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North Carolina has one of the nation's most impressive community broadband movements. Locally owned, state of the art networks are delivering fast, cheap Internet across the state. Big telecom companies--Time Warner Cable in particular--are not happy with their success. They've spent millions on lobbying state lawmakers. Now, the North Carolina legislature has passed a bill that bans competition from community broadband networks. Under this legislation, local communities would be held hostage to the corporate broadband networks that have given America second-rate networks everywhere.Josh Levy of Free Press wrote the following in Ars Technica:
Predictably, the big cable companies view these municipal upstarts as major threats. Companies like Time Warner Cable and CenturyLink may be unwilling to extend their networks to communities like Cedar Grove, but they don't want anyone else doing it either—such an incursion would pose a threat to North Carolina’s de facto cable duopoly. Ironically, the weapon these traditionally regulation-shy companies have turned to in order to fight the municipal broadband effort is regulation.Doc Searls also weighed in:
Here’s a simple fact for Governor Perdue to ponder: In the U.S.
Getting broadband out to all our citizens is not just something that would be nice for us to do. It is something essential for us to do if we want to provide individuals the opportunity to live productive and fulfilling lives in the Twenty-first century and something equally imperative if we want our country to have a competitive edge in this challenging world.But he moved on to highlight the importance of communities having the right to build their own networks, should they deem it necessary:
When incumbent providers cannot serve the broadband needs of some localities, local governments should be allowed--no, encouraged--to step up to the plate and ensure that their citizens are not left on the wrong side of the great divide. So it is regrettable that some states are considering, and even passing, legislation that could hinder local solutions to bring the benefits of broadband to their communities. It's exactly the wrong way to go. In this context, too, our previous infrastructure challenges must be the guide. The successful history of rural electrification, as one example, is due in no small part to municipal electric cooperatives that lit up corners of this country where investor-owned utilities had little incentive to go. Those coops turned on the lights for a lot of people! You know, our country would be a lot better off if we would learn from our past rather than try to defy or deny it.We strongly support his comments, while emphasizing that an incumbent that simply provides DSL or cable services must not be construed as necessarily serving the broadband needs of communities.
Venzon [Chairman of Board for MI-Connection] said he’s frustrated because the publicly owned company still fights an image problem. “With the improvements we made to the system, I thought that people would be lined up out the door,” Venzon said. “I thought they’d see this as ours, this is us, and it just bugs me that we get such poor PR out there. We have not won that battle.And now we know that a major critic of the network works for Time Warner Cable, a company vociferously opposes muni networks as a threat to their de facto monopoly.
We made certain Rep. Avila understood that that clarification gutted the exemption and she did not care. e-NC reports that the private sector providers are permitted to report an entire Census Block as having access to internet, if only one home in the block actually has it. In essence, North Carolina will have no "unserved areas" or communities will have to do their own door to door surveys, an expensive and monumental feat.But what do you expect from elected officials who calls something a "level field" while bragging that they are crafting rules (such as limited service territories) that only apply to the community networks, which already operate at a disadvantage to a $19 billion a year competitor like bill author Time Warner Cable? When the bill passed the Senate, a newspaper in Davidson noted its unequal approach that further handicapped communities:
Davidson Mayor John Woods said Tuesday MI-Connection deserves to be treated the same as private companies. “We strongly object to the territory limits that this bill will impose on MI-Connection which are not imposed on other broadband providers. In addition, MI-Connection would remain subject to open meeting laws, which do not apply to those other providers,” he said. Mr. Venzon also said local governments already face other rules that put them at a disadvantage to private competitors, including the requirement to operate under the N.C. Public Records Law.
A short update on yesterday's hearing of the Senate Finance Committee on Time Warner Cable's bill (HB 129) to level community broadband in North Carolina: the bill was passed and will head to the Senate Floor (
but not this week) TODAY. It has been modified to expand the anti-compettion fence being built around Wilson and Salisbury, both of whom operate muni fiber networks, offering the best connections in the state. Both will now be able to expand slighty more (as opposed to private companies, who are free to offer service anywhere in the state), which is great for those nearby communities that now have some hope for competition in the future but remains disappointing for the vast majority of the state's residents and businesses, who will shortly have no hope of any real improvement in their access to the Internet.
Senators need to continue hearing from constituents on this bill - they will all be on the spot on the Senate Floor when it comes up for passage. This will happen TODAY at noon (EDT), listen here for the railroading.
The result of this bill will be to lessen any incentive for private companies like Time Warner Cable and CenturyLink to increase investment in the communities they serve because they know the local government now has no power to build a better network that would threaten their monopoly profits. And in areas without any access to broadband, the present Legislature seems to have no interest in solving that problem until those rural folks can pony up campaign contributions on the level of Time Warner Cable.
We will plan to get some of the interesting audio clips online when they are avaialble.
We have again isolated individual comments from the arguments around Time Warner Cable's bill to strip local authorities of the right to build broadband networks vastly superior to their services. On April 13, the Senate Finance Committee allowed public comment on TWC's H129 bill. Craig Settles has posted an extended story about a small business struggling to get by with the existing paucity of service in her community.
There was no hope that I could efficiently communicate, collaborate, and share online documents and applications with clients and peer professionals. I couldn’t even buy a functional phone line. For years I paid for a level of service from Centurylink that I can only describe as absolutely embarrassing.
This bill will make it vastly harder, if not impossible, for communities to build the necessary infrastructure to succeed in the digital economy. Listening to those pushing the bill, it is very clear they have no conception of the vast difference between barely broadband DSL from CenturyLink and Wilson's Greenlight community fiber network -- essentially the difference between a hang glider and a Boeing 747. And many in North Carolina don't even have access to the hang glider! Yet the Legislature cares more about protecting the monopoly of powerful companies that contribute to their campaigns than ensuring all residents and businesses have access to the fast, affordable, and reliable broadband they need to flourish.
Thanks to Voter Radio for making audio from the hearing available. Each of the following comments is approximately 2 minutes long.
Assorted Speeches in North Carolina House of Representatives on Anti-Community Broadband Legislation
We have isolated some of the more stirring comments from legislators opposing the Time Warner Cable bill to limit local authority to build, own, or operate their own broadband networks. These come from the floor of the House of Representatives when the House voted to approve the bill and send it to the Senate.
It is worth noting that a variety of Republicans, particuarly from rural areas, had supported community rights over Time Warner Cable in some of the committee discussions around this bill. But in the end, not a single Republican stood with local authority in this matter -- they all chose to overrule local decision-making with a one-size-fits-all approach from Raleigh that greatly favors massive companies like Time Warner Cable and CenturyLink.
Below, we have created bite-size chunks of speeches that capture some of the key arguments presented by those seeking to defend local authority.