Bill that provides additional funding for broadband infrastructure passes the House unanimously

Image: NC League of Municipalities

Bill comes on the heels of new federal effort targeting underserved rural communities

The North Carolina House of Representatives passed the COVID/Supplementary GREAT Grant Period bill unanimously last night.

The bill provides an additional $30 million in funding to the North Carolina Department of Information Technology to “provide a special supplementary grant process” for broadband infrastructure projects through the Growing Rural Economies with Access to Technology (GREAT) grant program.

Applications for the supplementary grant will be accepted from Sept. 1-15, and grants will be awarded on or before Dec. 30.

The bill passed without debate at around 9:40 last night and was sent to the Senate Rules Committee this morning.

The primary sponsors of HB 1105 are Reps. Dean Arp (R-Union), Jason Saine (R-Lincoln), Brenden Jones (R-Columbus, Robeson) and Robert Reives II (D-Chatham, Durham).

At a meeting last month of the Governor’s Task Force on Connecting North Carolina, HB 1105 was among those described as “broadband-adjacent.” The other two were HB 1228 and HB 1122, which have been stuck in House Appropriations and House Rules, respectively, since last month.

At that meeting, Stan Fendley, the director of legislative and regulatory policy for Corning, gave a presentation on the FCC’s Rural Broadband Auction. The Rural Digital Opportunity Fund (RDOF) has a $20.4 billion budget to be disbursed in two phases in a reverse auction format: “operators [will] bid against each other to see who will take the least amount of government support to provide broadband in a given area,” according to Fendley. Preference will be given to the fastest providers.

The first phase of the auction is scheduled to begin on October 22, and “will target over six million homes and businesses in census blocks that are entirely unserved by voice and broadband with download speeds of at least 25 Mbps,” according to the FCC. The FCC will accept fund applications from July 1 to July 15, and bidding will start on October 29.

Up to $16 billion of the $20.4 billion will be made available for the first phase of the auction; the remainder of that amount (that remains unused in the first phase) plus the remaining $4.4 billion will be awarded in Phase II, which will “cover locations in census blocks that are partially served, as well as locations not funded in Phase I.”

Rural America needs gigabit broadband “because they are being left behind,” said Fendley. “A wholesale replacement of U.S. telecom infrastructure is occurring” largely in the urban and suburban areas of the country.

“Meanwhile… many rural areas still lack basic 25/3 Mbps service,” Fendley said.

“In North Carolina… our adoption rates [of 25/3 Mbps service] are troublingly low,” said Jeff Sural, the director of the North Carolina Broadband Infrastructure Office, in a meeting of the Information Technology Strategy Board earlier this month. “We are lower than the national average.”

The maps of the areas in North Carolina eligible for the RDOF and the GREAT grant program are nearly identical, although there are some areas in the southeastern part of the state that are ineligible for a GREAT grant but eligible for the RDOF. According to Fendley, state funding, such as the money provided through the GREAT grant program, cannot be used for the same projects as RDOF money.

“By 2025, approximately 50% of homes [in the U.S.] will have a direct fiber connection,” said Fendley.

This is according to a study by the Fiber Broadband Association commissioned in September of last year by the FCC, which found that getting that figure to 80% of homes would require an additional $52 billion. Reaching 90% of homes would require another $18 billion, or $70 billion in total.

“RDOF is an opportunity to catch up,” said Fendley.

Raleigh City Council approves Police Advisory Board appointments, one day after approving the FY ’21 budget

Members of the Raleigh City Council

On Monday, the Raleigh City Council voted unanimously to approve the budget for the 2021 fiscal year. Despite major losses in revenue, according to Mayor Mary-Ann Baldwin, resulting in a budget 2.5% smaller than last year’s, the budget increased funding for the police by 1.8%. RPD had requested an additional $2.8 million to support seven specialized units and an equipment upgrade, but the council did not approve the additional funding.

Before voting to approve the budget, Council Member Patrick Buffkin expressed regret that the council had not approved additional funding for the police, calling the move a mistake.

The council also appointed nine members and two alternate members of a newly created police advisory board yesterday afternoon.

