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Author: Elizabeth Hicks

Michigan law makes fight for municipal broadband an uphill battle

For more than a decade, municipalities around the United States have been starting their own government-run broadband networks to bring high-speed internet to their residents. 

They might do so for a variety of reasons: to provide residents faster service at a lower cost, to encourage economic development, to provide high-speed internet to areas that private Internet Service Providers aren’t interested in serving, or to bring more economical connections to urban areas where residents can’t afford the service provided by private ISPs.

But due to laws on the books in Michigan, cities can face significant obstacles in starting their own network.

Michigan is one of 18 states that put restrictions on municipal broadband programs. Under the Metropolitan Extension Telecommunications Rights-of-Way Oversight Act of 2002, public entities can provide telecommunications services only if they have first requested bids for the services and received fewer than three qualified bids. They also must subject themselves to the same terms as those specified in their Request for Proposal.

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US: Illinois Bill Would Ban Flavoured Vaping Products

Senate Bill 3854, would include all flavoured products including THC vaping devices, heat-not-burn systems and chewing tobacco products. “(1) “tobacco product” includes products containing tetrahydrocannabinol and products containing a mixture of tetrahydrocannabinol and nicotine, and (2) “tobacco retailer” includes dispensing organizations and dispensing organization agents, as those terms are defined in the Cannabis Regulation and Tax Act. Creates a presumption that a tobacco product, related tobacco product, alternative nicotine product, or solution or substance intended for use with electronic cigarettes is a banned product, solution, or substance intended for use with electronic cigarettes if it has or produces a characterizing flavor,” reads the bill proposal.

In line with arguments by tobacco harm reduction experts, Elizabeth Hicks from the U.S. Affairs analyst with the Consumer Choice Center, said that enacting a flavour ban for vaping products, will just lead former smokers back to smoking.

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mpulsan legislación que prohibiría el Tabaco con sabor y los Vaporizadores en Illinois

Un grupo de defensa del consumidor dice que una medida que prohibiría los productos de tabaco con sabor en Illinois, incluidos los vaporizadores, podría hacer más daño que bien.

La senadora estatal Julie Morrison, D-Lake Forest, ha sido una firme partidaria de prohibir los productos de tabaco con sabor, que dijo que están dirigidos intencionalmente a los niños con nombres parecidos a dulces. Ha presentado el Proyecto de Ley del Senado 3854, que prohibiría la venta de todos los productos de tabaco con sabor, incluidos cigarrillos, cigarrillos electrónicos y tabaco de mascar. La medida permanece en una comisión del Senado.

Elizabeth Hicks, analista de Asuntos de EE. UU. del Consumer Choice Center, dijo que la promulgación de una prohibición de sabor para los productos de vapeo impulsará a los consumidores adultos a volver a fumar tabaco combustible en un momento en que fumar cigarrillos ha tenido una tendencia a la baja en Illinois.

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Avoid government-run broadband when connecting Michigan residents

Soon, Michigan will be awash with cash to boost broadband coverage.

The Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, signed by President Joe Biden in November 2021, allocates at least $100 million to expand broadband and internet coverage in Michigan. In addition, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s office recently announced the state will spend $5.2 million from the federal CARES Act to conduct an audit identifying gaps in high-speed internet access throughout the state.

It is apparent that Michigan residents deserve access to reliable high-speed internet. However, as the state decides how and where to bolster broadband infrastructure, it is critical that they prioritize providing quality broadband service to consumers without wasting taxpayer money through municipal or government-run broadband.

The pandemic has showcased that access to high-speed internet is continuing to become increasingly important as many continue to rely on broadband to stay connected to work, school, telehealth or other crucial facets of daily life.

It’s estimated that 8.9% of Michigan residents live in an area that does not provide acceptable internet speed due to a lack of broadband infrastructure, leaving over $2.5 billion in projected potential economic benefit that is lost among those disconnected from the internet within the state.

To be fair, many small cities across the country are getting the same pitch from biased municipal broadband consultants: If you want faster or more reliable internet, then you should build and operate the network yourself. It might sound promising, but the reality is that these networks have been proven to be expensive and ineffective.

According to a report from the University of Pennsylvania, of the 20 municipal broadband projects in the U.S. they studied, only two earned enough to cover their project costs during the useful life of the networks, with the other 18 being absolute failures.

Existing municipal broadband networks within Michigan are suffering a similar fate. Marshall, for example, launched its own municipal fiber broadband network called FiberNet, which cost $3.1 million in loans from other city accounts. Concerns have been raised about Marshall’s municipal broadband network as the city continuously missed payments on their broadband loans, sparking fear that the network will not be financially viable enough to offset the operating costs, potentially leaving taxpayers on the hook.

