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.

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.

Paper: Muni Broadband Bill Quietly Tucked Into Another Bill

Okay, I know there’s a lot to keep up with in this ongoing battle, but there’s a new development you need to know about. According to the Greensboro News and Record’s Mark Binker, the municipal broadband moratorium from senate bill 1209 has been moved to another bill, house bill 1840; apparently to get around a committee that the sponsor, Sen. David Hoyle (D-Gaston), considered unfriendly.

Here’s today’s story, courtesy of the News and Record:

Muni broadband moratorium put in another bill

For those watching the municipal broadband moratorium bill (background from me here and from the N+O here) you have another bill to keep track of.

The Senate Rules Committee attached the broadband study and moratorium as constructed in S 1209 and dumped it into H 1840, which has to do with extending E-NC authority.

I asked Sen. David Hoyle, chairman of the Rules Committee, why he was sending over a bill that has already passed the Senate.

“I’m sending it over with something the House likes,” Hoyle said. “I can’t get a committee hearing on the broadband.”

Rep. Bill Faison, the House committee chairman holding onto the bill, attended Senate Rules to watch the proceedings but did not comment to the committee.

This is the legislative version of trading paint. If the House fails to concur on H 1840, the measure will be sent to a conference committee. At that point, if no senator signs off on a conference report, the bill goes nowhere. So Hoyle can say, give me a hearing on the muni broadband bill or I lock up you E-NC bill.

“All I’m asking for is a hearing, an up or down vote,” he said. “It’s not fair for someone just to hold my bill and not hear it.”

That collective coffee spit you just heard was Senate Republicans thinking to themselves about all the bills they can’t get heard in their own chamber.

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.

Winston Salem Journal: Telecoms can’t expect people to keep waiting

The Winston Salem Journal did an excellent job covering the municipal broadband issue this week. The writers understood that the people of NC shouldn’t have to wait around for cable and telecom companies to improve their systems.

US broadband speeds simply haven’t kept up with many countries because the copper cable and telephone wires are slower than fiber optic networks. Some cities and towns, such as Wilson, have built fiber optic networks but the industry giants want to stop them. Wilson Greenlight speeds are many times faster than anything else you can buy here.

Here are a couple of segments from the editorial about senate bill 1209:

If the General Assembly were to give the telecoms what they want, they would be setting a higher standard for Internet borrowing than exists for most other government borrowing. And legislators would look hypocritical in passing such legislation because they’ve been borrowing without bond referenda for many years.

The issue here is that North Carolina’s small towns and rural areas need fast Internet service so they can attract business. With high-speed Internet, people can work from home, too, thus increasing the likelihood that small Internet-based businesses can take advantage of lower costs in rural areas. Also many people currently work from home. They can move to rural areas and stay employed by urban companies if they have a high-speed Internet connection.

Senate bill 1209 is expected in one of the committees next week. More on that as we know more.

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.

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.

Private sector: city/county broadband moratorium would “interfere with workforce development, stifle creativity and innovation”

The cable company, in its efforts to protect its monopoly in NC cities, has tried to frame municipal broadband as government versus the private sector. Once again, a host of national private sector companies says that’s just not true.

Google, Intel and Alcatel-Lucent have written a letter to NC lawmakers, urging them not to adopt a municipal broadband moratorium. They’ve written similar letters twice before, and they’ve helped keep the issue at bay for a while, but the cable company keeps convincing different lawmakers that new protectionist laws are needed.

A moratorium on new city/county broadband networks is expected tomorrow, May 5, in the Revenue Laws Committee. -BB

May 4, 2010
The Honorable Joe Hackney
Speaker
North Carolina House of Representatives
2304 Legislative Office Building
Raleigh, NC 27601-1096
Senator Marc Basnight
President Pro Tempore
16 W. Jones Street, Room 2007
Raleigh, NC 27601-2808

Dear Speaker Hackney and Senator Basnight:

We, the undersigned private-sector companies and trade associations, urge you to oppose any legislation that would place a moratorium on public broadband deployments in North Carolina. Such a bill would harm both the public and private sectors. It would thwart public broadband initiatives, stifle economic growth, prevent the creation or retention of thousands of jobs, and diminish quality of life in North Carolina. In particular, it would hurt the private sector in several ways: by undermining public-private partnerships; by hamstringing the private sector’s ability to sell goods and services in North Carolina; by interfering with workforce development; and by stifling creativity and innovation.

