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.

New regulation proposed for community broadband in NC; moratorium dropped

First, the good news: Senator David Hoyle (D-Gaston) announced today that he’s backing away from his earlier idea of a moratorium on NC municipal broadband. Senator Hoyle is the same lawmaker who said a few weeks ago that wireless could replace fiber optics.

Now, the bad: His proposed draft would have the same effect. He offered a bill this morning that calls for additional regulations on any NC city or county that wants to build a next-generation broadband network. Local communities would be required to hold an election before building or even repairing a broadband system. Currently, interested cities or counties have to present a business model to the NC Local Government Commission and get its blessing. Wilson got approval from the LGC in 2007 before expanding the Greenlight network. The new bill would go beyond the LGC’s input.

Sen. Hoyle prefaced his remarks by saying he is against the concept of municipal broadband, because it pits ‘the government’ against the private sector; which is already providing the same service. Keep in mind a couple of things: more private sector companies support municipal broadband than are against it. Google, Intel and Alcatel-Lucent recently wrote a letter supporting local cities and counties. Second, in Wilson’s case, the fiber optic network provides a much higher level of service because the cable company’s network is outdated. Also, the cable company refused to build a better network in Wilson. We asked. They said no.

As lawmaker Josh Stein (D-Wake) pointed out, the cable company controls the TV advertising world. Such an election would give the cable company ample chance to muddy the waters.  It’s happened in several places.

I don’t have a copy of the draft yet because he presented it as he began to talk. In other words, no one in the audience saw it before the vote.

The Revenue Laws committee voted to send it to another committee; possibly finance. In other words, they believe it should go to the next step.

The bill will be assigned a number and a name sometime next week. More as we get closer.

Help Needed: NC House Committee Looks at Metered Billing Monday, Nov. 23.

My friend Jay Ovittore sent me this note about an important meeting next week. Remember last summer when the cable company rolled out metered billing in Greensboro? The more you view/stream/download, the more you pay? The House is looking at the idea.

“The House Select Committee on High Speed Internet in Rural and Urban Areas will meet Monday, November 23rd at the General Assembly. In a prior meeting it was brought up that they might be interested in tackling the issues of metered billing and data caps on broadband internet service. We have a chance to mobilize and present something to this committee to protect our rights as consumers. “

“It has been proven that competition is the only way to drive prices down and if we allow metered billing and data caps in areas where there is no competitor we will never have a choice. It is your right as a consumer to stand up and do something about this. Please join me and many others in this fight. If you would like to be part of this effort please contact me at jovittore@gmail.com”

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