For perspective, broadband services from private providers are also available in Marshall. Companies like WOW and AT&T both offer the same speeds as FiberNet, but at lower prices for consumers.

A better solution to close the digital divide in Michigan and help broadband consumers would be to bolster competition. Many private broadband service providers are able to expand or upgrade their services where there is demand, without burdening taxpayers like municipal broadband networks do.

According to a Phoenix Center study, prices in markets with a municipal provider are higher than those in markets without one; therefore having private broadband providers available in an area is even more beneficial for consumers as competition will help keep prices low.

In rural areas or places where demand for broadband services are limited, local regulators could consider issuing vouchers to subsidize service to those who qualify.

Additionally, innovative solutions like Starlink, which aims to provide low-cost satellite broadband internet access across the globe, should be encouraged. This would ensure that all Michigan residents could get connected to reliable internet, without the need for a costly or unreliable municipal broadband network.

As more funding is being allocated to broadband infrastructure, state and local regulators must recognize that municipal broadband networks are generally ineffective and financially irresponsible.

In order to close the digital divide in Michigan and help broadband consumers throughout all parts of the state, we must embrace private competition and only subsidize networks in unserved areas through competitive bidding.

Originally published here

Legislation would ban flavored tobacco and vapes in Illinois

A consumer advocacy group says a measure which would ban flavored tobacco products in Illinois, including vapes, could do more harm than good. State Sen. Julie Morrison has a bill filed that impacts flavored tobacco products she says are being targeted toward children. But Elizabeth Hicks from the Consumer Choice Center says a trend of fewer Illinoisans smoking cigarettes would reverse if the bill is passed.

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Legislation would ban flavored tobacco and vapes in Illinois

A consumer advocacy group says a measure that would ban flavored tobacco products in Illinois, including vapes, could do more harm than good.

State Sen. Julie Morrison, D-Lake Forest, has been a steadfast supporter of banning flavored tobacco products, which she said are intentionally targeted to children with candy-like names. She has introduced Senate Bill 3854, which would prohibit the sale of all flavored tobacco products, including cigarettes, e-cigarettes and chewing tobacco. The measure remains in a Senate committee.

Elizabeth Hicks, U.S. Affairs analyst with the Consumer Choice Center, said enacting a flavor ban for vaping products will push adult consumers to switch back to smoking combustible tobacco at a time when smoking cigarettes has been trending down in Illinois.

“About 12% of adults in 2020 reported smoking, however, if this bill passes, we can certainly expect that number to increase,” Hicks said.

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Someone has to pay for student debt forgiveness and it doesn’t solve the problem

Elizabeth Hicks was invited to Steve Gruber Show to talk about student loan forgiveness

Listen to the interview here

Government regulations would threaten this beloved Christmas symbol

O Christmas tree, O Christmas tree, harsh government regulations are putting you in jeopardy.

With Christmas so close, many of us in Michigan have enjoyed a common holiday tradition this year: finding the perfect fresh Christmas tree to put up in our home. Unfortunately, harsh state regulations could put Michigan’s Christmas tree production in serious jeopardy.

Christmas trees are a big deal in this state, so much so that Gov. Gretchen Whitmer recently declared December “Michigan Christmas Tree Month.” Ranking third in the nation for the number of Christmas trees harvested, Michigan provides about 2 million trees to the national market every year, generating roughly $40 million in value.

With over 500 Christmas tree farms over 37,000 acres within the state, this industry is massively important and affects many Michigan residents.

However, growing Christmas trees is no easy feat. According to the Michigan Christmas Tree Association, it takes about seven years to grow a tree to commercial height, although it can take as many as 15 years in some cases.

Additionally, it is common for tree farms to plant around 2,000 trees per acre, although only about 1,250 on average survive as infestations from pests, insects and disease are common. Fortunately, there are many innovative solutions to prevent infestations and ensure that Christmas tree farmers are able to optimize their yields.

One of the innovative solutions listed in Michigan State University’s 2021 Michigan Christmas Tree Pest Management Guide is neonicotinoids or neonics, a type of insecticide with a chemical structure similar to nicotine.

Neonics have been used extensively in agriculture because they effectively target insects and pests while being significantly less harmful to wildlife than most other insecticides.

Unfortunately, there have been calls to restrict neonics in Michigan that would result in severe economic harm to our Christmas tree farms. Just earlier this year, a bill was introduced to the Michigan House that contained language banning the use of neonics, claiming that the insecticide would kill bee populations.

At one time, many believed that a decline in bee populations were a result of widespread use of neonics and substitutes such as sulfoxaflor, although this has since been debunked. In reality, the supposed drop-off in honeybee colonies was a result of how beekeepers tracked the number of bees they managed. According to research from an international group of ecologists, the number of global honey bee colonies has actually increased by 85% since 1961.

