Wilson Largely Exempted, but NC Takes a Big Step Backward

NC Legislative BuildingAfter four years of heavy lobbying, the cable company is probably getting what it wants. New municipal broadband NC probably won’t be developed if H129 clears the final hurdle at the Governor’s office. She has the option to veto, but no one knows what will happen.

More on that in a second, but there is a bit of important news for people in Wilson. Greenlight has been largely exempted from the bill’s effects. If you’re one of our 5,700+ members or you live in Wilson County, you don’t have to worry about service. Greenlight is here to stay.

If you live outside Wilson, the news isn’t so good. We have the fastest broadband in the Raleigh/Durham region, but we’ll have to keep it in Wilson. The bill dictates that people outside Wilson County can never hook up to our fiber. We’ve had requests to extend to Raleigh, but this bill ensured that our friends there will be stuck with you-know-who.

For those of you outside of Wilson, let me tell you what you’re missing.

  • Greenlight’s minimum residential broadband speeds are 10Mbps up and down
  • Our all fiber network is maintained by local crews 24/7
  • Our Police are using the network for security cameras in public places
  • Our Firefighters are using the fiber network for remote training
  • Input from our members has helped determine our video channel lineup
  • The costs are reasonable, and have forced even Time Warner Cable to lower its rates to its Wilson customers.

We’re glad to see Wilson exempted, but our state has allowed an outside company to place limits on it. Representative Bill Faison (D-Chatham) said it best in an interview with WUNC News:

“This bill should be retitled the Time Warner cable anti-competitive bill, it’s a New York company bill, it’s not even folks from around here’s bill, to keep our municipalities from providing services to their citizens. “

One more thing: thank you to all of you who have helped our state in this fight. We were surprised and encouraged by how many of you called a lawmaker or spoke up on NC’s behalf. Thank you so much.

Municipal Broadband Untouched. Session is Over. Thank you!

NC House Chamber

NC House Chamber- Courtesy NC General Assembly

Thanks to you and your participation in the process, lawmakers saw that protecting decades-old monopolies isn’t the slam dunk the cable company had made it out to be. The NC General Assembly wrapped up the year early Sunday morning without taking action on municipal broadband. This year was the biggest battle friends of community broadband had faced. Bottom line, municipal broadband, including Wilson’s Greenlight, will continue to improve NC broadband speeds and provide critical infrastructure for our citizens. Thank you!

Here’s a note from Catharine Rice of SEATOA who stayed up all night Saturday to watch S1209 wrap up. This may sound like a lot of government-speak, but roughly transalated, there was a lot of zigging and zagging on broadband right up until the end.

From Catharine:

Saturday morning, July 11, at 5 a.m., the NC House of Representatives killed Senator Hoyle’s (D-Gaston) attempt  to force a moratorium on municipalities seeking to provide their communities broadband service. This was the industry’s 3rd (actually 4th) attempt to stop municipalities from providing superior bbnd infrastructure to the communities.

The bill died on Saturday after a one-two punch. First, the House Ways & Means Committee had refused to hear S1209 since June 8, under the hands of Committee Chair-Rep. Faison (D-Orange, Caswell), when it crossed from the Senate to the House. Then late Friday evening, the House itself added an amendment to its Study Authorization Bill (SB900) permitting, but not requiring, the Revenue Laws Study Committee to study the laws and circumstances surrounding municipalities providing broadband service to their communities, but dropping all other terms of S1209, mainly  the moratorium. The Senate concurred with House bill 900 unanimously later in the evening (9:49pm) and it was enrolled for review and signature by the Governor. (See Sections 7.5 (a) and (b) here)

Ten minutes later, Sen. Clodfelter introduced H455, a bill whose effect would have changed the approach of the House’s version of the municipal bbnd study. With H455, Senator Clodfelter gutted a House kidney awareness bill, and poured into it the “study” portion of S1209 (Hoyle’s Anti-Muni broadband bill), changing the House version by setting a date certain when the study (and recommended legislation) would have to be completed (March 2011), and increasing the number of seats on the subcommittee from 12 to 14, adding assigned seats for telephone coops and the NC County. The House version did not mandate a study, but made it optional, did not specifically authorize the committee to recommend legislation, and set the seats for the subcommittee at 12, naming 8 with an additional four unassigned seats. Clodfelter’s H455 contained two other sections, one addressing a fluke in sales tax refunds for MI-Connection, the Mooresville-Davidson muni bbnd system.

Around 2:45 Saturday morning, on Rep. Paul Luebke’s (D-Durham) motion, the House denied concurrence with the Senate on H455 (96 to deny, 1 to allow). At 3:45 a.m., the House approved a Senate/House conference committee report for the purpose of keeping only one section of H455, (effectively deleting H455′s changes to the House study version of S1209). H455 (here) now provides a state sales tax refund status for Davidson and Mooresville’s MI-CONNECTION system, status the two towns would have if individually providing cable service, but from which they were disqualified by having  joined together to provide broadband cable  service.  On a vote of 91 to 6, the House approved the Senate/House conference report. At 4:55 a.m. the Senate concurred with that report and it was enrolled for the Governor’s attention.

