN SUPPORT OF NET NEUTRALITY AT SENATOR LEAHY’S HEARING
BURLINGTON, VT - For the past few months, the media has been awash with stories about net neutrality. Recently, these stories became particularly salient for Vermonters, when Senator Patrick Leahy, who chairs the United States Senate Judiciary Committee, brought a field hearing on the FCC’s proposal on “Protecting and Promoting the Open Internet” to Burlington, Vermont.
Net neutrality is the idea that the Internet should remain a level playing field for anyone to access. It is the concept that anyone should be able to connect to and access any information online, as well as voice any opinion online, without having their access to certain websites or certain types of information blocked, or their speed throttled.
Earlier this year, a DC circuit court struck down the FCC’s Open Internet Order. This order from 2010 was a step that the FCC had taken to maintain an open and free Internet. It gave consumers the right to know how their networks were being managed and to use whatever device they wanted to access any legal information they were looking for, as well as to say whatever they wanted online without a central authority (such as a large broadband provider) deciding what access its consumers might have.
Since the court decision, the FCC came out with a new proposal that, among other things, would create the option of providing a faster Internet channel to those who could afford to pay more for it (called “paid prioritization”). A great explanation of this can be found in John Oliver’s 13-minute bit. This “fast lane” vs. “slow lane” aspect of the proposal has caused thousands of open Internet advocates to speak up, and over 130,000 comments have already been filed on the proposal itself in the last thirty days. (For reference, other FCC proposals have received between 11 and 1,000 comments.)
Online commenters were not the only ones who had much to say about the FCC’s proposal, however. On July 1, Senator Leahy and Congressman Welch hosted a hearing during which Vermont business owners, librarians, and a former Chairman of the FCC, Michael Copps, all provided official testimony about why this proposal was a bad idea.
“I have heard from thousands of Vermonters on this issue,” said Senator Leahy, “Our little state has spoken very clearly.”
Leahy went on to say that open Internet principles are the bill of rights of the online world. “Americans, and especially Vermonters, hold these court freedoms seriously,” he said.
Congressman Welch agreed. “I see this as absolutely essential to the Vermont’s economy, as well as to rural America,” said Welch, “and I happen to think Rural America is a pretty good place.”
The two people who testified from the perspective of Vermont businesses, Lisa Groeneveld from Logic Supply and Cabot Orton from the Vermont Country Store, both explained that had there been “fast lanes” and “slow lanes” for the Internet when they were developing their online sales, their companies would not have succeeded.
For the Vermont Country Store, one-third of its 450 employees are involved in supporting customer transactions over the internet. “Internet sales have grown to represent 40% of our business,” said Orton, “We take it for granted just like mail, electricity, and highways.”
For Logic Supply, the Internet is also vital. “Our website serves as the basis for our entire revenue stream. 100% of our revenue. Every penny,” said Groeneveld. The main competitors for Logic Supply, which is based in South Burlington and currently employs around 60 people, are 20 billion dollar Taiwanese companies. “Without an open Internet,” said Groeneveld, “we might not be here today.”
In addition, a fast lane/slow lane scenario, she said, would result in search engine penalizations for websites who were not able to pay for higher speeds, meaning customers might even have trouble finding these sites. “Fast lanes offer [those who pay for them] a distinct advantage not based on quality of products, but an ability to pay,” said Groeneveld.
Orton had similar thoughts. “If we want to continue to prosper as a Vermont-based company, we need to stay where our customers are and give them what they want,” he said, and right now, customers are looking for products online. He went on to explain that a slower, marginalized website may as well not exist at all. “If we couldn’t deliver services as fast and with as high a quality as the biggest retailers, our customers would leave,” he said, “it would be demolition by neglect in the slow lane, or ruinous costs to pay up into the fast lane.”