If neonics were banned in Michigan, it could economically destroy the state’s Christmas tree farms and industry, leaving many farmers out in the cold after working tirelessly to make our holidays special over the years.

Instead, legislators should “branch” out from bad policy and embrace the innovative scientific solutions that will keep Christmas in Michigan merry and bright.

Originally published here

Electric Vehicles Could Be Iowa’s Next Renewable Frontier, If There’s The Will

In many ways, Iowa is a pioneer in renewables with wind turbines generating 60% of the state’s electricity last year and the state leading the nation in biofuel production.

Electric vehicles could be another step Iowa could take in the renewables sector and leaders at multiple levels have said they want to explore it.

“A project that we’re working on here in Dubuque is to electrify our entire fleet, as much of our vehicles in the city fleet, as we possibly can,” said Dubuque Mayor-elect Brad Cavanagh. “So we’re talking about 10- to 15-year plan of electrifying our bus fleets, all the cars that we have.”

Cavanagh wants to use money from the bipartisan infrastructure bill to install more electric vehicle charging stations.

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The Shady Side of Student Loan Forgiveness

As the collective student loan debt in the U.S. surpasses $1.7 trillion, President Joe  Biden’s administration is gearing up to provide over $11.5 billion in student loan relief for nearly 600,000 borrowers. In addition to the fiscal nightmare this will pass onto taxpayers, it has also created a predatory market that thrives on selling student data and information.

Student loan debt has been accumulating at an alarming rate, increasing by more than 100 percent in the last decade alone. Perhaps more alarming is that of the 43.2 million student borrowers in debt within the United States, each owes an average of $39,351. Currently, there are some student loan forgiveness programs through the federal government for specific circumstances, such as for public employees or doctors who work in rural areas. But one loan forgiveness program in particular is becoming increasingly problematic: Borrower to Defense Repayment (BDR).

BDR loan forgiveness operates on the basis that a college defrauded a student by failing them on the educational services provided. While there are surely legitimate claims through BDR, there are also alarming loopholes within the rules that allow for massive amounts of student debt to be unjustifiably forgiven at the taxpayers’ expense. As noted in a study from the University of Chicago, student debt forgiveness favors the top 20 percent of earners, meaning it is more of an expensive bailout for educated and generally well-off individuals at the expense of all taxpayers, many of whom did not even go to college. Interestingly, those who rack up large amounts of student debt typically come from more affluent families and run up their tab by attending out-of-state private schools, while those from lower-income backgrounds are more likely to make cost-saving decisions and reduce the amount of debt they take on. If the loopholes within BDR loan forgiveness persist, then taxpayers could be on the hook to pay for the billions of dollars worth of loans forgiven.

What’s perhaps even more alarming is just how these BDR claims are coming to fruition. Recently, a handful of companies have popped up with information or offers to assist those looking for help with the loan forgiveness process. Although these services seem well-intentioned, their goals are actually quite nefarious. They specificallymarket to students to collect their data to sell to trial attorneys as leads for potential lawsuit claims, all unbeknownst to the student. As one might suspect, this has turned many trial attorneys’ dreams into reality, as more frivolous class action lawsuits are being filed against colleges thanks to these predatory recruiting ads. This is effectively opening up every private educational institution to massive claims or losses.

While calls for student loan forgiveness continue, it is important to look at what is specifically driving this debt to skyrocket. One key factor driving student loan debt is federally-backed student loans. Research shows that for every dollar of federal aid, institutional grant aid is reduced by $0.83, meaning the intended reduction of costs from federal aid is offset significantly by reductions in institutional aid and leads to students increasing their loan amount since they are not actually benefiting from more affordable tuition. In addition to federally-backed student loans, overly bloated administrative costs are also driving up tuition prices. Administrative costs cover non-instructional staff who are not directly contributing to educating students within the classroom. Although administrative staff is shown to have very little impact on graduation rates, administrative costs managed to increase by 61.2 percent from 1993 to 2007. Today, the cost of tuition is up 361 percent since 1963 (inflation-adjusted), and the average student attending a 4 year-public college will need $26,615 for the academic year when factoring in the price of tuition, room and board, books, and other necessities.

With the price of a college education being so expensive, it is understandable how collective student loan debt within the United States got to the amount it is at today. However, there are better solutions to address this debt than pushing the financial burden into taxpayers through loan forgiveness schemes. Instead, policymakers should address the rapidly rising costs of attending college and close the glaring loopholes within Borrower to Defense Repayment. Not only would this save billions of dollars and actually make college more affordable, but it would also minimize the opportunity for predatory companies to take advantage of vulnerable students by invading their privacy and selling their information to tort lawyers.

Originally published here

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