For years, the North Carolina General Assembly has considered bills pushed by cable lobbyists to ban community networks. A new analysis from the folks at MuniNetworks.org shows that community fiber networks offer the most advanced services in the state -- faster speeds at lower prices. Preempting these community networks would cripple North Carolina's ability to compete in the digital future.
Following on the heels of similar findings for Minnesota, smaller towns in North Carolina that have built community owned fiber networks offer far superior services to those found in the metro area around Charlotte and the famous Research Triangle.
A chart and explanation from the report:
Comparing the tiers of residential service from Wilson or Salisbury against the providers in the Raleigh area (figure 4), shows that the communities have invested in a network that offers far faster speeds for less money than any of the private providers (Greenlight offers more packages than depicted as only unbundled options are displayed). Whether communities in North Carolina are competing against other states or internationally for jobs and quality of life, they are smart to consider investing in a community fiber network.
This chart actually uses the new FCC definition for “basic broadband,” which is 4 Mbps downstream and 1 Mbps upstream. The packages that are plotted below and to the left of the origin are no longer technically broadband. Notice how many of the plans offered by private providers barely qualify as broadband. In fact, as neither AT&T nor Time Warner Cable offer upstreams of at least 1Mbps in Raleigh, their...
A local news story from WCNC in North Carolina has caught national attention among some tech news sites. As reported by WCNC, Fibrant will start beta testing its community fiber network next month (which answers a question we have been wondering -- just what is happening down there?). We have covered Salisbury previously here.
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Senator Hoyle still relies on his two mutually exclusive talking points: "cities should not do this because they are terrible at it" and "it is not fair for cities to do this because they will crush private providers who are unable to compete." Of course, if cities really did fail at this with any sort of regularity, they would not pose a threat to private providers.
When the I-Team asked him if the cable industry drew up the bill, Senator Hoyle responded, "Yes, along with my help."
When asked about criticism that he was "carrying water" for the cable companies, Hoyle replied, "I've carried more water than Gunga Din for the business community - the people who pay the taxes."
Big companies like Time Warner employ a lot of smart accountants to avoid paying even their fair share of taxes -- perhaps Senator Hoyle should not confuse them with the many small businesses that do pay their share.
From Ars Technica's "Who writes pro-cable Internet legislation? Cable does":
Yikes. In Hoyle's defense, this sort of practice is not uncommon—legislators often work with interest groups on particular pieces of legislation or on letters that go out under their name. But letting those who stand to benefit financially sit down and actually draft the bill protecting their interests, then bragging about how you carry more water for them "than Gunga Din...
We continue to watch in slow motion horror as North Carolina's General Assembly considers turning its back on next-generation networks and compute like it's 1999. This would be the effect of S.1209's proposed ban on communities from building their own networks - as they have been the only parties interested in moving North Carolina into a modern communications infrastructure rather than last-generation DSL and cable networks.
Stop the Cap! offered this wrapup of the process in the Senate. The next stop for this bill is in the House Ways and Means/Broadband Connectivity Committee. Another Stop the Cap! piece explains who to call with contact information.
Wherever you are, make sure your representatives know that you oppose limits on communities that want to build their own infrastructure -- or your community may be next.
Update: Why would North Carolina want to ban muni networks when this is the result?
The municipal broadband debate began when Wilson instituted "Greenlight," a high speed network that competes directly with Time Warner Cable's Roadrunner. As a subscriber to Greenlight, I am very satisfied with the service I receive. If there is a problem, I speak to a tech in Wilson. That is more than I can say about my experience with Time Warner. If there were issues, I was transfered to a call station in India and the service I received was horrible.
Once again, Senator Joe Sam Queen again led the effort to legislate on behalf of the people of North Carolina rather than a few companies headquartered out of state. On Monday night, the Senator offered an amendment to remove the temporary ban on community networks (currently set to be one year - though powerful lobbyists will undoubtedly push to extend it). Unfortunately, the Senate ultimately passed the bill with the ban.
The Salisbury Post had covered the legislative battle last week, revealing yet another horrendous quote from Senator Hoyle, who has pushed the ban on community broadband infrastructure.
We're not going to get broadband to everybody in the state anytime soon.
This was his response to a question noting the nature of private companies like Time Warner (who donate regularly to Hoyle) to ignore communities they deem unprofitable.
- No one expects the private sector to serve the entire state - no one disputes that companies like Time Warner will refuse to invest in small, isolated communities
- Senator Hoyle, the main proponent of protecting Time Warner monopolies where they exist, simply says that these people just won't get Internet
- The majority of Senators vote with Hoyle to deny people, who have no broadband option, from building it themselves
Now we wait to see when it will pop up in the House. Without a larger grassroots uprising, it will slowly work its way through Committees and toward the House Floor. Call your Reps. To follow this issue in real time, I recommend periodically searching twitter for ncbb.
As I have considered writing yet another post about this debacle in North Carolina, I worried that readers outside of North Carolina might ignore it, thinking they cannot help and it doesn't impact them. Well, we can all learn a lesson from the fight in North Carolina to preserve local self-determination.
