The Community Broadband Fight In North Carolina

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 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 . . . .


  1. Hold on, cowboy. The map only covers commercial-grade broadband services, such as dedicated DSL, T1, EOC, and DS3. According to that map, DSL costs $115-310 in San Jose, way outside the range of consumer-grade services.

    For consumers, it’s showing the high cost of backhaul to companies like TWC who often have to purchase DS3s from the local telco. NC has challenging geography, a hill billy population, and low take takes for broadband Internet; I grew up in that part of the country, and I can tell you stories.

    The bills don’t prohibit muni broadband to unserved areas, but they do make it hard for the city to add a second broadband service that’s more or less equivalent to an incumbent offering without an election to authorize it and a straightforward plan to pay off the bonds. It’s a lot more progressive than a ban on government networks and a necessary law in a state where local governments have a history of buying white elephants from smooth operators.

  2. Dig deeper Mr. Bennett and look beyond the money Time Warner has given you (only $20,000??) If you used to live here you would never advocate for this bill unless you wanted to send NC into the dark ages. Our rural areas have lost our tobacco, manufacturing and textile base. This bill denies us the bbnd infrastructure we need to compete globally. It limits who can provide broadband service in our rural areas ONLY to the private companies who have already told us our homes are too far apart, our incomes too low to meet their profit requirements. You have not read H129 and are not an expert on municipal systems. H129 imposes onerous and illegal regulations only on municipal providers of broadband services – NOT on the private companies, who successfully removed all such regulation of their voice and data systems years ago. H129 does not create new “guidelines” or rules that did not exist. Munis who provide these services have been playing by the same “rules” as the private sector, because these services are regulated (deregulated) by service NOT by provider. Municipalities in our state already have to go to a State agency -the Local Gvt Commission – which if you lived here you would know is a very conservative commission – who must grant the approval of these bonds before anything is built. And if you were a muni bbnd expert you would see that these systems are hugely sucessful, lead to more affordable and plentiful broadband services. And if they were the white elephants you claim, why is TWC so obsessed with passing this bill when they would be the beneficiaries if the muni systems failed…catching all those abandoned subscribers?? They’d just sit back and wait….Instead they are all over the halls of the General Assembly, huddling with Centurylink lobbyists with frothing mouths to get into our legislators offices. They wrote the bill – they clearly wrote your paycheck. Try living here without broadband. You could not even write your blog, sir. And your kids could not do their homework…Watch their faces when they ask you to drive them to the library so they can do their homework. Please stay out of our state with your distortions.

  3. I grow weary of hearing Mr. Bennett make these false claims.

    Mr. Bennett hates the idea of overbuilding, perhaps because it suggests that the telecom industry does not have the robust competition his organization and similar industry-funded groups constantly claim.

    There is no history of failed muni networks, only a history of lies about these networks spread by people like Mr. Bennett who side time and time again with the powerful companies who want to control the incredibly powerful pipes of the future.

    And the idea that just because the chart demonstrates how incumbents are fleecing the business market (rather than demonstrating exactly how they are fleecing subscribers directly) somehow suggests that the Legislature should pass this bill to help Time Warner Cable and other operators avoid competition is absurd.

    Bennett’s claims about the modesty of this bill are also off. The bill is designed to appear modest to TWC-funded politicians so they can claim they are just making some minor changes while they know the provisions will make it all but impossible to build new community networks, depriving communities of an essential tool for economic development in the 21st century.

  4. Richard’s point is not out of line, but it doesn’t justify the bill. Sure, it’s expensive to do backhaul in the area. But all the more reason to promote alternatives.

  5. I too am tired of Telco (Wireline/Wireless) and Cable apologists (and industry shills) making excuses for not providing Fiber To The Home (FTTH). Hey you Telcos promised Fiber and received tax dollars for that back in the 1990s. Where’s the Fiber?

    If your community can NOT bring in this job saving, job adding, small business building infrastructure called MUNI or FTTH to your community its because the industry in your community is paying your elected officials to prevent it. They call it lobbying. If they are unsuccessful lobbying your local elected officials as they were in Wilson, NC; Salisbury, NC; Lafayette, LA; Chattanooga, TN and 16 communities throughout Utah what do they do next?

    Yes shocking as it is, Telco-Cable-Cellular lobbyist attempt to pass laws preventing businesses from expanding in the state or coming into the state. Shocking I know.

    Historically this has failed in North Carolina, it will be interesting to see if the millions spent thanks to Citizen’s United vs FEC will be able to overcome that 5 year positive track record of saying NO to the Telco and Cable companies or if this year, things will change?

    They are not waiting to see if they succeed in North Carolina, these companies are passing laws via their paid Republican, Tea Party, Libertarian and Democratic bought-and-paid-for Senators and Congressman at the national level in Washington D.C.

    As the post mentions, the incumbent oligopoly (Telco and Cable) in North Carolina has been trying to prevent companies like Greenlight (Wilson N.C.), Prime Time (UT, KS, MS), FiberNet, Fuzecore and Nuvont (UT) from providing you what they will NOT, synchronous Fiber To The Home (FTTH). With the emphasis on synchronous, the same upstream as downstream.

    I sincerely hope that they are unsuccessful in North Carolina and begin to change and repeal anti small business laws already on the books in over 32 states of the United States of America. 4 states have Outright bands; 3 states have De Facto bans and over 11 states have Various Barriers. While 32 states supposedly have no barriers, I think that number is actually high. There are probably lower than 32 states that have no Barriers to Internet broadband competition in their state, specifically laws preventing or hindering FTTH build-outs.

    Perhaps whether or not a community has FTTH will tell you if a community’s elected officials are on the take. After all if the Telco-Cable-Cellular Oligopoly can buy up your local politicians than other multi-national mega corporations can as well. Duh moment there.

    For those chaffing that I put Democrats in the same category as all the others, do your homework, look at the 40% of Democrats that prevented a law from coming to the floor for a vote that would have required companies to disclose 100% of their political donations directly and indirectly (negative campaign ads). Those Democrats joined 98% of Republicans and probably all the Tea Partiers and probably all the Libertarians in preventing that law from even being voted on. Democratic, yea right, not even allowing to to be voted on? Two Republicans that were NOT running for re-election voted to create this much needed law in the light of Citizen’s United vs FEC.

    Think about it, I know I am as are many of my friends, all of which do vote!

  6. I covered local government here in NC–they actually don’t want to be burdened with the whole thing. One person’s “freedom to” is another person’s “freedom from.”


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