The problem with fighting extremely bad corporate-sponsored legislation is that it has a distressing tendency to re-emerge time and again long after a human being would have gotten a clue and gone away. So it is with the fight by corporate carriers against local governments providing any sort of broadband. Most of us thought this fight over about 5 years ago, when the majority of carriers realized that municipal networks not only were not a threat, but were potential customers. Since then, excluding the occasional flair up around projects like Lafayette’s fiber build, things have generally been quiet on this front. As a result, we have a number of useful munibroadband networks (see this map) and, surprise surprise, big carriers continue to make money hand over fist.
Alas, some big carriers never give up their big dreams of squashing all who oppose them and crushing the life out of anyone who might show them up. So it is with Time Warner Cable in North Carolina. TWC’s allies in the NC state legislature tried year after year to get legislation banning local governments from providing broadband in communities where private companies haven’t bothered or do a dreadful job. Every year, a coalition of the tech community and local governments would refight the same fight and manage to kill the bill again.
But to TWC’s great delight, Novemeber 2010 ushered in a new generation of Tea Party Republicans who intend to show their respect for localism and small town virtues by kicking the crap out local governments that try to bring broadband to the people. As a result, the North Carolina House has now passed this job-killing piece of corporate welfare designed to protect helpless providers like TWC from small towns and rural areas they don’t want to serve. An equally awful version now seems ready to pass in the North Carolina Senate.
A bit more detail, and how we can do our part to save municipal broadband below . . . .
One may wonder why TWC in North Carolina (as opposed to anywhere else in the country), has been so gosh darned persistent in trying to stop local governments from providing any sort of broadband or even keep them from partnering with nonprofits (as this bill would do) to provide broadband for their citizens? After all, cities and towns generally don’t look to offer services where the private sector does an even halfway decent job. So why hasn’t TWC North Carolina followed the example of all other incumbents (including TWC everywhere else) and simply let this matter drop?
The answer lies in the new broadband map released by Bandwidth.com. It turns out that, despite the presence of the high-tech Research Triangle, is incredibly expensive and incredibly crappy. So no shocker that after years of shocking neglect of its customers, TWC North Carolina faces some local outrage and more than a few citizens are willing to take matters into their own hands and build their own broadband networks. Worse, these terrible, awful, clearly inferior because government can do nothing right municipal broadband systems offer better speeds at better prices. The not only makes TWC NC look bad, it gives their captive audience choices. Curse you consumer choice and free market!
That explains TWC NC and why this incumbent is different from all other incumbents. What is less explicable is why the North Carolina legislature, after years of rejecting this nonsense, decided to plunge into it whole hog. Or, put another way, since when did the North Carolina Tea Party go from being all about small town virtues and keeping big government away from our freedom and yadda yadda yadda and become cartoonish puppets of special interest? Well, if the Daily Show is to be believed, generally within three months after getting elected.
Mind you, it’s not only Tea Party types getting in on the action. As this piece points out, all the incumbent telcos (not just TWC) have been spreading the wealth around. Still, there seems to be some sort of bizarre streak in the new Republican dominated North Carolina Legislature that just seems to hate technology. In previous years, broadband supporters have generally managed to stop the anti-munibroadband bill by bringing in a phalanx of tech companies and trade associations like Alcatel-Lucent and the Telecommunications Industry Association to explain why getting in the way of building more broadband networks is bad for the economy and bad for business. For the new Republican dominated legislature, however, tech jobs are apparently not real jobs. Perhaps this is because Tea Party types have also conceived a deep, personal hatred of Google (which also opposes the bill) — and I suppose by extension all things tech.
In any event, to recap, the new Republican legislature in North Carolina:
1. Intends to show its deep respect for Real American small town local values by stomping the crap out of small towns and rural communities by preventing them from offering broadband.
2. Cares deeply about jobs, but not about tech jobs. Or jobs created by local governments operating broadband networks. Because apparently, those jobs have Google cooties.
3. Wants to limit the power of government — to offer your services you vote for and pay for locally. To do that, they will move one level up to higher government and expand state government power to squash local governments.
Again, the utter bizarreness of this is that, traditionally, pro-business Republicans loved municipal broadband. It was part of the great, local American success stories of local Republican small town mayors getting together to solve community problems without looking to the Federal government to bail them out. In 2006, the freaking Texas legislature, which is hardly a bastion of socialist sympathizers, rejected efforts by cable and telcos to pass similar legislation because it was bad for business and bad for local communities and was an unwarranted exercise of big government and stuff.
I get that a lot of Republican members of the North Carolina legislature are new, and apparently are confused about what real Republicans actually do. So let me reassure you: REAL REPUBLICANS DO NOT LIKE ANTI-MUNIBROADBAND BILLS! Real Republican legislatures in states so red the make stop signs look pale have rejected bills like this. Hardcore Republican mayors that hate big government actually build and operate municipal broadband networks, because these are local solutions to real problems. It’s about people coming together to solve a problem instead of looking for a handout. It’s about creating jobs. It’s about the spirit that built America and makes us competitive. You know — all that shit you ran on to get elected!!!!
So now is the time for North Carolinians, Republican and Democratic alike, to rise and collectively give a mighty bitch slap to their elected representatives and tell them “Hey! We sent you to Raleigh to create jobs and stuff, not take corporate campaign contributions and shaft us! We want the right to build our own broadband systems if we want to SO BACK OFF!!
Meanwhile, in a future post, I will address what we outside of North Carolina can do to help out.
Stay tuned . . . .