Private sector tech company supports municipal broadband

Here are some excerpts from a letter Alcatel-Lucent Vice President Michael A. Dobbs recently sent to the sponsors of HB 1252. Notice the reference to next-generation broadband:

Alcatel-Lucent is the leading supplier of broadband access networks worldwide, with over 20,000 employees in the United States, including approximately 1000 employees in North Carolina at our Cary, Raleigh, Charlotte, McLeansville and Winston-Salem facilities.

Our North Carolina facilities play a leading role in Alcatel-Lucent’s wireline technology leadership worldwide, including in current generation broadband technologies, such as Digital Subscriber Line (DSL), and next generation broadband technologies, such as Fiber-to-the-Node (FTTN) and Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH). Alcatel-Lucent has provided equipment for a number of municipal FTTH broadband networks in the United States, including the FTTH network being constructed in Wilson, North Carolina. Municipal broadband networks contribute to our continued growth as the world leader in broadband access, as well as our investments in North Carolina. Next generation broadband access that is both robust and widely available is, in turn, important for the continued growth of the economy, both in North Carolina and throughout the United States.

Alcatel-Lucent supports a level playing field between public and private service providers. HB1252, however, only serves to endanger the ability of municipalities to offer next generation broadband services where private service providers have not made next generation broadband investments or are not providing next generation broadband service.

HB 1252 would create extraordinary financial accounting and administrative burdens on municipal broadband providers that would render their existence fiscally difficult, if not impossible. The bill also subjects municipalities to the new jurisdiction of the North Carolina Utilities Commission, while not requiring the same of private providers. Also troubling is the injunctive relief provision, which could encourage litigation for purposes of gaining competitive advantage. Furthermore, the legislation appears to prevent municipalities from pursuing alternative funding sources, such as broadband grant programs included in the Federal stimulus bill, the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009.

HB 1252 includes exemptions that appear to allow for municipal broadband in markets unserved by the private sector. Those exemptions, however, fail to distinguish current generation broadband – DSL or cable modem service, for instance – from next generation broadband, such as FTTN and FTTH. It seems counterintuitive for a market with only current generation broadband available to be considered as “served,” and foreclosed to municipal entry, when a municipal service provider is prepared to deploy next generation broadband FTTH networks enabling speeds of 50 to 100 Megabits per second downstream. It should be noted, particularly in these difficult economic times, that the overwhelming majority of the cost of building FTTH networks – approximately 70 to 90 percent – goes towards labor and construction employment, not to broadband equipment itself.

While there may be ways to address some real and perceived advantages municipal service providers have over the private sector, HB 1252 achieves no such result.

Again, Alcatel-Lucent encourages withdrawal of support for HB 1252. Municipal provision of next generation broadband is an important component to ensuring that all residents of North Carolina have access to next generation broadband services. A number of cities and counties across the United States have already begun providing next generation broadband services to their constituents, as service providers or through partnerships with the private sector. Alcatel-Lucent hopes that by opposing HB 1252, you and your fellow lawmakers will give the residents of North Carolina the same benefits that an increasing number of American consumers receive from their local governments where appropriate.

See the entire letter.


Bill up for a vote Wednesday, May 6th

Word on the street is that HB 1252, the bill that would stop NC cities and towns from providing better broadband service will come up for a vote on Wednesday, May 6th at 10am in the Public Utilities Committee in room 1228 of the Legislative Building on Jones Street.

You can sign up to receive email updates directly from the Legislature.  We are planning to go that day.

Thanks, again, for all the support. You guys are great.

Déjà vu for HB 1252

Two years ago, in the 2007 NC Legislative session, a bill that is very similar to HB 1252 was introduced in the Public Utilities committee. It had essentially the same new, burdensome legislation as this year’s bill but for a very different reason.

The other side, through two lawmakers, said NC cities needed legislation to protect their citizens. In other words, NC cities weren’t capable of providing better broadband service. (Never mind fact that cities already provide clean water, fire protection and police protection. Wilson’s fire and police departments are both nationally accredited.) That bill was defeated after Google, Alcatel-Lucent and other private companies weighed in against it.

In 2009, the new bill says NC cities have an unfair advantage over large cable/telco operations.

In just two years, we went from being incapable of providing service to having unfair advantages.

Heads up, another push poll is here.

