Victory for Municipal Broadband in NC

Posted by Sam Churchill on

Craig Settles, author of Fighting the Next Good Fight for Broadband: A Planning Guide, has breaking news on municipal broadband legislation in North Carolina and its implications.

Victory in North Carolina

By Craig Settles

Supporters of community broadband won two decisive victories within 24 hours. Wow! In classic David vs Goliath style, the town of Wilson, North Carolina took the fight to Time Warner to turn back that company’s anti-community broadband legislation in the state House Wednesday, and the state Senate this morning.

Even though the bills that would have prevented communities in N. Carolina from building or partnering in broadband networks weren’t killed outright (they were sent to committee for study), this is still great news for broadband in the state. It also has positive implications for the broadband stimulus grant program nationwide.

N. Carolina was the second state this year in which legislative allies of incumbent telco and cable companies introduced legislation to prevent local government from initiating network projects. Pennsylvania is the other, with Verizon being the incumbent beneficiary there. Proposed bills in both states specifically prevent municipalities from taking broadband stimulus money.

If you connect the dots, driven by a smidgeon of conspiracy theorist anxiety, you realize the incumbents fear broadband grant disbursement rules favoring community-driven networks. A town such as Wilson with a 100 mbps symmetrical network successfully built and managed by the municipality would be the poster child for all those communities getting grants. Incumbents’ only course is to get state legislators to shut down that avenue since they can’t seem to deliver better networks or better service.

There’s no doubt in my mind that had Time Warner won in N. Carolina, similar bills would have popped up across the country, blunting the broadband bill’s potential impact. That this N. Carolina legislation even received serious consideration testifies to the need for a Congressional mandate protecting community broadband networks from incumbents incapable of competing on a field already tilted in their favor.

Now that the good guys and gals have won these two rounds, it’s time to capitalize on, rather than become intoxicated by, the latest victory. The spotlight on Wilson this past month showed the entire state and the nation what real broadband is. Think about it. 100 megabits is blazing speed most communities only dreamed! They now see the dream can be a reality. How hallow those incumbent excuses for why they can’t build fast broadband to rural areas.

The networks in Wilson and other N. Carolina cities also demonstrate why final rules for the stimulus grant program need to favor local communities. The economic and other benefits these networks are producing are perfect examples of what happens when the people with broadband needs are the ones to find the best solutions for those needs. New jobs are created, local businesses expand their marketing worldwide, new businesses with good paying jobs come to town.

It’s rather ironic that supporters anointed their bill as one to level the playing field for Time Warner. Personally, if I ran a bezillion dollar company and a town of 50,000 with no prior technology business expertise built a network 10 times faster than my best offering, I’d be embarrassed to claim any part of that legislation.

If they want to level the playing field, maybe Time Warner should outsource their engineering department to Wilson.

Craig Settles

Craig Settles is an industry analyst, President of broadband strategy consulting firm and author of “Fighting the Next Good Fight for Broadband: A Planning Guide”.

Posted by Sam Churchill on Thursday, May 7th, 2009 at 9:16 am .

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