Government Technology

Municipal Broadband Networks Slammed in North Carolina

North Carolina law will prevent local governments from dipping into the consumer broadband provider business, several opponents say.

May 25, 2011 By

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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anonymous    |    Commented May 25, 2011

With Wilson reporting 6000 subscribers to its Greenlight broadband service, how long will it take to pay back the $35 million that the City of Wilson indebted its citizens to invest in that boondoggle? Keep towns out of competition with private enterprise!

t    |    Commented May 26, 2011

NC caved to the business interests of the lobbyists. Their service is really poor or non-existent in non major markets- who will compete for those who've been excluded if they are not exploitable as a market? No one actually believes there is such a thing as competition in that industry, hasn't been for a very long time. I'm a republican and I ashamed at what is happening, we've being sold out.

William J Cisco    |    Commented May 26, 2011

So which cable company do you work for?

Christopher Mitchell    |    Commented May 26, 2011

Umm, 6000 customers in the first few years is fine - and goes beyond what they planned to have at this point, I believe.

Susan Henderson    |    Commented May 26, 2011

Today, we are encouraged to use the Internet to pay our bills, take K12 and college courses, access government information, check out books from the local library, order goods and services, access information, and check the weather to name just a few functions that the Internet supports. Our lives have become very dependent on cost-effective, reliable, high speed access to the Internet. Broadband has become a critical service and is no different than a reliance on government for education, fire, emergency services, health, library, water and sewer services. Banning government from providing cost effective broadband services to its citizens removes competition and ultimately supports a digital divide in North Carolina.

Maggie from NC    |    Commented May 26, 2011

My jaw dropped when I saw this. Yes, the bigger problem w/muni broadband is that a bunch of cities have invested in bad systems that help no one. But to *forbid* cities to build them? That's insane; next they'll be demanding that the sewage and waste disposal systems be privatized -- oh, sorry, I think there *are* privatization nutters who want to do exactly that. My inlaws live in affordable housing (in another state), and Verizon didn't want to upgrade the aging phone equipment to the complex to support either DSL or FIOS. This left their cable provider as the only option for broadband, and it is exorbitant. So, in 2011, my father-in-law only had dial-up Internet or goes to the local library to use the computers there. Forbidding muni broadband is what's anticompetitive, and the big corporations know that.

anonymous    |    Commented May 26, 2011

I live in Raleigh, NC, with two options for broadband: Time-Warner Cable and AT&T DSL. I use Time-Warner's service, which offers consistently poor speeds and inexplicable slowdowns. And Time-Warner won't upgrade my neighborhood in the city for better service, because there is no competitive pressure. Unlike Time-Warner, AT&T won't sell pure internet service, instead insisting that I buy their overpriced phone service and purchase broadband internet as an extra. I paid about $50/month average for AT&T's basic phone service, including a few features (caller-id, etc.) and a handful of short long-distance phone calls.

Shawn    |    Commented May 26, 2011

Its no secret that private interests run this country, not our elected officals.

H    |    Commented May 26, 2011

This should come as no shocker to anyone familiar with our governor. She is basically unwilling to take a stand on any issue that may have a political cost to it. Kind of like voting "present" in the Senate.

Kevin    |    Commented May 26, 2011

AT&T allows DSL without phone service here in the midwest. Is it not available that way in NC?

dax    |    Commented May 26, 2011

this bills sponsor: North Carolina Rep. Marilyn Avila, R-Wake I think a voters movement, against this representative to unseat her in the next election --is one way the people of this great state, can let their voices be heard on this one. As this looks like another politician, sponsoring a bill thats tied to representing a few special interest groups, over tTHE PEOPLE she was voted to represent, lets send a message, and send her packing! let freedom ring!

Danny Majors    |    Commented May 26, 2011

Well, Let each city now charge crazy fees for the ROW that the incumbents line their assets on - under the sidewalks, on the powerlines, etc. and make it fair game. More than one way to skin a cat!

Darrick    |    Commented May 26, 2011

Man you got that right!! this is why i say don't vote for that old bag in 2012.

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