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Municipal Broadband Attacked in North Carolina

 

With the US lagging behind most of the developed world with less Internet access and slower speed connections, it's somewhat outrageous that any state government would block communities from extending broadband access to their citizens-- but North Carolina is now debating HB 1587, which is being promoted by the North Carolina Cable Telecommunications Association to stop local communities from owning and subsidizing access to community-run telecommunications systems.

Last year, North Carolina passed a "video franchise" bill on the promise that this would speed broadband deployment in the state. Instead, local governments have seen a 27.8 percent drop in cable TV taxes, with little evidence of expanded broadband offerings at the local level. There were no requirements in the legislation that cable or telecom companies build out broadband access to rural or economically depressed areas-- and so the companies haven't. And now those same companies are pushing legislation that would prevent local North Carolina governments from spending their own tax money to extend Internet access to their residents.   

Across the country, corporate interests a few years ago began lobbying states to shut down municipal Internet programs. While a number of states passed the corporate bills, most refused. However, earlier this year Wyoming passed a law to restrict public broadband Internet systems and the industry has turned its eyes on North Carolina as the next target with HB 1587.

North Carolina organizations like NC PIRG, NC Justice CenterAARP, and NC Counties Association have condemned the bill locally and, at the national level, U.S. Rep. Rick Boucher, D-Va. has been so appalled at this corporate-backed attempted shutdown of community broadband that he has drafted a federal bill to keep states from putting up barriers to public Internet access. "Broadband is every bit as essential as electricity was when it was emerging 100 years ago," Boucher says.

While the North Carolina bill received some initial committee approval, hopefully the rest of the legislature will let the bill die in committee-- and thereby let the option of municipal broadband live.  

 

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