Battle of the Unpopulars

Who do you hate more: your municipal government or your phone/cable/internet company? The answer to that question probably depends on which one failed you or which one's bill you most recently grumbled about paying, but after reading about a battle in the NC legislature over the ability of municipalities to provide high speed internet, you might be surprised at how you feel about your local government. From "The Empire Lobbies Back":

After a city in North Carolina built a Fiber-to-the-Home network competing with Time Warner Cable, the cable giant successfully lobbied to take that decision away from other cities.

The city of Wilson’s decision and resulting network was recently examined in a case study by Todd O’Boyle and Christopher Mitchell titled Carolina’s Connected Community: Wilson Gives Greenlight to Fast Internet. The new report picks up with Wilson’s legacy: an intense multiyear lobbying campaign by Time Warner Cable, AT&T, CenturyLink, and others to bar communities from building their own networks. The report examines how millions of dollars bought restrictions that encourage cable and DSL monopolies rather than new choices for residents and businesses…

Big cable and DSL companies try year after year to create barriers to community­‐owned networks. They only have to succeed once; because of their lobbying might, they have near limitless power to stop future bills that would restore local authority. North Carolina’s residents and businesses are now stuck with higher prices and less opportunity for economic development due to these limitations on local authority.

The report, which details industries efforts over the years that eventually resulted in the 2011 legislation that effectively banned municipal netorks, can be found here – and yes it's fairly biased, but still raises some really good points. One excerpt:

Far from providing a "level playing field" the Act has stifled public investment in community broadband networks and no one anticipates a local government building a network as long as it remains in effect. This reality should trouble all in North Carolina, as it cannot be globally, or even regionally, competitive simply by relying on last-generation connections from Time Warner Cable, CenturyLink, or AT&T.

Cities near the border of North Carolina, including Danville, Virginia; Chattanooga, Tennessee; and Bristol in both Tennessee and Virginia all offer gigabit services via municipal utilities. Chattanooga's minimum network spped of 50 Mbps both downstream and upstream dwarfs what is available from DSL or cable networks. Many east coast communities outside of the Carolinas have access to Verizon's fiber optic FiOS, which also dramatically outperforms cable and DSL services. Services from AT&T, Time Warner Cable, and CenturyLink cannot compare to the services offered on modern networks.

Sounds like we in the Carolinas are doomed to live in a digital backwater for the foreseeable future. Perhaps municipal networks aren't the answer, but in this era of intense competition between states/cities to recruit new businesses wouldn't it be nice if our municipalities had kick-butt networks in their economic development quivers? And if the private sector can't provide it do we really want our cities/towns hamstrung by the inability to provide it themselves?

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