The United States continues to suffer through one of the most serious economic crises in decades. To address these concerns, Congress and the Obama Administration have made more than $7 billion available to catalyze both public and private efforts to accelerate the deployment, adoption and use of broadband infrastructure and services. The Federal Communications Commission’s National Broadband Plan also admonishes states not to interfere with community broadband efforts where local officials do not believe that the private sector is acting fast enough or well enough to meet the community’s broadband needs. Consistent with these expressions of national policy, public entities across America, including North Carolina, are doing their share to bring affordable high-capacity broadband connectivity to all Americans. Enactment of a counterproductive municipal broadband moratorium would thus not only hurt both the public and private sectors, but it would also put North Carolina conspicuously at odds with national broadband policy.

We support strong, fair and open competition to ensure users can enjoy the widest range of choice and opportunities to access content online, which is the heart of economic development in an information-based global market. A municipal broadband moratorium is a step in the wrong direction. North Carolina should be lowering barriers to public broadband initiatives rather than establishing new ones, so that we and other high technology companies can spread and prosper across this beautiful state. Please oppose any moratorium or limitation on municipal broadband deployments

Sincerely,

Alcatel-Lucent, American Public Power Association, Atlantic-Engineering, Fiber to the Home Council (FTTHC), Google, Intel, Telecommunications Industry Association (TIA), United Telecom Council (UTC)
cc: Governor Beverly Perdue
Secretary of Commerce J. Keith Crisco
Rep. Hugh Holliman
Rep William Wainwright
Senator Katie Dorsett
Senator Phil Berger
Representative Paul Stam

Editorial: Moratorium protects cable monopoly at communities’ expense

This Wednesday, May 5th, Senator David Hoyle (D-Gaston) will propose a moratorium on municipal broadband in NC. The Salisbury Post recently published this editorial about it. The moratorium, to be presented in the NC Revenue Laws Committee goes hand in hand with the cable company’s repeated attempts to change the law to protect its monopoly. Salisbury is building a fiber to the home network called ‘Fibrant’ that will be similar to Wilson’s Greenlight fiber network. Salisbury’s network will go live this summer. -BB

Cable wars in Raleigh
Published Monday, April 26, 2010 11:00 PM
Salisbury Post

Salisbury city officials say they’ve been assured that whatever happens to House Bill 1252, it won’t short-circuit the city’s fiber-optic cable to the home network. But there’s a good reason they, other municipal officials and local businesses are rallying opposition to the bill.

They know its passage would severely inhibit the spread of high-speed cable to many areas of the state, leaving Salisbury and a few other pioneering municipalities in a position similar to the lone wagon surrounded by an angry war party. Clearly, the cable industry wants to mount a pre-emptive attack on the municipal broadband movement in its infancy. It would be naive to think the bill wouldn’t seriously affect the long-term viability of the Fibrant system and others that have started up or are on the drawing board.

In pushing the House bill, industry advocates have spoken of the need to “level the playing field.” But it’s debatable who faces the bigger hills here — cable companies worried about losing customers through competitive disadvantage, or municipalities trying to keep pace with 21st century communication technologies. City governments can rightfully argue they want a level playing field, too, when it comes to attracting new businesses and providing necessary services to citizens. Broadband is comparable to a 21st century version of rural electrification or the interstate highway system. That’s why the federal government set aside $4.7 billion in stimulus grants specifically designated to help local governments like Salisbury provide broadband to unserved and underserved areas.

Yet, if the HB 1252′s intent becomes reality, such areas will be severely hobbled in their near-term ability to tap into the broadband revolution. Private telecommunications companies — in this case, primarily Time-Warner — will determine where services will go and when they will go there. Such decisions will be driven by short-term profits, not a long-range vision of community progress. That’s like letting one or two asphalt companies determine the future of North Carolina’s roads.

At this point, the fate of House Bill 1252 has yet to be determined. Last week, the Revenue Laws Committee heard the pleas of municipal officials, local businesses and others who support municipal broadband, as well as the arguments of cable companies who believe the municipal ventures enjoy an unfair advantage. In an ideal world, we wouldn’t be having this debate. The city of Salisbury wouldn’t need to enter the fiber-optic business because multiple cable companies would be fighting tooth and nail to provide that service. Instead, cable companies are fighting to preserve the near monopoly they’ve enjoyed in many communities. Rather than leveling the field, HB 1252 looks more like an attempt to bulldoze away consumer options.

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