North Carolina - Netroots activism blocks effort to ban municipal Internet services

Publication Date: 
May 13, 2009
Author(s): 
Fiona Morgan

This article wraps up the 2009 efforts of private companies to pass what some have termed the Incumbent Protection Act - an effort by private companies to use the State Legislature to prevent communities from building the fast broadband networks in which the private companies themselves refuse to invest.

N.C. House Bill 1252 and Senate Bill 1004 would have placed a number of financial restrictions on local governments that seek to offer Internet and other telecom services, in the name of "leveling the playing field" between governments, which can borrow money more cheaply than private companies can, and private cable and telephone companies that offer similar services. The bill would have required municipal services to tack on to customer fees equal to the difference in the amount it would cost a private company to provide the service, and prohibited governments from "cross-subsidizing" the launch or operation of a system, a practice common in private industry.

Critics say municipal services already face rigorous financial scrutiny and that towns and cities go into the broadband business only when private industry chooses not to upgrade or build out infrastructure to increase the availability and quality of service. The bill could have effectively made North Carolina's local governments ineligible for federal stimulus money designated to stimulate the construction of broadband networks.

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Fortunately, the fight is likely over for this year.

When the bill went before the House Public Utilities Committee May 6, more than 100 citizens, lobbyists, elected officials and members of the press attended. Supporters of the bill, rallied by the Americans for Prosperity, sponsors of the tax day "tea parties," wore red shirts to show their support. Opponents wore yellow stickers that said "Save NC Broadband."
Rep. Ty Harrell, D-Wake, and Rep. Thom Tillis, R-Mecklenberg, addressed the mounting controversy by moving to send the bill to committee for further study.

Study committees are often where bills go to die. Harrell says he does not intend to let the measure die wants it to have "a thorough chewing-on."

Unfortunately, the private companies will almost certainly press the issue at every opportunity in the future as they continue to use their revenues to donate to campaigns and buy lobbyists rather than focusing on providing quality services to their subscribers.

Indyweek