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Appointment to the FCC Intergovernmental Advisory Committee

I am pleased to announce that Tom Wheeler, Chairman of the Federal Communications Commisison (FCC), has named me to the FCC Intergovernmental Advisory Committee.

Please see the press release below:


Montgomery County Councilmember Hans Riemer appointed to FCC Intergovernmental Advisory Committee

Riemer looks to deepen work promoting competitive markets for high speed Internet

January 5, 2017


ROCKVILLE, Md., January 5, 2017—Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Chairman Tom Wheeler has named Montgomery County Council Vice President Hans Riemer to serve as one of two county officials nationally on the FCC Intergovernmental Advisory Committee (IAC).

The IAC provides guidance, expertise and recommendations to the Commission on a range of telecommunication issues for which local, state and Tribal governments explicitly or inherently share responsibility or administration with the Commission. In the 2017-19 term, the IAC will be focused on the role state and local governments play in broadband deployment and adoption, wireless infrastructure deployment, Universal Service programs, consumer complaints processes and public safety issues.

“I am honored to serve on the FCC advisory committee, and I intend to use this role to advocate for a more competitive and robust marketplace for broadband deployment,” said Council Vice President Riemer. “Local governments have a positive role to play in broadband deployment, and I look forward to bringing Montgomery County’s experience to the Commission.”

Vice President Riemer was nominated to serve by the National Association of Counties (NACo). In his letter recommending that Vice President Riemer serve on the committee, Matthew Chase, the executive director of NACo, wrote: “His experience and background uniquely qualify him to serve on the IAC. He is currently a member of both the Government Operations and Fiscal Policy Committee, as well as the Planning, Housing and Economic Development Committee, for Montgomery County, Maryland. Through his work on these committees, he is responsible for oversight and the development of Montgomery County’s information technology and telecommunications infrastructure.”

During his six years on the Council, Vice President Riemer has strengthened Montgomery County’s digital infrastructure. The County owns and manages FiberNet, which is a 650-mile fiber optic network that connects more than 500 community anchor institutions, including public schools, the community college, libraries, recreation centers, and government buildings. With an annual budget in excess of $8 million, FiberNet is a critical piece of the County’s ability to efficiently and effectively deliver services to residents.

Council Vice President Riemer has worked to strengthen the County’s investment in FiberNet by successfully funding a 24/7 carrier-class network operations center and putting forward a strategic plan to make the governance and funding of FiberNet more sustainable.

He also has championed the growing deployment of Chromebooks in the County’s public schools and public wifi in urban districts. In addition, he has been a major supporter of the County Government’s ultraMontgomery initiative, which utilizes FiberNet to promote economic development in the County’s strategic industries of life-science, bio-technology and cybersecurity. UltraMontgomery recently facilitated a direct fiber connection from Ashburn, Va., to Montgomery County, strengthening the capacity of the County’s data networks and data centers.

Vice President Riemer is currently working on policies that promote a more competitive market for broadband networks and services. These policies are “Dig Once,” “One Touch Make Ready” and “broadband-ready” building codes.

“Communities need local government officials to put planning for high-speed data networks on the same level as planning for transportation, power and water networks,” said Vice President Riemer. “It is an evolving policy area and I hope by serving on the Committee that I will be able to identify ways for the FCC to support the work of local government. I also look forward to providing a voice for local communities on 5G deployment, an issue with which our County is currently grappling.”

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Riemer elected Council Vice President in 2017

I would like to thank my colleagues on the County Council for placing their trust me in to serve as the Council Vice President in 2017.

Councilmember George Leventhal nominated me for the position. His remarks succinctly described my work at the Council, and I wanted to share them with you.

Following is a video, which we transcribed as well (lightly edited).

I’m delighted to place in nomination Hans Riemer’s name to be our next Council Vice-President. Hans has been an extraordinary leader in digital technology, making sure that the entire County is abreast of 21st century telecommunications, that we provide the benefits of up-to-date telecommunications to all of our residents. Hans has been a particularly strong advocate for the benefits and amenities of urban living and nightlife. He has continually emphasized that we need to make this County attractive to the next generation of skilled workers, including the lifestyle elements that bring people here and make people want to stay. Among those is a more modern approach to liquor control. I enjoyed serving with Hans on the special committee for liquor control. I regret that we were not given the opportunity to implement that committee’s recommendations, and I still think that, had we privatized beer and wine sales as the County Council had recommended, it would have successfully diminished the many complaints that we continue to hear from the retail sector. And we could have continued back and kept reforming, but that did not occur. I was very impressed with the depth and seriousness with which Councilmember Riemer looked into that issue. I was especially impressed when I heard him speak him speak on Kojo Nnamdi’s show about the issue. He exhibited all the qualities that both make him very likeable but also very persuasive that have enabled his constituents and his colleagues to have confidence in his leadership. He takes a very balanced approach to issues. He considers all sides. The highest praise that I can give to a fellow Councilmember is that he is a good colleague. He is available to listen. He is available to work through and discuss the complex, fine points of issues. I know that he will be a good listener as Council Vice President and in any future leadership posts that a future Council or this Council may identify him to serve in. The only disagreement I have with Councilmember Riemer is that he decided to buy a house in Takoma Park. That meant that out of four At-Large Councilmembers, three reside in the same municipality….But I know that his neighbors enjoy having him there, and I also know, more importantly, that he works very hard to represent the interests of the entire County, not any one part of the County. That is the responsibility that falls to all of us who serve in an At-large capacity. With all of that, I place in nomination Hans Riemer’s name for Council Vice President.

