S1209 exempts Wilson; goes to the full Senate today

Sen. David Hoyle (D-Gaston)

Sen. David Hoyle (D-Gaston)

The Senate Finance Committee made some pretty big changes to Senate Bill 1209 yesterday. It is being heard in the Senate today. You can listen to the discussion here. Just click on Senate Chamber.

Wilson was fully exempt from the bill. That means the 28-million dollar investment our community made three years ago wasn’t made in vain. Our broadband network continues to sign new customers. We’re rapidly approaching 5,000 households; pretty good for less than two years of availability.

While I’m glad that Wilson was exempt, the bill still pits NC against the national trend of improving broadband service. As one lawmaker noted yesterday, the private companies simply aren’t moving fast enough, or at all in some cases, to make broadband available to rural communities.

Senator Hoyle, the sponsor of the bill, told the committee that both the cities and the cable/telecom companies dislike the bill, so it must be good.

Private industry says latest monopoly-protection bill is bad for economy, NC

Google, Alcatel-Lucent, Intel and other industry representatives are asking NC lawmakers not to pass new restrictions on municipal broadband and to abandon Senate Bill 1209. They understand that city or county owned broadband is a good thing for business, not a bad thing as suggested by some of the cable and telecom giants.

The full text of their letter is below. Here’s a segment:

“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. SB 1209 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”

I appreciate their willingness to take a stand on this issue.

May 21, 2010
Senator Dan Clodfelter
Chair, Senate Finance Committee
300 N. Salisbury Street, Room 408
Raleigh, NC 27603-5925

Dear Senator Clodfelter:

We, the undersigned private-sector companies and trade associations, urge you to oppose SB 1209 or any other measure that would impose significant barriers to public broadband initiatives in North Carolina. Measures such as SB 1209 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 direct or effective barriers to municipal broadband would not only be counterproductive, hurting 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. SB 1209 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 SB 1209 and other measures that would significantly impair municipal broadband deployments or public-private partnerships in North Carolina.

Sincerely,

Alcatel-Lucent, American Public Power Association, Atlantic-Engineering, the Fiber to the Home Council, Google, Intel, Telecommunications Industry Association, and Utilities Telecom Council.
cc: Governor Beverly Perdue
Secretary of Commerce J. Keith Crisco
Rep. Hugh Holliman
Rep Joe Hackney
Senator Marc Basnight
Senate Finance Committee

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.

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.

Moratorium against new community broadband to be pushed May 5th

Sen. David Hoyle of Gaston County said Wednesday that he’d like to see a moratorium on new community broadband in NC. He’ll bring it up again at a committee meeting on May 5th. Senator Daniel Clodfelter mentioned that several other legislators felt the issue was important enough to warrant attention.

Here’s a great article Jay Ovittore wrote for Stop the Cap! that includes the play by play.

Another place where community broadband is working

The Economist did a great story recently about  our friends in Bristol, Virginia. Bristol, like Wilson, ran its first fiber a few years ago to connect City facilities, then made it available to everyone after people in town asked for it.

In fact, when Wilson was building its fiber ring several years ago, several local businesses asked the guys stringing up the fiber if they could connect, too.

Here’s a segment of the article: “The Federal Communications Commission will have to take up this matter when it sends its broadband plan to Congress in March. Since 1995, at the urging of telecoms companies, 18 states have erected barriers to entry for municipal utilities.”

The private cable monopolies in NC continue their efforts to prevent cities and towns from making their own decisions regarding next-generation communication. The NC Legislature returns to Raleigh for the short session in a couple of months.

NC Legislature tackling money issues; still no decision on broadband

Hasn’t been much to report lately in our battle with the monopoly bills. Long story short, our state’s elected leaders have had their hands full this summer and, apparently, neither bill has been worthy of a big push lately.

That said, the lobbyists from the cable company live in those buildings and have been pretty cozy with some lawmakers during our visits. They walk into the the back door of the committee rooms, the door with the sign that says, “For Lawmakers only” and one of them was handed the phone a few weeks ago after I called a senator’s office for more information. He was pretty surprised the assistant handed the phone to him. “Just happened to be walking by” he said. Mm hmm.

June 26th, and as of now, the lawmakers have focused on our state’s fiscal situation instead of passing either of these protectionist bills. That said, these things tend to flare up pretty quickly. Both are en route to study bills right now and could pop up anytime.

I’ll let you know if I hear anything. Thanks to all for everything.

Video of the House Vote

Here’s a 29-minute unedited video of the vote to send HB 1252 to a study committee. We’re told the cable company is lobbying to hand-pick a more friendly committee instead.

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