The same forces that are pushing North Carolina to crush the rights of communities to build the infrastructure they need are talking to elected officials and policymakers across the country. They are saying that the U.S. really does not have a broadband problem, that people are happy with their DSL and cable options.
Sure, most states have organizations like a League of Cities or Munis or Towns and these organization are often fairly powerful. However, very few state legislatures have anyone speaking consistently for the rights of consumers. In DC, Free Press, Public Knowledge, and Media Access Project all do good work on the federal level but have little capacity to work on the state level. I try to help in state efforts wherever possible, but we have neither the funding nor staffing to really offer substantial help on any of these issues.
Someone needs to represent the interests of broadband subscribers -- and right now the only option is YOU. The folks at Stop the Cap! often make that easier by keeping you informed and providing the information you need to contact reps and policymakers.
But you need to make the call.
When you contact your reps to tell them you are not happy with your services and your choices in broadband, they are less likely to buy the industry claims that everything is hunky-dory and there is no reason for new policies that would encourage competition or allow communities to build for themselves the networks that no one else will.
When you do not make calls or write to your Reps, they de-prioritize broadband...Read more
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."
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...
Update: Once, again, the committee has pushed the bill back... now to Wednesday afternoon. One wonders how normal people with jobs are supposed to follow legislation live when they have no certainty when a specific subject will be discussed. End Update.
After a short-lived victory last week, Time Warner's bill (to prevent communities from building broadband networks that would compete with them) will apparently be considered today. Once again, we refer you to Jay Ovittore at Stop the Cap! for more direct information on who you can contact in the state to register opposition to this monopoly protection act.
There is a new development though, Save NC Broadband suggests there is a new bill to specifically allow Caswell County to build a broadband network.
This sort of monopoly protectionist legislation is extremely frustrating because Time Warner and other similar companies have the funds and power to push it over and over again. We cannot win by simply rising up once and putting it down; we know it will come up time and time again. Each time, they will make more campaign contributions and hire more lobbyists because those expenses are small compared to what they would lose if communities gain a real choice between broadband networks.
Update: Apparently the bill was pulled from the Committee today. No word yet of what the next step is.
The Senate Finance Committee of the North Carolina Legislature will vote today on a bill to create more barriers for publicly owned networks, essentially preventing competition for communities throughout the state - a great boon to Time Warner and AT&T who are pushing the bill. The meeting is in Room 544 LOB and the vote will occur sometime after 1:00.
Stop the Cap! has a good list of people you can call about this bill as well as a discussion why it is poor policy.
Progressive States Action sent out an alert about the legislation with the following information that they have graciously allowed me to repost here:
Analysis of SB 1209: “No Nonvoted Local Debt for Competing System”
SB 1209, dubbed the "No Competing System" bill by broadband advocates, places North Carolina at a disadvantage compared to other states and global competitors by limiting municipalities’ ability to ensure that all North Carolinians have access to affordable, top-quality, and high-speed broadband. Universal access to high-speed broadband networks, combined with programs aimed at increasing broadband adoption, represents one of the best ways to reinvigorate a struggling economy. Broadband networks also provide state and local governments with a means to implement cost saving mechanisms, provide better access to needed services and stimulate job and business growth.
North Carolina communities have lost their tobacco, furniture and textile jobs to competition overseas. Currently, the unemployment rate in North Carolina is approximately 11.1%, representing the tenth highest unemployment rate in the nation. In some underserved areas without adequate access to broadband, the unemployment rates are even higher, reaching close to 17%. At a time when North Carolina needs more than ever to invest in 21st Century infrastructure such as broadband to build jobs for the future, SB 1209 impedes local governments from taking effective action. North Carolina’s largest cable provider raised rates 5-50% each year in 2007 and 2008 in all communities except those where municipalities were providing competitive cable service. By allowing...
The latest attack on publicly owned broadband networks in North Carolina now has an official name - S1209: No Nonvoted Local Debt For Competing System and will apparently be debated in committee next week.
This bill is meant to stomp out any competition from community-owned broadband networks - the only real threat to Time Warner and other absentee-owned incumbent operators in the state. Not only would this bill create high hurdles for communities that want to build broadband networks, it also could prevent existing networks from upgrading or expanding. The community-owned networks in Wilson and Salisbury are the most advanced broadband networks in the state.
It is not clear, but the law may even bar communities from building networks with federal funds, as under the broadband stimulus projects, for instance. A coalition of local governments, concerned citizens, and private businesses (some noted here) are coming together to stop this attempt to keep North Carolina locked into the last-generation networks of AT&T and Time Warner.
In previous years, similar efforts to prevent community networks all suggested that local governments derived unfair advantages because they could finance their networks with tax dollars (though very few community networks have taken that approach). Now the same people are arguing that local governments should only be able to finance networks with taxpayer-backed bonds - a dead giveaway that those pushing to limit community broadband have no higher principle than protecting incumbent operators from competition.
The Journal has long argued that government borrowing without a vote of the people is both unwise and unconstitutional. But that is borrowing backed by the "full faith and credit" of the borrower, in this case, the people of the jurisdiction involved. So, if that is what the telecoms want, we support them.
But that protection is already written into the state constitution...