Esme Vos, proprietor of MuniWireless.com, may have put it best when she wrote, “I thought these anti-muni broadband bills were a thing of the past, like platform shoes. Unfortunately, they are back, like platform shoes.”
She’s referring to North Carolina’s House Bill 1587, which harkens back to previous years when telecom companies and existing broadband providers pushed for laws in states like Pennsylvania and Louisiana — even nationally — that would limit competition from municipalities. MuniWireless.com, which just wrapped its 2007 conference near Boston, has been covering the latest bill since its inception.
Going by the title “The Local Gov’t Fair Competition Act,” the bill would “establish requirements for local governments that provide communications services to the public.” A lobbyist for Time Warner Cable said to WRAL.com out of Raleigh what others have said before: “It’s an issue of fair competition and local government not using their taxing and borrowing authority in a way that gives them a competitive advantage over private business.”
As passed this week by the North Carolina House Public Utilities Committee, the bill doesn’t totally shut down the possibility of muni networks, but the requirements it sets forth come close. One change since the original bill was proposed in April is that instead of setting a four-year timetable for being cash flow positive for a project, the bill now says it must be in “such time to be consistent with commercial practices for similar projects.” Vos says, “The substitute language would have essentially the same detrimental effects as the language it replaces.” That would work against any network, be it fiber optic, wireless, or otherwise.
Vos calls HB1587 “bad for the communities of North Carolina and bad for United States as a whole. It is particularly offensive because it is touted as being necessary to achieve a ‘level playing field’ for the incumbent communications providers, yet the incumbents do not, and could not, comply with HB 1587 themselves.” The mayor of Raleigh, Bruce Rose, said much the same to WRAL: “The bill you are considering would be a devastating blow to local governments all across the state.”
The bill now goes to the Finance Committee before going to the full House and then state Senate (and maybe back to the House, if the Senate modifies anything).
According to the Baller Herbst Law Group, which tracks legislation about community broadband, the only other state with negative-for-municipalities bills possible is Missouri, but neither of its bills are currently on the Missouri House calendar. Bills which Baller Herbst deemed positive for community broadband are possible in Connecticut, Illinois, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont and Washington.