North Carolina Bill to Limit Broadband Competition Moves Forward

Update: Thanks to Mark Turner (@mtdotnet) for tape-delayed tweets updating what happened. He has reported: "Senator Joe Sam Queen objects to third reading of S.1209! It remains on the calendar!" This can still be stopped in the Senate. End Update

Update 2: Thanks to Senator Queen for his crucial objection, delaying passage today. His motivation for opposing this bill so strongly? His communities have been ignored by the private sector:

"They’re just frustrated that it’s not getting done by the cable companies, the network companies, whoever’s doing it. They’re just cherrypicking and leaving off so many of our citizens, and that’s just unacceptable."

Both Senator Queen and Senator Purcell should be thanked for their opposition to this handout to cable and telephone companies.
End Update 2

Despite the efforts of so many folks in North Carolina, the bill to stop communities from building broadband networks (forcing them to rely on whatever the incumbent wants to deploy, if anything) has passed out of the Senate Finance Committee. The Direct Revenue Laws committee has to examine it, but it will soon make its way to the floor of the Senate for a full vote (it did, see updates above).

At this point, we still hope the session ends before this bill can be sent to the Governor. Before sending it to the Gov, it must pass the full Senate, several House Committees, and then the full House. So make sure all your representatives know your feelings on it, and encourage your local leaders to tell State leaders to defend the rights of communities to build their own infrastructure. Contact information is detailed on this post.

The bill has changed once again, as summarized by IndyWeek:

The bill's language was revised this past week to include a moratorium. If the bill becomes law, the moratorium would extend through August 2011 when the legislature's long session ends, thus buying the telecommunications companies time to flex their political muscle.

The moratorium carefully exempts current broadband systems like those built in Wilson and Salisbury, but affects cities that did not launch their own broadband feasibility study, before yesterday, June 1. Provisions of the revised bill include informing the industry (i.e., AT&T, Embarq, Time Warner Cable, etc.) when a city or town is considering creating its own system.

Also, according to Fiona Morgan, the bill would allow stimulus and Google projects. For those unfamiliar, Fiona's work is always worth reading in full.

The Senator pushing this legislation (Hoyle) has demonstrated cluelessness on multiple occasions (suggesting wireless will soon surpass fiber-optics, among others). He came through again on an exchange in committee (reported by IndyWeek):

Sen. William Purcell, a Democrat representing Anson, Richmond, Scotland, and Stanly counties had one question Sen. Hoyle: "What insurance do we have that the big companies supplying cable won't overlook the small less profitable markets and cities in N.C.?"

Hoyle casually replied: "The same reason small cities shouldn't get into the broadband business to begin with."

You can read that again if you want, but it is incoherent. Senator Hoyle clearly only sees Time Warner's position on this: they don't want to deal with upstart cities that think they should have modern infrastructure.

Meanwhile, in the House, Representative Bill Faison has advanced a bill to allow Caswell County to build its own broadband network. Listening to Senator Hoyle, one would think everyone in North Carolina has access to great broadband. In discussing Faison's bill, Stop the Cap reveals Hoyle's ignorance:

For Caswell County residents, it means the potential to finally get quality broadband service after years of broken promises from incumbent providers. Comcast of Danville, Virginia provides limited service, mostly in parts of Yanceyville, the county seat. AT&T offers limited DSL service, but not to several areas of the county. Those unlucky enough to be bypassed still rely mostly on dial-up.

This is the exact same tactic we see around the country now. Buttressed by false maps provided by industry groups like Connected Nation, some politicians are regularly arguing that there is no reason to allow communities to build their own networks because the private sector is doing a great job.