The board consists of five specific spots for a mental health provider, a victims’ advocate, an attorney, an LGBTQ+ community member, and one person appointed by the police chief, as well as four at-large members and two alternates.

The original plan for the advisory board had only seven positions, but the city council voted unanimously yesterday to increase the number of at-large positions from two to four and add the two alternate positions.

The board’s mental health provider is Scotia Burrell, a social worker and therapist at Burrell Consulting Group.

The victims’ advocate is Shelia Alamin-Khashoggi. Alamin-Khashoggi ran unsuccessfully for city council in 2017 and 2019, losing to Mayor Pro Tem Corey Branch in the latest election. She is the one who proposed the advisory board on which she will now sit—her proposal in 2018 met with criticism from Raleigh PACT, which said it was not comprehensive enough. She is also the only member of the new board who was unanimously approved.

The attorney is Stacey Carless, who has her own law firm, is the executive director of the NC Counts Coalition, and is a volunteer attorney with Legal Aid of NC.

Jeremy Roca, a real estate broker at Fathom Realty, is the LGBT member.

Police Chief Cassandra Deck-Brown appointed Gerald Takano, a former police lieutenant who retired from the Raleigh Police Department in 2017. He now runs Mindset Force Management, which provides use-of-force and risk management training to law enforcement agencies.

The four at-large members are Dr. David Bland, Sean Ingram, Genevieve Sims, and Greear Webb. Read more

Democrats in U.S. House and Senate reveal new legislation for police reform

Alma Adams

G.K. Butterfield

David Price

Over 100 Congressional Democrats came together today to co-sponsor the “Justice in Policing Act of 2020.” This legislation would ban police use of chokeholds, bar “no-knock” warrants, and set up a national database of police misconduct, among many other reforms.

The legislation was sponsored in the House by Representative Karen Bass (D-CA), Chairwoman of the Congressional Black Caucus, and Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-NY). It was sponsored in the Senate by Senator Cory Booker (D-NJ) and Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA).

All three North Carolina Democratic representatives to the U.S. House—David Price, G. K. Butterfield, and Alma Adams—signed on as co-sponsors.

A number of civil rights organizations, including the NAACP, the National Urban League, and the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, expressed support for the bill. But the ACLU, while praising aspects of the bill, wrote in a press release that the legislation does not go far enough.

“The bill introduced today takes significant steps to protect people and ensure accountability against police violence. But the legislation also provides hundreds of millions more to law enforcement, and for the ACLU, that’s a nonstarter,” wrote Kanya Bennett, senior legislative counsel at the ACLU.

You can read the ACLU’s full statement here.

The full text of the bill is available here.

Wake County activist arrested hours after testifying at virtual Raleigh city council meeting

A Wake County activist and participant in recent Raleigh protests against police misconduct was arrested early this morning on charges of failing to return a rental car and damage to the vehicle, hours after speaking at a Raleigh City Council meeting set up specifically to listen to community concerns.

Conrad James, the president of a Raleigh-based “millennial think tank” called Living Ultra-Violet, told council members at the meeting that he would be delivering a class-action lawsuit to the City Council for violating the Geneva Convention and committing war crimes for using tear gas against peaceful protesters.

The meeting began at 7 p.m. and lasted almost three hours, with multiple community members calling to defund the police and for Mayor Mary-Ann Baldwin and Police Chief Cassandra Deck-Brown to resign, among other demands. James spoke at around 8:45 p.m., a little under two hours after the meeting began.

According to a Facebook post by James, law enforcement officers came to his home in the southern Wake County community of Willow Spring around 3 a.m., arrested him, and set his court date for 9 a.m.

One of James’ Facebook friends offered this description of the arrest:

“Last night, my friend Conrad James called in to the City of Raleigh livestream and revealed to them that he was working on a class action lawsuit on behalf of Raleigh citizens against the RPD.

At 0300 this morning, they raided his house, refused to show a warrant, and arrested him. His court appearance was then set a mere six hours later at 0900, making it difficult for anyone to get there to help/support him.”

