After two false starts, the Senate Finance Committee finally put bill S1209 on the agenda, and after less than 30 minutes of discussion and no public comment, voted in favor of the bill. It proceeds to the Direct Revenue Laws committee for additional study. (At the time of this post, details of the vote and the amended bill had not been posted on the General Assembly website.)
The bill’s title—“No Nonvoted Local Debt For Competing System”—hides the measure’s true intent: to kill cities’ and towns’ authority to build high-speed Internet systems that could compete with the telecommunications companies. It sponsored by Sens. David Hoyle, Dan Blue (a Wake County Democrat), Peter Brunstetter, Fletcher Hartsell, Clark Jenkins, and Jerry Tillman.
The bill’s language was revised this past week to include a moratorium. If the bill becomes law, the moratorium would extend through August 2011 when the legislature’s long session ends, thus buying the telecommunications companies time to flex their political muscle.
The moratorium carefully exempts current broadband systems like those built in Wilson and Salisbury, but affects cities that did not launch their own broadband feasibility study, before yesterday, June 1. Provisions of the revised bill include informing the industry (i.e., AT&T, Embarq, Time Warner Cable, etc.) when a city or town is considering creating its own system.
Hoyle introduced the “anti” municipality broadband bill nearly a month ago at the Revenue Laws Study Committee. He called the bill a “good one since neither side likes it” and admitted he wasn’t all that fond of it himself.
While Hoyle calls North Carolina a state known internationally a business friendly, he overlooked the necessity of successful businesses having high-speed connectivity.
Today, commenting on his bill, Hoyle focused on his “philosophical” ideals: that government should not compete with private enterprise. He said allowing municipal broadband systems creates, “uncontrolled competition on an un-level playing field.”
Municipal cable and broadband consultant Catharine Rice of Action Audits said it’s important to remember Time Warner Cable is a multi-million dollar business, adding that Sen. Hoyle’s “fairness” argument is misguided.
“This is a sad day for our state,” said Rice. “Especially, when we saw yesterday that China plans to bring fiber to the homes of its citizens by the end of the year—that’s 18 million homes—yet in North Carolina we just had legislation passed that stops cities that want to bring fiber to their citizens homes.”
Sen. Joe Sam Queen, a Democrat representing Avery, Haywood, Madison, McDowell, Mitchell, and Yancey counties, spoke out against the bill. “The private sector is not getting it done fast enough for my taste,” he said citing the educational opportunities children in rural areas he represents need internet connectivity—connectivity the telecommunications companies are slow to provide.
Sen. William Purcell, a Democrat representing Anson, Richmond, Scotland, and Stanly counties had one question Sen. Hoyle: “What insurance do we have that the big companies supplying cable won’t overlook the small less profitable markets and cities in N.C.?”
Hoyle casually replied: “The same reason small cities shouldn’t get into the broadband business to begin with.”
Purcell ended his comments by saying, “I hope that in the end we do keep small rural communities in mind. They need it [broadband] just as much as the cities do.”