And, the FCC’s proposal would impact more than just businesses. According to Martha Reid, the Vermont State Librarian, “libraries collect, organize and make available unique combinations of online resources for our users: local history, resources for job-seekers, consumer information, subject-area research tools, and homework help for students. And we know that users also benefit from being able to create their own information, use their own voices, and to be seen and heard on the Internet.” Without a free and open Internet, she said, “there is a danger that libraries will face higher service charges for so-called ‘premium’ online information services,” which would limit what libraries can provide to their patrons, and thereby limit those patrons’ access to open information. “Libraries would be forced to turn off vital information to those who need it most,” she said.
Former FCC commissioner Michael Copps agreed with the other three who testified. “When gatekeepers control the Internet,” he said, “everyone other than the gatekeeper suffers.”
The solution that Copps suggested was to put broadband under Title II. “Title II,” explained Copps, “is where generations of advocates have worked to build consumer protections and service protections.” He noted that “the FCC decided that broadband was not telecommunications at all, but that’s where broadband belongs, and until the FCC puts them there, clearly and strongly, we’re not going to have an open Internet.”
“An Internet controlled and managed for the benefit of the haves, discriminates against our rights not only as consumers, but most importantly as citizens,” said Copps.
Orton put it simply: “We’re not asking for special treatment, or for incentives, or for subsidies. All the small business community asks, is for Internet services to remain the way they are today.”
Vermont Working Landscape
In a state that is mostly forests and farmland, the Working Lands Enterprise initiative helps landowners generate income while protecting open space and the environment.
Three quarters of Vermont's land is forested. And 88,000 landowners are responsible for these woodlands. Twenty percent of Vermont's land is farmland.
Vermont is investing public money in programs that preserve the state’s renowned farms and forests while also creating economic opportunity for landowners.
The results of the Working Lands Enterprise initiative are promising, according to testimony at two joint hearings of the state’s House and Senate Agriculture and Economic Development committees held last month.
In the past year the initiative has awarded $1 million in grants to projects that seek to return economic gain on forests and farms while preserving them as “working landscapes” – land that provides value for its economic, aesthetic and environmental qualities.
An estimated 45 new jobs have been created out of $1 million in grants provided by the initiative, according to grantee reports. Grant recipients have seen their gross receipts increase by approximately $145,000 each. Overall, 1000 new jobs have been created in the agriculture and food processing sectors since the start of 2011.
Forests and farms are central to the state’s identity and culture. Vermont is 75% forested, and 88,000 landowners are responsible for this forest area. But for many, the economic reality of keeping this land undeveloped is a yearly struggle. The same is often true for farmland, which makes up 20% of the state’s land. Development pressures and low commodity prices make farming in a hilly state a perennial challenge.
Although these challenges have been addressed for decades, in the past several years a focus on statewide policies have started to create some real solutions. In 2009, the Vermont Legislature created the Farm to Plate Investment Program. This idea was promoted by Rural Vermont and Vermont Businesses for Social Responsibility. The partnership of these two groups in and of itself drew attention: A group fighting for economic justice for family farms partnering with a business organization was a new idea in Vermont at the time. The initial goals of the Farm to Plate program were to increase economic development in Vermont’s food and farm sector, create jobs in the food and farm economy and improve access to healthy local foods.
Since then, the Farm to Plate Network has grown to a statewide presence, developed a roadmap for the state with regard to economic development for the food sector, and created a food atlas that maps all farm and food related enterprises in the state. The Farm to Plate Network is now being looked at as a model for other states to build their own local foods systems.
The Working Lands Enterprise initiative grew out of the Council on the Future of Vermont, which was a project of the Vermont Council on Rural Development. The Council on the Future of Vermont was a two-year project (2007-2009) that explored past studies and dialogues about Vermont’s identity and engaged Vermonters in a conversation to determine how they identified themselves and what was most important to them. One of the findings was that Vermonters value their working landscape above anything else. Out of that work, the Working Landscape Partnership was formed, and that group began advocating for a state investment in economic development focused on Vermont’s working landscape.
