May 25, 2011 By Brian Heaton
A bill that handcuffs municipalities from building their own broadband networks has become law in North Carolina.
Gov. Bev Perdue refused to sign or veto the controversial legislation, House Bill 129, instead leaving the measure’s fate to the state’s General Assembly. Without her signature and any further changes, the bill was officially enacted on May 21, effectively preventing local governments from dipping into the consumer broadband provider business. The bill places deployment restrictions and imposes tax burdens on cities seeking to create their own high-speed networks.
Perdue’s inaction was the latest setback for supporters of community broadband access in North Carolina, who argued that HB 129 — called the “Level Playing Field/Local Gov’t Competition” act — unfairly caters to the interests of big cable companies.
Cable providers Time Warner and CenturyLink lobbied strongly in support of the bill, claiming that when local governments act as broadband providers, it hinders the private sector’s competitiveness in the broadband market.
Perdue’s public statement on the matter indicated that while she understood concerns on both sides, her belief is that the bill’s restrictions may decrease the number of broadband choices for citizens.
“I call on the General Assembly to revisit this issue and adopt rules that not only promote fairness but also allow for the greatest number of high quality and affordable broadband options for consumers,” Perdue said in a press release.
A North Carolina local government official with knowledge of the state’s political landscape believes Perdue’s “middle of the road” stance was a protest indicating that she didn’t like the bill. The source said that if Perdue had vetoed the bill, it would likely have been overturned, as the governor didn’t have enough support in the republican-controlled state legislature to sustain the veto.
North Carolina Rep. Marilyn Avila, R-Wake, one of the bill’s primary sponsors, in comments this past March to WRAL TV, said the bill was not “anti-competitive” to cities, but admitted it would be difficult for cities to establish their own networks. At press time, Avila didn’t return a call from Government Technology seeking comment on Perdue’s decision.
“The FCC has been clear about its intent to enable more broadband in the U.S., not less — and I think that’s important to note,” said Brian Bowman, public affairs manager of Wilson, N.C., which has its own community broadband network. “The federal policy and the state policy are [now] not the same.”
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