Whether short-tempered by the heat or ready to wipe his hands of the controversy surrounding broadband bill H 1209, state Sen. David Hoyle, D-Gaston, took matters into his hands this past Wednesday, and rolled his anti-municipal broadband bill that was in the first House Committee chaired by Rep. Bill Faison, D-Orange, Caswell counties, into the eNC extension HB 1840. The purpose of HB 1840 was to repeal e-NC’s December 2011 Sunset provisions.
Placing HB 1804 on the Senate Calendar without any advanced warning, Holye obtained a Senate vote passing it on the floor 46 to 1, with Democrat Bob Atwater being the only Triangle senator to oppose the bill, June 23.
House Speaker Joe Hackney calls Hoyle’s move to hijack HB 1840 a familiar tactic. “You take a bill that has something that everyone wants, and attach something to it that some people don’t want and try to force the House to take it,” he said. HB 1804 was sent to the Rules Committee, and that says Speaker Hackney, “is where I send bills to park them.”
Kelli Kukura, director of government affairs at the North Carolina League of Municipalities calls Hoyle’s move, “an attempt to pressure the House.” According to Speaker Hackney, eNC was anticipating a vote by Wednesday, June 30, so they could apply for a Recovery Act grant, but now a “new” clean version of HB 1840 must be introduced. “We do want to get the eNC extension in,” he said, “but we have get in a clean bill before that happens.”
The anti-municipal broadband bill with an attached moratorium halts all new broadband projects from getting off (or under) the ground. And while the City of Salisbury who had already began their project is exempt from the moratorium, Doug Paris, City of Salisbury assistant to the City Manager, calls the issue much bigger than Salisbury. “This is of statewide consequence,” he said. “We have significant holes in North Carolina where there is no high-speed internet access, and the General Assembly has tried to fix this for years.”
The City of Salisbury spent five-years studying ways to provide community broadband, they asked AT&T and Time Warner Cable to either provide the service or partner with them before moving forward, “That would have been our preference, but they declined,” said Paris. “We have large areas of our city with no access, including significant parts of our downtown and industrial areas,” said Paris. “We have had a large number of citizen complaints about this over the years, the excuse they get from the cable company is that it is “too expensive to extend you service” – this has been holding back small business development in Salisbury for years.” But no longer, the City of Salisbury is finishing construction and testing of their new state-of-the-art fiber-optic system with speeds up to 100Mbps up/down called Fibrant (www.fibrant.com), and Paris is passionate that other towns and communities have the same opportunity as Salisbury. “Not only are the private providers unwilling to serve these areas, but they are now trying to stop anyone else from serving these areas,” he said. “That is not right, it is downright greedy. A true David versus Goliath issue.”
While HB 1840 sits parked in a time-out, Rep. Faison is currently working on a version of Sen. Hoyle’s bills that would not include the controversial moratorium. “Sen. Hoyle wants to ramp the pressure on us in the House who don’t want the moratorium,” said Speaker Hackney, “but I believe we will manage to resolve this issue one way or another.”