Wake County arrest records indicate that it was Wake County Sheriff’s officers who took James into custody and that the event took place at 2:15 a.m. This is the notation on Raleigh/Wake City-County Bureau of Identification (CCBI) website:

“JAMES,CONRAD PAUL I
Arr. Agency: WAKE COUNTY SHERIFF
DOA: 06-05-2020 02:15:00
CHARGE: FAIL RETURN HIRED MV >$4000″
And this is from an email from Susan Weis, Communications Director for the Town of Fuquay-Varina sent in response to an inquiry from Policy Watch:

“Public Record:

Time/Date Reported:  5/21/2020 @ 1553 hours
Incident/Offense:  Failure to Return Motor Vehicle – Felony
Location:  2908 N. Main St.
Victim: Enterprise – 2908 N. Main St.
Suspect: Conrad Paul James, age 27 of Willow Spring, NC
The branch manager of Enterprise reported that a rental vehicle, a 2020 gray Nissan Versa, was not returned by 4/21/2020 as rented to the suspect, Conrad Paul James.  The vehicle was rented on 4/14/2020.  The manager reported that he had made multiple attempts to contact with Mr. James and mailed a letter to Mr. James to return the vehicle.  It was reported that Mr. James stated he had lost the keys in Alabama and could not return the vehicle.  The manager reported the incident to the police department requesting an investigation to to pursue criminal charges.   Pursuant to an investigation, a warrant was obtained for Conrad James for Felony Failure to Return Motor Vehicle. The vehicle was located in Cary and the branch manager requested additional charges for damage to the vehicle.  Pursuant to the investigation, an additional warrant was obtained for misdemeanor injury to personal property.
The warrants were served by the Wake County Sheriff’s Office last night.”

James reported on Facebook today that:

“They dropped the motor vehicle charge at the first appearance thing today it is now just misdeamenor (sic) 1 injury to personal property”

The email from Fuquay-Varina does not mention why the Wake County Sheriff’s Office waited two weeks after the complaint from Enterprise was filed on May 21 to arrest James or why officers chose to carry out the warrant in the middle of the night.

James is now out on bond. His next court date is set for June 25.

Raleigh City Council meeting attendees ask for accountability, resignations of mayor and police chief

The Raleigh Police Accountability Community Taskforce, also known as Raleigh PACT, engaged in a peaceful sit-in outside last night’s City Council meeting.

“We will be reviewing their demands,” said Raleigh Mayor Mary-Ann Baldwin at the beginning of the meeting.

To begin to meet those demands, Baldwin said the council approved a virtual community meeting for Thursday, June 4 at 7 p.m., as well as racial equity training for all council members. City council members also requested an internal review of the Raleigh Police Department’s response to the protests this past weekend, despite objections from City Council member Patrick Buffkin during yesterday’s afternoon meeting.

During the public comments portion of the meeting, one resident, Richard Johnson, explicitly criticized Baldwin.

“Our mayor was asleep on the job Saturday night while Raleigh was burning. Add that to her growing list of failures,” said Johnson. The “failures” he mentioned included “letting heavily armed white supremacists march freely downtown while heavily policing nonviolent protesters” and “failing to get a robust police review board set up.”

Johnson called for Baldwin to resign from the mayorship.

Jordan Zhang, on the other hand, called for Baldwin to resign from her new position as the director of business development at Barnhill Contracting Company.

“Taking on this job takes away Baldwin’s focus from leading, which is imperative given the climate,” said Zhang, a 17-year-old who gave her statement on behalf of Young Americans Protest (YAP).

She and Caroline Butler, who is also a member of YAP, listed a series of demands, including an “amendment to RPD’s directives that would control the overpolicing of black and brown communities,” reducing “the increased presence of police in black and brown communities,” the passing of “local restrictions that would limit the the use of military weapons by the RPD,” and “the immediate prohibition of physical escalation and violence as a means of disciplinary action.”

“We demand city council to never again vote to increase funding for the sole purpose of the militarization of law enforcement,” Butler said. “Rather than investing in the RPD, we call for the city council to instead relocate funds toward essential community services and programs that would work to actively address the underlying causes of crime.”

She mentioned several services and programs: Read more