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Progress Report on Broadband / High Speed Digital Networks

As the County Council’s Lead for Digital Government, I have articulated a vision for a digital Montgomery County, proposing policies that will enable our community to lean forward on technology and innovation.

With the rise of cloud computing, there is great urgency for establishing next-generation data networks that will enable researchers, entrepreneurs and government to operate at the cutting edge. I believe our continued economic progress depends on it, and that is why I have proposed a comprehensive strategy, detailed in two white papers, “Moving Montgomery Forward with Gigabit Networks” and a “Montgomery County Digital Infrastructure Strategic Plan.”

I am now pleased to report that we are making real progress. Working collaboratively with my colleagues on the County Council, particularly at the Government Operations (GO) Committee, where I serve with Chair Nancy Navarro and Councilmember Sidney Katz, and technologists in the executive branch, this vision is becoming a reality.

Years ago, Montgomery County made a wise decision to build a fiber optic data network, called FIberNet. Today, more than 567 sites — schools, libraries, rec centers, and government buildings — operate on that network. This is a remarkable achievement that puts Montgomery County in a leadership class of local governments.

Many years of constrained budgets, however, caused investment in fibernet maintenance to slide — a problem that must be remedied. With the new fibernet budget requested by the GO Committee and included in the FY17 budget, the county is turning that around. The $4 million annual fibernet budget, funded by fees on cable providers, along with a Network Operations Center, will ensure not only that the county government will get the benefit of a first class network but also so that the network can offer a market-competitive service for the private sector that can be used to generate revenue in the future.

Now we are ready to move more aggressively.

Building data networks for economic progress

The County’s economic strengths in the life, earth, bio and cybersecurity sectors are significant, and the presence of federal agencies, such as the FDA, NIST, NIH, NOAA, and others helps ensure that we have one of the most specialized and highly-educated workforces in the world. As the data-oriented (including real time video) work in these industries moves to the cloud, the county will need to be at the cutting edge in network capacity, so that the industries can operate seamlessly in the cloud — or the county will risk losing the advantage it has from hosting these organizations as they may shift investment to other locations.

In response to my first white paper on the nexus of broadband and economic development and the ongoing pressure of the Government Operations committee to move forward on this issue, the County Executive officially launched “ultraMontgomery” in 2014, and has recommended substantial funding for the program in this year’s budget. Key markers include:

The County is also actively exploring policy and regulatory changes that facilitate greater access to commercial high-speed networks, including new building codes and certifications for fiber-ready buildings, the creation of a Broadband Smart Map, and “Dig Once” policies.

Promoting access for residents

Broadband networks are core infrastructure, just like water pipes, roads, and schools. Government must take ownership over planning for the future of this infrastructure in order to benefit the residents.

Thanks to funding approved by the Council and with the reach provided by FiberNet, the County is adding 15 new locations with public WiFi and upgrading 17 more, for a total of 65. See the full list of current County WiFi locations here (page 6). At my request, the County has also agreed to make public WiFi available outside in the new Wheaton Town Square as part of the Wheaton Redevelopment Project.

To expand opportunities for people who ride buses, as well as make buses more attractive for those who otherwise can drive, RideOn will soon pilot public WiFi on a number of buses, as I argued for here. The pilot project will also test smart applications in the bus and shelter environment aimed at improving the riding experience and ultimately increasing ridership. These deployments are but a small sample of what is to come in the next few years.

With over 200 schools linked by FiberNet, MCPS is ready to expand the role of technology in education. With strong support from the Education and Government Operations Committee, chromebooks are already integrated into the curriculum for 3rd, 5th, and 6th graders as well has high school social studies classes. The plan is expand the rollout to the 7th grade, half of the 8th grade, and one high school content area this year. Students learn the new collaborative models for research, writing, and presentation projects through Google Apps for Education.

