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Tell New North Carolina Legislature that Supporting Munibroadband Is Bipartisan

March 28, 2011 , , , ,

The problem with fighting extremely bad corporate-sponsored legislation is that it has a distressing tendency to re-emerge time and again long after a human being would have gotten a clue and gone away. So it is with the fight by corporate carriers against local governments providing any sort of broadband. Most of us thought this fight over about 5 years ago, when the majority of carriers realized that municipal networks not only were not a threat, but were potential customers.

Alas, some big carriers never give up their big dreams of squashing all who oppose them and crushing the life out of anyone who might show them up. So it is with Time Warner Cable in North Carolina (but not Time Warner Cable anywhere else), with cheering from the sidelines by AT&T and CenturyLink (again, only in NC). TWC’s allies in the NC state legislature tried year after year to get legislation banning local governments from providing broadband in communities where private companies haven’t bothered or do a dreadful job. Every year, a coalition of the tech community and local governments would refight the same fight and manage to kill the bill again.

In 2010, the North Carolina legislature shifted to Republican control. Now this should not have made much difference. One can find plenty of Republicans who oppose limiting the ability of local governments to offer services to their citizens, just as one can find plenty of Democrats happy to support the position of the local telco and/or cable incumbent. As this piece points out, all the incumbent telcos (not just TWC) have been spreading the wealth around. Nevertheless, the influx of new Republicans seems determined to show their respect for localism and small town virtues by kicking that crap out of local governments trying to bring service to their communities.

Indeed, there seems to be some sort of bizarre streak in the new Republican dominated North Carolina Legislature that just seems to hate technology — a position at odds with traditinal republicans who embraced Silicon Valley Libertairans. In previous years, broadband supporters have generally managed to stop the anti-munibroadband bill by bringing in a phalanx of tech companies and trade associations like Alcatel-Lucent and the Telecommunications Industry Association to explain why getting in the way of building more broadband networks is bad for the economy and bad for business. For the new Republican dominated legislature, however, tech jobs are apparently not real jobs. Perhaps this is because Tea Party types have also conceived a deep, personal hatred of Google (which also opposes the bill) — and I suppose by extension all things tech.

In any event, to recap, the new Republican legislature in North Carolina:

1. Intends to show its deep respect for Real American small town local values by stomping  the crap out of small towns and rural communities by preventing them from offering broadband.

2. Cares deeply about jobs, but not about tech jobs. Or jobs created by local governments operating broadband networks. Because apparently, those jobs have Google cooties.

3. Wants to limit the power of government — to offer you services you vote for and pay for locally. To do that, they will move one level up to higher government and expand state government power to squash local governments.

Sadly, this has already passed the North Carolina House of Representatives, and is now pending before the North Carolina Senate.

Again, the utter bizarreness of this is that, traditionally, pro-business Republicans loved municipal broadband. It was part of the great, local American success stories of local Republican small town mayors getting together to solve community problems without looking to the Federal government to bail them out. In 2006, the freaking Texas legislature, which is hardly a bastion of socialist sympathizers, rejected efforts by cable and telcos to pass similar legislation because it was bad for business and bad for local communities and was an unwarranted exercise of big government and stuff.

I get that a lot of Republican members of the North Carolina legislature are new, and apparently are confused about what real Republicans actually do. So let me reassure you: REAL REPUBLICANS DO NOT LIKE ANTI-MUNIBROADBAND BILLS! Real Republican legislatures in states so red they make stop signs look pale have rejected bills like this. Hardcore Republican mayors that hate big government actually build and operate municipal broadband networks, because these are local solutions to real problems. It’s about people coming together to solve a problem instead of looking for a handout. It’s about creating jobs. It’s about the spirit that built America and makes us competitive. You know — all that stuff you ran on to get elected!!!!

So now is the time for North Carolinians, Republican and Democratic alike, to rise and collectively smack their elected representatives with the Clue-by-4 of Reason and tell them “Hey! We sent you to Raleigh to create jobs and stuff, not take corporate campaign contributions and shaft us! We want the right to build our own broadband systems if we want to SO BACK OFF!!

Folks interested in helping North Carolinia elected officials see the blinding light of reason should consult this page at Stopthecap.com. Go do it. No doubt your elected official will thank you after you have stopped him or her from accidentally doing something really stupid.


About Harold Feld

Harold Feld is Public Knowledge’s Senior Vice President and author of “The Case for the Digital Platform Act,” a guide to what government can do to preserve competition and empower individual users in the huge swath of our economy now referred to as “Big Tech.” Former FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler described this book as, “[...] a tour de force of the issues raised by the digital economy and internet capitalism.” For more than 20 years, Feld has practiced law at the intersection of technology, broadband, and media policy in both the private sector and in the public interest community. Feld has an undergraduate degree from Princeton University, a law degree from Boston University, and clerked for the D.C. Court of Appeals. Feld also writes “Tales of the Sausage Factory,” a progressive blog on media and telecom policy. In 2007, Illinois Senator Dick Durbin praised him and his blog for “[doing] a lot of great work helping people understand how FCC decisions affect people and communities on the ground.”