In 2012, the Working Landscape Partnership successfully advocated for a bill that formed the Working Lands Enterprise Board (WLEB) and Fund (WLEF), as well as approximately $1 million to start the initiative. In 2013, an additional $1.4 million was invested in the WLEF for a second year of grants. This year, the governor has recommended $1.5 million for the WLEF in his budget proposal. The WLEB is made up of private sector members throughout the supply chains of agriculture and forestry, the Vermont Agency of Agriculture, Vermont Department of Forests, Parks & Recreation, Vermont Agency of Commerce and Community Development, Vermont Housing Conservation Board, Vermont Economic Development Authority and Vermont Sustainable Jobs Fund. A few of the goals for the board, outlined in the enabling legislation, include the following:
1. Stimulate a concerted economic development effort on behalf of Vermont’s agriculture and forest product sectors by systematically advancing entrepreneurism, business development, and job creation;
2. Increase the value of Vermont’s raw and value-added products through the development of in-state and export markets;
3. Attract a new generation of entrepreneurs to Vermont’s farm, food system, forest, and value-added chain by facilitating more affordable access to the working landscape; and
4. Increase the amount of state investment in working lands enterprises, particularly when it leverages private and philanthropic funds.
During the hearings last month, the legislative committees heard that the Farm to Plate Network has built a strong foundation for economic development work in the farm and food sectors, identifying key areas for focused work, bringing together stakeholders from various sectors to solve problems, and providing technical assistance to growing businesses.
They also heard that the WLEB and WLEF have had a great first year. One big goal of the WLEB was to bring more attention to economic development in the forest products sector. Michael Snyder, Vermont commissioner of Forests, Parks, and Recreation, noted, “This initiative represents a historic shift and a re-emphasis on our forests.” Others noted that simply adding the phrase “and forest products” throughout the initial legislation has changed the way the working landscape economy is viewed and has brought a new, creative focus to building a sustainable working lands economy.
“These investments are really paying off,” said Lucy Leriche, Vermont’s deputy secretary of Commerce and Community Development. “It’s a success from every angle that I can think of looking at it.”
Carolyn Partridge, chairperson of the House Agriculture Committee, agreed.
“I think it’s one of the most exciting things going on in the entire state,” she said.
Amy Shollenberger is the owner of Action Circles, a firm that provides communications support for the Working Lands Coalition. The coalition advocates for strong investment in the Working Lands Enterprise Fund.
RUPRI STATE POLICY PROGRAM Review
State Policy Program Panel
National panel, working to ensure geographic and institutional diversity, as well as alignment of policy, practice and research in program design and execution
Using the members of the national panel, to establish regional networks along the same lines of distribution.
The development of the regions would be organic, driven by panel members, with RUPRI support
Desired paradigm is a ‘network of networks’
Panel Chair David Terrell, Panel Members, plus RUPRI staff (Teresa Kittridge and Elaine Matthews)
Maintain relationships with national organizations, federal, state, regional and county associations of governments, etc.
Design annual Panel Program of Work, which would include some of the elements below.
Develop an evaluative framework through which to identify proven innovations in state policy and practice, for Panel consideration.
Protocols to identify the rural differential in states’ policies
Identify best/cutting edge practices, identified through the above process, and provide venues to share broadly.
Factor in opportunities for research
Utilize a variety of communications to share broadly with all stakeholders, via webinars, web content, e-newsletters, etc.
Develop regional networks, via Panel Members
Develop organizing principles for these networks (see above)
Identify potential members for the networks
Develop horizontal and vertical communications
Design and execute meetings, convenings, etc.
National panel meets semi-annually?
Regional networks meet as needed?
Align panel meetings with associations’ national meetings/co-sponsored events, etc.