Phones are ringing in Wilson. There’s a new poll about HB 1252 that is apparently designed with leading questions about municipal broadband. It includes questions that, as a friend put it, can’t possibly be answered correctly without siding with certain cable and or telco providers.

I’m guessing a couple of the industry execs will use it this week to convince lawmakers that Wilson citizens don’t need their system.

The same poll, or a similar one, has also popped up in Salibury. This weekend, several people there reported getting phone polls that led them to the same conclusion about their new network. Salisbury is network now that is similar to Wilson’s.

One poll. Two cities. One intended result.

The bill is expected to come up this Wednesday in the Public Utilities Committee.

The Beginning of Greenlight

Many of you have asked how the City of Wilson’s fiber network began. Here’s a short history:

The network began in 2006 as a fiber optic connection between City facilities including offices, payment centers, recreation centers, Police buildings, fire stations and other locations. It was created after persistent reliability issues with the previous provider. The fiber ‘ring’ connected City-owned facilities throughout town.

Even as the network was being built, local businesses and industries noticed that the City was installing fiber optic lines. Recognizing the technical superiority of fiber, the City heard from several companies that were interested in connecting to the fiber ring. City Council received numerous requests to make the fiber available to businesses and citizens whose needs were not being met with the copper lines that have been serving Wilson for decades.

After market studies and a detailed business plan from two separate consultants, the City determined that there was pent-up demand in Wilson for better communication services, particularly greater bandwidth. Broadband, by its current definition, was already available in Wilson. The FCC defines broadband as 200 Kbps. That speed is woefully inadequate for most of today’s online activity. While technically available from other providers, it simply wasn’t enough.

The City spoke with our two incumbent providers (Time Warner Cable and Embarq) and asked if they would build a FTTP (fiber to the premise) network in Wilson or partner with the City in doing so. Large fortune 500 companies are installing fiber in large metro areas, but it became clear that Wilson and Eastern North Carolina would likely be one of the last areas in our state, if not the country, to see FTTP investment by the private sector. Our location and demographics would not allow the investor-owned monopolies to make enough profit or receive their required return on investment. Embarq agreed to enter talks with the City for a potential partnership. Time Warner Cable turned the City down and began lobbying for State legislation to block Wilson from investing in itself.

In 2007, City Council elected unanimously to make the fiber optic network available to every business and home in the city limits. They believed, and still believe today, that good, dependable, advanced broadband access is critical infrastructure for our future, just as public water and sewer systems have been. They believe that better broadband access would give existing businesses and new businesses a reason to stay or move to Wilson. The City Council held hearings for public comments, and received strong support from many sources, including: Wilson County Schools, Barton College, Wilson Community College, Wilson Medical Center, the Wilson Chamber of Commerce, the Economic Development Council, and numerous businesses and industries including some of our largest employers.

City Council voted unanimously to move forward with the 28-million dollar project. Instead of paying for the project through a tax increase, the Council chose to sell high speed Internet, cable TV, and phone service and let the subscriber revenue cover the cost of the network. Financing was unanimously approved by the North Carolina Local Government Commission and our debt was well-received by the financial markets.

In 2007,  a bill similar to the two that are currently in committee (SB 1004 and HB 1252) was circulated throught the NC House. It failed to pass after several companies including Google and Alcatel-Lucent said it was a bad bill. In 2009, the bills are back. New numbers, but essentially the same thing.

Letter to lawmakers from visitor

Many of you have asked for a letter to send to lawmakers. Here’s one that Lumineux sent today. Thanks, Lumineux.

Hi everyone,

Brian, setting up this blog was a great idea. I have written to the representatives, plus my local representative and senator. Here is what I wrote to them:

I am writing to you to express my strong opposition to NC Senate Bill 1004 and NC House Bill 1252. I understand that the City of Wilson created their broadband after a request was made to Time Warner for faster service, and that request was denied. Wilson was attempting to provide a valuable service, a utility, to its constituents, that they otherwise couldn’t get. This makes a lot of sense. And it may be the right option for other cities and towns in North Carolina. Blocking a municipality’s right to serve its customers is really the issue at hand. To call this bill “leveling the playing field” is laughable. Obviously, Time Warner and Embarq don’t want to deal with competition of any kind, as it would cut into their profit margins, especially this kind of competition. But that’s what capitalism is all about. Asking a government body to regulate competition out of the market is asking for a monopoly. (Or in this case to extend the monopoly they already have.)

