April 05, 2011
North Carolina Becomes Epicenter of Community-Owned Broadband Network Debate
By Paula Bernier
Executive Editor, IP Communications Magazines
Well over a hundred city-owned fiber networks exist in the U.S., bringing broadband to local residents and businesses that might not have otherwise been able to get connectivity – or connectivity at these data rates, anyway. But while these communities seem to be digging these broadband efforts, some incumbent cableco and telco operators are not. And there is a renewed effort to put a stop to these grassroots initiatives. A case in point is what’s happening in North Carolina.
A handful of communities already offer their own broadband to North Carolina residents, according to reports, and apparently Time Warner (News - Alert) Cable, for one, doesn’t want this kind of thing to go any further.
The cableco and its incumbent service provider allies this month were successful in their push to get North Carolina’s House of Representatives to pass legislation (in a 81-37 vote) that will make it much more difficult for municipalities to deliver broadband. Specifically, the legislation aims to block municipal entities’ ability to borrow money to fund broadband efforts without voter approval and to block them from providing such services below cost or using city funds.
According to a piece on Think Progress, Time Warner and other incumbents, which donated more than $600,000 to North Carolina politicians in the last election cycle, got the votes of all Republicans and 15 Democrats in the state House for the “Level Playing Field/Local Gov’t Competition” bill, which now moves to the state Senate.
The piece went on to quote Rep. Bill Faison (D) as saying: “This bill will make it practically impossible for cities to provide a fundamental service. Where’s the bill to govern Time Warner? Let’s be clear about whose bill this is. This is Time Warner’s bill. You need to know who you’re doing this for.”
A DSL Reports piece on March 29 discusses how North Carolina incumbents AT&T (News - Alert), CenturyLink and Time Warner Cable have for four consecutive years “been trying to pass laws that either outright ban, or constrain the ability of individual communities to deploy fiber to local residents and businesses.” The article says such efforts gained popularity a few years ago, when a dozen states passed such laws. But it goes on to comment that bills like this became less popular as opponents revealed them for what they are – an effort to protect incumbents that are unwilling to deliver broadband at the levels that communities seek.
Christopher Mitchell, director of ILSR’s Telecommunications as Commons Initiative, says: “Many of these were the first to bring broadband to their residents. Others offer some of the best deals available in the country.”
Edited by Janice McDuffee
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