Provide organizational support in the development of the panel(s)
Implement the program of work developed, in conjunction with the Panel
Provide communications, analytic, and research support
Identify opportunities to integrate with the work of other RUPRI teams
David Terrell, Chair, Director, Economic Development Policy, Ball State University
Bobby Gierisch, Chair Emeritus, Coordinator, Texas Rural Innovators Forum
Paul Costello, Executive Director, Vermont Council on Rural Development
Wes Curtis, Director, Rural Life Center, Southern Utah University
Barry Denk, Director, Center for Rural Pennsylvania
Michael Fortunato, Professor of Sociology – Engaged Scholar, Sam Houston State University
Cheryal Lee Hills, Executive Director, Region Five Development Commission, Minnesota
Teresa Kittridge, RUPRI
Elaine Matthews, RUPRI
John Molinaro, President and CEO, Appalachian Partnership for Economic Growth, Ohio
Christy Morton, Executive Director, Center for Rural Virginia/Council for Rural Virginia
Chuck Schroeder, Rural Futures Institute, Nebraska
Connie Stewart, Executive Director, California Center for Rural Policy, Humboldt State University
Norm Walzer, Center for Governmental Studies, Northern Illinois University
2013 PRA Annual Meeting
PARTNERS FOR RURAL AMERICA WORKS FOR RURAL AMERICA
Rural Development Councils from sixteen states met in Montpelier, Vermont during the week of September 9, 2013 to hold its annual meeting, elect officers, reinforce collaborations and visit successful community vitality and entrepreneurship activities. Partners for Rural America (PRA) strengthened its ties with Rural Policy Research Institute and its President and CEO Chuck Fluharty and state policy centers from nine states.
Given its mission from the Farm Bill, PRA is a unique bridge building organization of the state councils and helps them collaborate across sectors, coordinate program development and implementation and support models for community success. All councils work to connect local folks to regional, state, federal, non-profit and private sector resources to enable them to move forward and accomplish their long term priorities and build leadership.
The meeting was enhanced by visits and comments by Speaker of the Vermont House of Representatives Shap Smith, Secretary of Administration Jeb Spaulding and Lt. Governor Phil Scott
PRA elected its sixteen member board representing eight districts from across the county. It also elected its officers as follows: Chair: Jerry Townsend, Illinois Rural Partners; Vice-Chair: Mike Field, Idaho Rural Partnership; Secretary: Mary Ann Hayes, Maine Rural Partners and Treasurer: Mary Randolph, Wyoming Rural Development Council.
Congressman Peter Welch of Vermont was awarded the Champion of Rural America award for strong ongoing support of Partners for Rural America. Ricky Rolfsmeyer of Wisconsin Rural Partners and immediate past chair of PRA was presented the Ron Shaffer Award.
PRA’s website is www.partnersforruralamerica.org
A Summit on the Future of VT's Working Landscape
Plan to join us on December 17th for the 2013 Future of Vermont's Working Landscape Summit designed to bring all parties and partners together, build unity and momentum, and advance the next steps needed for public policy and investment for Vermont's Working Lands. Please hold the date in your calendar and "LIKE" the Working Landscape Partnership on facebook!
Illinois Rural Partners is one of the cosponsors of an annual rural community and economic development conference with attendance of around 300. You can click below to see the agendas and access the presentations for the conferences held in 2010 to 2013.
Wyoming Main Street offers best practices workshop
The Wyoming Rural Development Council/Wyoming Main Street office is offering their annual mobile best practices workshop in conjunction with the 2013 National Main Streets Conference. This event is a precursor to the national conference and provides those interested or already involved in downtown revitalization an opportunity to learn how Main Street™ communities around the country have made their downtowns what they are today.
This year’s workshop will take over 80 people to communities in Louisiana and Mississippi to see how the Main Street programs in these communities have applied the Main Street Four-Point Approach™. The group will be learning about the relationships built through the programs and also their “wins.” Specific workshop highlights include a downtown living, getting non-profits involved in major events, building a strong business mix in downtowns and how to market that mix, and utilization of Community Development Block Grants for a façade enhancement program.
