Monopoly Protection Bill Passes

freepress.net
Media Minutes for May 27, 2011
Producers: Stevie Converse, Candace Clement, Megan Tady

In North Carolina, a new law severely restricts the ability of communities to build their own broadband networks. Pushed through the North Carolina legislature by Internet providers Time Warner and CenturyLink, the bill allows existing community networks to continue but makes it illegal for them to expand into new territory.

Brian Bowman is the public affairs manager for the city of Wilson, N.C. Wilson has a successful community fiber optic network called Greenlight, which now serves 6,000 residents and local businesses.

Brian Bowman: Our current members don’t have to worry about losing any services, we’ll continue to provide them. However we’ve had quite a few folks from outside Wilson County who have asked about possible partnerships with Wilson. You know, just some way to try to get that infrastructure to them because we’re the only ones in this part of the state who have an all-fiber network. That can’t happen now. We’re pretty much landlocked within our county.

This was the fourth attempt by cable lobbyists to protect their turf by outlawing newer, faster, cheaper networks.

Brian Bowman: There were a lot of folks calling this the “Monopoly Protection Bill” because essentially what it’ s going to do, the effect is gonna be that a lot of communities in North Carolina, in fact most communities in North Carolina will not have a choice now. They’ll be stuck with cable, if they get it, or DSL -- if they can get it. Some folks may be stuck with dialup and satellite for the foreseeable future.

Gov. Bev Purdue did not veto the bill but made it clear that she was not in favor of it. She asked the legislature to revisit the bill to give communities more options.

Brian Bowman: We do know that the cable companies’ lobbyists are very close to a lot of the lawmakers in Raleigh, and they’re not going to stop. I imagine that next year they’ll come up with a bill that would try to go even deeper into local broadband networks in North Carolina. So I doubt this is over yet. I would be surprised if they’d be willing to give any ground.

Joel Kelsey, policy analyst for Free Press, says that the North Carolina law is at odds with the federal stance on community broadband. A bipartisan coalition of senators introduced federal legislation to protect community broadband efforts a few years ago, and the National Broadband Plan calls for that protection as well.

Joel Kelsey: I think it is time for the federal government to revisit this question and come in and protect the communities in North Carolina from this ill-founded and corporate- funded legislation...because we know one thing -- and that’ s that the private companies aren’t going to go there any time soon.