Dismal speeds from most providers still the norm in the US

Yahoo! News has a good story today about Internet access speeds, and the news is no surprise. In spite of millions of dollars of slick advertising and cartoon characters, we’re still slow in this country. This line sums it up best. “When it comes to Internet performance, in the aggregate, none of us are exactly living it up. The fastest throughput in America clocks in, on average, at a measly 1.22Mbps.”

These figures include the cable giants who are charging you big bucks for “blazing” speeds and such.

Greenlight’s slowest residential speed is 10Mbps upload and download. Why is Greenlight different? The network is all fiber optics, plus we serve a smaller area. Most of the cable companies, including the one with the most customers in NC, rely on old copper lines that simply can’t carry the same speeds as fiber optic networks. PC Mag recently said, “Those results are clear: fiber-to-the-home is the way to go nationwide…”

Wilson invested in its own network, and other NC cities and towns deserve the same chance. If they’re forced to wait on the outdated cable and telecom companies, the US will continue to lag behind other developed countries.

Better bandwidth is about much more than cable

GreenlightWilson is exempt from S1209, but the bill would make it much more difficult for NC cities or towns to build similar networks in the future. As we watch the bill make its way through the legislature, here are some ways that Wilson’s community owned fiber optic network is helping the people of Wilson right now.

Remote training – our firefighters can do non-physical training from their assigned stations instead of driving somewhere else. This keeps our response times among the best in NC.

Surveillance cameras – local businesses had requested cameras in public parking lots. The fiber system cut the costs of such projects by approximately 90%, making them affordable.

Smart Grid/ Smart meters – Our electric distribution system will be using the fiber for smart grid and smart meter technologies that in trials have generated substantial savings on customers electric bills.

Schools – Greenlight is currently constructing a fiber ring linking all County schools together through a network that will offer increased speeds and redundancy to eliminate down times

Hospital/Physicians offices – We are in the process of linking physicians’ offices to the hospital.  This will allow on-line transfer of medical files including large bandwidth items such as x-rays.  In the future we envision “virtual” doctor’s visits for the homebound.

Free wi-fi to our downtown district, train station, athletic complex, airport and library.

S1209 in Finance Committee Tuesday, plus a surprise from Rep. Faison

Rep. Bill Faison

Rep. Bill Faison

Been a busy couple of days on the issue of next-generation broadband in our state.

First, unless they change the date again, Senate Bill 1209 should come up in the Senate Finance Committee this Tuesday, June 1st, at 1pm in the Legislative office building; room 544.

Yes, it’s scheduled for the first day back after a three-day weekend. :)

Now stick with me, here. This gets a little complicated, but it’s good news.

Rep. Bill Faison (D-Caswell, Orange) has introduced a second bill, House Bill 2067,  that would specifically allow Caswell County to build its own broadband network.

Mr. Faison’s bill lists broadband as a public utility, and that’s important. Some lawmakers, including the cable and telecom companies, have portrayed broadband as a luxury. The Independent Weekly of Durham covered the story.

More as this develops. I hope to see you Tuesday.

Monopoly-protection bill meets NC Finance Committee today at 1pm

**Update** The bill was pulled from today’s meeting, apparently to study the issue some more. Thanks to all of you who contacted your lawmakers. I’ll let you know more as it happens.

The Senate Finance committee takes up S1209 today at 1pm in room 544 of the Legislative Office Building downtown.

A couple of quick things. First, we hope you can make it to speak. If not, I encourage you to listen to it on the legislative audio feed.

Finally, if you tweet about the topic today, please use the hashtag #ncbb. We need all of you involved in this. NC is walking the opposite direction while our nation looks to improve its broadband access.

Draft of this year’s NC anti-municipal broadband bill (4th attempt by the cable company)

Here’s the draft of Senator Hoyle’s (D-Gaston) broadband bill for 2010.

It’s only a few paragraphs: doesn’t take long to read, but its effects would be substantial. Essentially, the State government would force local cities and towns to hold an election before borrowing money to build a community-owned broadband network. This will slow down broadband improvement in our state, and it runs counter to the FCC’s plans to improve Internet access.

Can you imagine holding an election when the cable company wants you to lose? They control the advertising due to decades-old monopolies.

The writers at Stop the Cap did a great job explaining what cable companies have done to other cities through expensive campaigns. There’s no way to have a fair election when the other side controls access to the media.

This bill will intimidate any and all NC communities, protect the cable monopolies and keep NC in its embarrassing 41st rank in broadband deployment nationally.

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