Projects based in Stevens Point, Ashland, Clark/Marathon Counties, Three Lakes and statewide through the Midwest Organic and Sustainable Education Service take Top Rural Development Initiative honors
Madison - Wisconsin Rural Partners, Inc. awarded the Top Rural Development Initiatives for 2012 at a ceremony at the Howard Johnson Plaza Hotel in Madison, Wisconsin on Friday, March 15, 2013. The awards were presented by Wisconsin Rural Partners president Arlene Scalzo at the launch of “Rural Wisconsin Today” and a panel discussion by top state policy makers.
The five efforts receiving Top Initiative awards are:
The Heart of America’s Dairyland Agriculture Enterprise Area, Clark and Marathon Counties - One of Wisconsin’s Agriculture Enterprise Areas was formed after over 50 public meetings and support of 211 landowners and 29 local businesses.
Anchor for Technology in the Northwest, Three Lakes – For a unique successful effort to bring High Speed Internet to a sparsely populated rural area. Almost 90% of Three Lakes residents now have access to up to four providers with a top speed of 12.0 Mbps, a vital and unprecedented accomplishment
Ashland Union Depot Project, Ashland – A huge community effort helps restore a beautiful old 1889 Richardsonian Romanesque style “union depot” complete with a prominent tower that was destroyed by fire, adding to tax rolls and creating new jobs.
Rural Women’s Project, statewide through the Midwest Organic and Sustainable Education Service – This outstanding project has three components:: 1) Women Farmer Training, 2) Soil Sisters: South Central Wisconsin Women in Sustainable Agriculture Farm Tour, and 3) Women Caring for the Land. Each of these initiatives came to life thanks to collaboration and support from a range of non-profit groups as well as the women-owned farms themselves.
Central Rivers Farmshed, Stevens Point - The Central Rivers Farmshed, Inc. is a grassroots, non-profit organization, creating asset-based economic development by working to expand the connection between local residents and their food by providing opportunities for participation, education, cooperation, and action to support a local food economy.
Wisconsin Rural Partners is a statewide non-profit organization that develops leadership, networks and voice for rural Wisconsin. WRP is the federally-recognized State Rural Development Council for Wisconsin.
This is the thirteenth year that Wisconsin Rural Partners has presented the state’s Top Rural Development Initiatives. The program is designed to identify, highlight, and share innovative models, practices and programs that have a positive impact on rural Wisconsin communities. Wisconsin Rural Partners created the program to provide a mechanism for rural communities to learn from each other.
Vermont Council on Rural Development to lead online disaster relief efforts with new grant
Paul Costello, left, director of the Vermont Council on Rural Development and
Senator Patrick Leahy announce the EDA grant at a January 11, 2013 press conference
On Friday, January 11, 2013 the office of Senator Patrick Leahy announced the award of a $1.8 million grant from the U.S. Economic Development Administration to the Vermont Council on Rural Development (VCRD), Vermont’s State Rural Development Council (SRDC).
The grant will fund an innovative system of online resources that utilizes the Vermont Digital Economy Project, also a VCRD initiative. Up to 25 communities impacted by Hurricane Irene in 2011 and more recently by flooding will be able to utilize online resources to bolster disaster recovery efforts. A suite of online tools, broadband infrastructure and counseling will be available.
For more information on this exciting project, see the attached press release.
The e-Vermont Community Broadband Project's final report is now available
Over two years of work in rural towns across our state, e-Vermont has built a cultural infrastructure for innovation in how we use online tools to strengthen our communities, businesses, schools, and government. The e-Vermont partners brought services directly to 24 communities, but the lessons learned and tools we've created can help any rural town improve how they put broadband resources to work in reaching local goals.
Click here to read the full report.
