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North Carolina munis challenge broadband bill
A collection of municipal utilities in North Carolina is
challenging state legislation that would make it nearly
impossible for such utilities to provide broadband services to
their customers, reviving a debate that took place two years ago
in the state.
The legislation, H.B. 1252, is set for a hearing (April 15) in the
House Committee on Science and Technology, but it would
have to pass through two other committees — Public Utilities
and Finance — in the House before passage and consideration
with identical legislation (S.B. 1004) in the state Senate, said
Catharine Rice, vice president at the Southeast Association of
Telecommunication Officers and Advisors.
The legislation is being pushed by cable and telecom
broadband providers, and among other restrictions it would
prohibit municipal utilities from using federal stimulus
funding for broadband deployment while subjecting
municipal utilities to regulations and funding requirements
not imposed on private companies, said Rice. With
unemployment around 12% in the state and broadband
deployment in rural areas lacking, “this is a seriously bad bill
for the future of North Carolina,” Rice said.
The legislation, sponsored by Representative Ty Herrell
and others, would saddle municipalities, even those that want
to partner with private firms, with onerous rules, including
reporting, auditing and accounting requirements that telecom
providers know would halt municipal broadband
deployments in their tracks, said Rice.
The restriction on using any of the $7 billion in broadband
funding that was part of the American Recovery and
Reinvestment Act is particularly galling for municipalities in an
era when broadband availability is a vital link to economic
development, Rice said.
At the federal level, the American Public Power Association
is pushing legislation that would restrict states from imposing
restrictions on municipal utilities. The Community Broadband
Act has been introduced in the House and Senate in the past
several years and Representative Rick Boucher, Democrat from
Virginia and Senator Frank Lautenberg, Democrat from New
Jersey, intend to introduce the legislation again this year, said
Corry Marshall, government affairs representative for APPA.
APPA held an information session for municipalities looking
to use stimulus funding for broadband deployment and there
was great interest in the session among APPA members,
Some 15 states already have some type of restriction on
municipalities providing broadband/communication services,
and “I hope that the barriers proposed in North Carolina
remind members of Congress of the need to pass the
Community Broadband Act,” said Jim Baller, a Washington
attorney who represents municipal utilities.
In North Carolina, “we can’t wait for Congress” and will
challenge the House and Senate measures, Rice said. A similar bill
was approved by one House committee two years ago but was
defeated in a second committee, she pointed out. — Tom Tiernan
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