According to a piece in FierceTelecom, AT&T, Time Warner and CenturyLink all support a bill in North Carolina's legislature that would impede the ability of municipalities in that state to set up broadband networks.
Here's a link to the bill, which appears to have passed the North Carolina House of Representatives and is now in a committee of the North Carolina Senate.
The bill appears to be driven by fright and dismay at the prospect that a public, municipal communications service might be more efficient and cheaper than what a private cable company might provide.
Here are some of the requirements that the bill proposes be applied to municipalities in North Carolina that might want to set up a "communications service" (more on what that term means further below):
- "Limit the provision of communications service to within the corporate limits of the city providing the communications service."
- '[P]rovide nondiscriminatory access to private communications service providers on a first-come, first-served basis to rights-of-way, poles, or conduits owned, leased, or operated by the city unless the facilities have insufficient capacity for the access and additional capacity cannot reasonably be added to the facilities."
- "[N]ot air advertisements or other promotions for the city-owned communications service on a public, educational, or governmental access channel if the city requires another communications service provider to carry the channel."
- "[N]ot subsidize the provision of communications service with funds from any other noncommunications service, operation, or other revenue source, including any funds or revenue generated from electric, gas, water, sewer, or garbage services."
- "[N]ot price any communications service below the cost of providing the service . . . ."
- "[A]nnually remit to the general fund of the city an amount equivalent to all taxes or fees a private communications service provider would be required to pay the city . . . ."
Now, the definition of "communications service" is pretty interesting. It means "[t]he provision of cable, video programming, telecommunications, broadband, or high-speed Internet access service to the public, or any sector of the public, for a fee, regardless of the technology used to deliver the service." So far, so straightforward. However, "[n]either the sharing of data or voice between governmental entities for internal governmental purposes nor the provision of free services to the public or a subset thereof shall be considered the provision of communications service." (Emphasis added.)
I'm too far removed from North Carolina to understand its politics, but the way "communications service" is defined in this bill suggests that a North Carolina municipality might yet be able to provide broadband to its citizens without charge - though presumably those citizens would need to tax themselves to pay for it.
That said, the North Carolina bill has the air of religious dogma about it. Regressive policy, selling short the local citizenry in order to favor out of state corporate interests, all slipped under cover of free market pablum.
Here's a very interesting opinion piece the Google found for me about this North Carolina bill, written by Mark Turner. Mr. Turner likens what municipalities in North Carolina are doing, by providing broadband to areas underserved by private carriers, to rural electrification brought by FDR's New Deal. "The Internet is no less transformational than electricity," he reasons.
Photo: "Rural Electrification Administration co-op office, Lafayette, Louisiana, 1939," by Peter Sakaer. Source: National Archives.