Maine’s Mary Ann Hayes receives prestigious Ron Shaffer Award at PRA annual meeting
Chris Marko, co-chair of Oregon Rural Development Council and 2011 award winner, presents Mary Ann Hayes with the Ron Shaffer Award for Excellence in Collaborative Leadership
(Photo courtesy of Partners for Rural America)
Mary Ann Hayes, director of Maine Rural Partners, received the prestigious Ron Shaffer Award at the August annual meeting of Partners for Rural America. We at PRA are proud to make this award to someone who embodies what we are all about as state councils and rural advocates. Click here to read the story from the Bangor Daily news
News Flash: Rural Partners of Michigan merges with Michigan Rural Network
This is an exciting time for rural advocates in Michigan. Two rural focused organizations have joined forces in order to better serve communities. CEDAM is pleased to announce that the Rural Partners of Michigan and the Michigan Rural Network have merged to create the Michigan Rural Council (MRC). For several years, these two organizations have both been working on behalf of rural places. This merger is a consolidation of both groups’ efforts and will create a more streamlined approach to addressing rural Michigan’s issues.
The MRC is poised to take part in the growing conversations about rural development in Michigan. Governor Snyder has elevated rural development into the spotlight by explicitly adding it to the title of the Michigan Department of Agriculture, now titled Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development. In addition agri-tourism, agriculture and rural infrastructure were discussed in the recent State of the State address. MRC members are excited to serve as partners and resources in the work to make rural Michigan a great place to live.
Representatives from each organization worked together to develop a shared mission and vision for the Rural Council:
MRC Mission: The Michigan Rural Council connects and educates community leaders, provides expertise and advocates for policy and projects to impact rural Michigan.
MRC Vision: The Michigan Rural Council is a bridge between leaders and communities to revitalize and enhance rural Michigan.
Michigan Rural Council members hope you will join us in this work! As part of the MRC, you will have the opportunity to participate in one of our issue-based working groups. MRC convenes groups around specific areas including broadband, housing, economic development, rural philanthropy, transportation and more. If you would like to be involved in action oriented projects designed to benefit rural communities, a working group is the place to be! The Rural Council will also continue to offer bi-monthly meetings. These meetings not only give you the chance to meet and converse with other community leaders and rural advocates, but each meeting also provides an in-depth discussion of a topic related to rural community building. Finally, MRC will distribute a monthly electronic newsletter filled with rural news, policy updates, funding alerts and more. You can stay up to date by having this resource delivered directly to your inbox.
RPM is Michigan's USDA designated state rural development council, and under the new merged organization, MRC director Kari Marciniak will serve in the position of director of this SRDC. She'll also serve as designated representative in the Partners for Rural America (PRA) organization. The contact information for Kari and the Michigan Rural Council is:
Coordinator, Michigan Rural Council
Community Economic Development Association of Michigan (CEDAM)
1000 S. Washington, Lansing, MI 48910
Partners for Rural America congratulates all involved in this exciting merger and welcome Kari to the PRA family.
WORKING LANDSCAPE ACTION PLAN
Investing in our Farm and Forest Future is the final report of the Vermont Working Landscape Partnership. It offers five recommendations to help reinvigorate the state’s rural economy:
• Build a major campaign to celebrate the distinctiveness of the working landscape that is Vermont.
• Target strategic investment through a Vermont Agriculture and Forest Products Development Fund.
• Designate and support “Working Lands.”
• Develop tax revenue to support working landscape enterprise development and conservation.
• Create a State Planning Office and activate the Development Cabinet.
The Vermont Council on Rural Development (VCRD) launched this broad-based partnership as a way to focus efforts to keep our farm and forest economy healthy and prosperous. Click HERE to read it online. For a print copy of the report, please contact VCRD at 802 223-6091 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Vermont Working Landscape Partnership Program
About Partners for Rural America
Our Mission & Goals
Partners for Rural America (PRA) exists to support the efforts of its member State Rural Development Councils
(SRDC’s), which are uniquely positioned:
To expand economic and social opportunities for America’s rural communities and their residents;
To promote equal treatment of rural America by government agencies and the private sector;