Salisbury's Neighbors to State Legislature: Don't Kill Our Fibrant Dreams

Time Warner Cable's bill to kill competition by limiting the right of communities to build their own broadband networks will have a committee hearing this week in North Carolina's Senate. Stop the Cap! has details in its action alert -- we encourage people to continue contacting their Senators as well as contacting local officials and telling them to contact Senators.

We have seen some interesting news coming out of North Carolina recently, including Salisbury connecting its 500th customer to its publicly owned Fibrant network [pdf]. Additionally, some nine nearby communities have told Raleigh they want to preserve their right to be served by Fibrant (the bill would greatly limit the territory in which Fibrant can expand, unlike private companies which have the freedom to expand across the state). The story starts with a church in one of the communities, Faith:

Mahoney said his church, Faith Baptist, would like faster Internet speeds but can’t afford the $20,000 Time Warner Cable would charge to build a business-class circuit for the church.

Church members are not satisfied with DSL service from Windstream, Mahoney said. But it’s their only option since they can’t afford Time Warner’s price tag, he said.

If Salisbury extends Fibrant to Faith, the church would have another choice for high-speed Internet, said Mahoney, who owns Rowan Onsite Computer Solutions in downtown Salisbury and has Fibrant.

This bill, inaptly named "Level Playing Field" creates new restrictions for publicly owned networks like Fibrant, which under current law can offer services to any community requesting them.

Stop the Cap

Stop the Cap supplemented this article with more information from a local resident:

“Isn’t it simply amazing that Fibrant is being bashed as a failure-waiting-to-happen by the sponsors of this bill while mayors across two counties are absolutely clamoring to get the service to their residents,” said Stop the Cap! reader Andy Brown who lives near Landis. “How can Marilyn Avila and Tom Apodaca have the slightest bit of credibility on this issue when you see town leaders literally falling all over each coveting a service that these legislative-Friends-of-Time-Warner-Cable have predicted is a certain failure?”

“I want Fibrant in Landis myself, if only for the competition,” Andy shares. “You know, the kind of competition legislators are supposed to support.”

A new bill has been introduced in the Senate to more heavily regulate community networks but in a less heavy handed manner than H129. This bill would totally exempt the existing networks, as opposed to H129 where the sponsors have consistently lied about how it impacts existing networks.

Salisbury, Wilson, Morganton, Mooresville and Davidson argue it’s not fair for the state to change the rules after they borrowed millions of dollars to legally build or buy broadband networks.

“The state approved our debt and Salisbury’s debt,” Shows said. “To retroactively go back and change that is simply unfair. Municipal broadband operations must be run like a business, and like a business, either they’re growing or dying.”

Chapel Hill LogoChapel Hill has joined the list of communities showing concern about how H129 will damage their long term plan to build the essential infrastructure for their digital future.

The town is trimming trees to make way for fiber optic cable, primarily so it can be used for traffic signals. The town plans for the cable to eventually connect town buildings and the wider community with high speed Internet.

But with the possibility of the broadband bill passing, Kleinschmidt said the cable might not be used to its full potential.

“The worst case scenario is that the fiber optic cable will only be used for our traffic signal and its full use will never be tapped,” he said. “The best case scenario is also using it for municipal services too, but even that could be at risk.”

Chapel Hill has been opportunistically adding fiber assets as opportunities arise and having a discussion about whether it wants to create a town-wide publicly owned network. This bill will take that decision out of their hands -- a bunch of politicians in Raleigh will decide for them, after taking a ton of campaign donations from Time Warner Cable and other incumbent telecom companies.

For those who are curious, Chapel Hill is currently doing what a number of other communities have done, adding fiber-optic connections to run traffic signals. As long as the fiber is going in, they might as well get more use out of it and are planning to leverage it over time… if the Legislature doesn't tell them to but out of TWC's exclusive club.