A battle over the right of municipalities to offer broadband services has erupted for the fifth time in four years in the North Carolina State Legislature.
This time, there’s both a bill that could curb the ability of cities to offer broadband to their residents and an opposing pro-muni bill that would expand the right to offer broadband to county governments. For the first time in the now long-running battle, however, it appears that the anti-muni broadband bill stands a reasonable chance of passing, says N.C. State Rep. Kelly Alexander.
Alexander, a Democrat, is the sponsor of the pro-muni legislation, and he sits on the N.C. House Select Committee on High Speed Internet Access in Rural and Urban Areas. On Feb. 15, based on recommendations of that committee, he introduced a bill “providing that counties have the same authority as cities to engage in public enterprises related to cable television systems.” The bill was passed on first reading the next day and sent to committee, but it since has been foundering, ignored and “sidetracked,” according to Alexander.
Meanwhile, Rep. Marilyn Avila, a Republican and also a member of the committee, has balked at the committee recommendations. On Feb. 16, she re-introduced essentially the same legislation that went down in flames last year, one that its backers insists simply “levels the playing field” between municipalities and private companies.
The bill, this year called “An act to protect jobs and investment by regulating local government competition with private business,” strictly controls the ability of municipalities to fund broadband services. It prevents such financing techniques as using seed money from other municipal services. That bill was passed on first reading on Feb. 21, and also sent to committee; in contrast, however, hearings on it are starting almost immediately.