The “homework gap” is a term used to describe how some kids do not have the web access they need at home to complete their homework. The Council’s Education and Government Operations Committees recently held a hearing on how the County is addressing the homework gap and what can be done to improve our efforts. As a result of that discussion, MCPS is conducting further study about device gaps and broadband gaps. Agencies are working together to promote the $10 per month Comcast internet program for low income families, and the county has joined other jurisdictions, including through a resolution I introduced which passed at the National Association of Counties, as well as a letter from Next Century Cities, which I pressed the County to join, to support a new FCC requirement for telecom companies to subsidize broadband, not just land line, access (pdf).

It is clear that no one solution exists for combatting the “homework gap,” but as devices such as chromebooks become an integral part of the MCPS learning environment, we are focused on the problem.

Access in rural communities is a national concern, and more than one third of our county is set aside for farming. This area, nearly 100,000 acres, is called the Agricultural Reserve. Because we are committed to the success of the Ag Reserve, we must provide broadband service to the more than 2,000 properties there that do not have it today. That is why the County participated in a demonstration of 1gb Wireless technology that could be leveraged in the Ag Reserve, and the County, with encouragement from council member Roger Berliner, also negotiated reduced charges for Ag Reserve residents who want to link up to the Comcast network there — a model that may be extendable to other providers as well.

A Roadmap and Reorganization

These ideas and more are coming together in a Broadband Roadmap, now underway, which will lay out the county’s comprehensive vision of leveraging ultra high-speed broadband networks for economic development and community benefit. This roadmap, which I requested of the executive branch, will ultimately bear the stamp of not only the Leggett Administration, but the County Council, Montgomery County Public Schools, Montgomery College, technologist residents, and other network stakeholders.

At my request, the County Executive has also agreed to consider reorganizing broadband responsibilities in our Department of Technology Services, to better align our staffing structure with our goals and make more effective investments in the program. While I initially proposed to create a Broadband Authority to take independent ownership of the function, as other jurisdictions are also considering, I agree that we should proceed carefully here and we may be able to achieve our goals with reorganization rather than creating an external entity. Time will tell.

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Putting progressive values in action with new county budget

I am pleased to share highlights from the county’s new budget for Fiscal Year 2016 (video), which will begin July 1st.

This year was a “same services” budget, with lower revenues due to a regional economic slowdown. The Council’s total budget of $5.07 billion increases spending by a modest 1.7% over last year’s budget.

There were, however, many bright spots. Some of the best news:

Education: The Council was able to supplement the Executive’s recommended education funding by adding $2 million for technology investments in MCPS and $7.9 million to reduce tuition increases at Montgomery College. Overall, MCPS received $31.9 million over last year’s budget, to support higher enrollment. Unfortunately, Governor Hogan has withheld $17 million in budgeted state education funding for MCPS, so MCPS still faces difficult choices this year.

Clean elections: The Council added $1 million as a down payment on the small donor matching system we established in law last year. Candidates for Council and Executive who refuse large contributions will be eligible for small donor matches for the first time in the 2018 election; we are projected to need $8 million in public matching funds for that election.

I am especially pleased and humbled that the final budget included funds for a number of my initiatives:

Child Care: The Council added funds to implement the recently passed Bill 13-15, including provisions I authoredcreate a new Child Care and Early Education Officer and to develop a Child Care Strategic Plan. We also added over $500,000 for additional child care subsidies for low income families.

Transportation: The Council added funding I championed to improve pedestrian and bike infrastructure (BiPPA’s), add five new RideOn buses to expand service, and improve sidewalk snow removal.

Fighting poverty: The budget increases our Earned Income Tax Credit, as required by Bill 8-13, which I introduced to restore the EITC after it was cut during the Great Recession. Montgomery County is the only County in the nation to offer an EITC match, which has been widely recognized as one of the most effective anti-poverty tools.

Other initiatives I championed, within a responsible budget framework:

I hope these initiatives give you a clearer sense of my work to meet our ever changing community needs.

On the question of taxes, county taxes as a share of personal income are virtually unchanged from last year. In order to keep property tax collections under the charter limit, property tax rates will be slightly reduced. As a result, for the two-thirds of property owners who do not have a revision in their assessed value this year, property tax bills will decline slightly. The average tax burden in real terms will be lower this year than in 6 of the last 9 years, and it is considerably lower than it was in 2007, 2008 or 2009.

Finally, as you may have heard, the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled against the county on an issue relating to our income tax collections. The issue, which affects those who earn income outside of Maryland, will reduce county revenue by more than $50 million next year. Significant budget challenges are ahead of us.

As always, I welcome hearing from you.