It’s just plain wrong for North Carolina to stop its cities and towns from providing services to their constituents. A vote for this bill is a vote to put the interests of big business above the best interests of the citizens of North Carolina. I will not be voting for representatives and senators who care more about business than they do about me.
Also, here is the list from above, consolidated, so people can just cut/paste into their email:,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,

and, you can find your representatives/senators here: just click on house/senate from the menu bar across the top.

Thank you, thank you, thank you.

Folks, you are amazing. The support coming in from so many places is overwhelming; Argentina, New Zealand, Ontario. More than 12,000 hits yesterday.

It’s encouraging to hear from so many people who understand the importance of better broadband. When we first started this network, we ran into a few people who thought their speeds were fast enough. Thanks to the spread of online video and other bandwidth-heavy sites, more people seem to understand that speeds will continue to grow.

Remember when 56K seemed fast? The ubiquitous 5 Mbps in one direction simply won’t be enough soon. It probably isn’t fast enough for many businesses now. Greenlight is all fiber so the speeds can keep up with demand. Our minimum residential speed is 10 Mbps up and down.

Some of you have asked about the backstory with Greenlight. What led the City to create it in the first place? Working on that now and will post it next week.

Also, there are so many incoming comments that I haven’t been able to reply to many. Many have asked for contact information for the Public Utilites Committee. Here it is.

City of Raleigh stands up for better access

The City of Raleigh passed a resolution this week casting doubt on the ‘level playing field’ mentioned in HB 1252.

They understand that these bills (HB 1252/ SB1004) affect every NC city’s and town’s ability to improve communication infrastructure. For instance, the bills would prohibit municipalities from moving funds into or out of its broadband division. Sounds fine, until you learn that under NC law (already in place), cities are not allowed to borrow for operational expenses; only construction.

If this bill were passed, a city could build a network but couldn’t use any of its funds to hire employees to run it. Check mate. It’s a clever tactic to use and sounds good, but would prevent any NC cities from building a broadband network.

Again, cities and towns in NC want the law to remain the same. The cable/phone companies are pushing for the changes.

“How can I help?”

First, let me say thanks to all of you who have offered to help. Your response is overwhelming and we really, truly appreciate it.

If you live in NC, I’ve posted the contact information for the Legislators who will see the bill next, the NC House Public Utilities Commitee. This group did not sponsor the bill. It was sent to them yesterday by the Science & Technology Committee.

To you good people who have made contact from all over the globe, know that your encouragement means more than you realize. Several cities/towns in NC have visited Wilson because they’re considering their own systems, but are afraid to speak up because there’s a huge target on your back when you’re considering this service. Thank you for the encouragement.

One more thing, several people have mentioned their Congressional Representatives. While there is a current debate on national broadband policy, HB 1252 is specifically for cities in North Carolina. Thanks, again.

Do over: House Bill moves to new committee

Okay, folks, this is a bit dry but here’s what happened today. I would have posted sooner, but couldn’t get a decent wireless signal in the legislative office building.

House Bill 1252, the one that would prevent local governments from providing better broadband in NC was -not- voted on today in the Science and Technology Committee. But Brian, you ask, isn’t that where the sponsors were? Yes, it is. But, after talking about several amendments to the bill and hearing from our Mayor and the Mayor of Salisbury, a substitute motion was made to send the bill ‘without prejudice’ to the House Utility Committee. The term ‘without prejudice’ means they weren’t recommending passage or denial, just sending it to another committee.

While this is better than it could have been, the fight isn’t over. Now, the utility committee takes it up and we all start over.

Here’s the part that really surprised me. Several times, members of the committee asked bill sponsors Rep. Ty Harrell (Wake) and Rep. Thom Tillis (Mecklenburg) for clarification. The lawmakers turned to a Time Warner staff member and an attorney who represents the industry to speak on their behalf. You read that right. The sponsors, elected by their communities, had to ask a Time Warner rep to clarify what their own bill said.

Anyway, the debate goes to the Utility Committee. Thanks to Rep. Phillip Haire (Haywood, Jackson, Macon, Swain Counties)  for making the substitute motion that the bill go to another committee.

Thanks to YOU or your encouragement as we continue this battle (as our Mayor puts it) of David versus Goliath and all his cousins.