N. Carolina’s Fight for Broadband is the U.S.’ Fight

Much of America, including North Carolina, is at vital crossroads with broadband technology. $7 billion in stimulus money will start us down the right path – unless, of course, those incumbent telcos and cable companies throw a monkey wrench into the works like they’re trying to do in N. Carolina.

Through disinformation and proposing a state anti-local government laws, Time Warner (TWC) is trying to subvert N. Carolina communities’ right to select the best broadband solutions to meet their needs. TWC wants no government-driven broadband stimulus projects and no requirement to partner with local government for projects. If TWC wins here, this could be bad news for broadband in other states as incumbents try to repeat this performance.

Community broadband supporters in NC and across the U.S. need to join in the counterattack. Lay out the facts for state legislators. The winning strategy for many communities is municipal involvement in these networks, either through partnering with vendors and service providers, ownership by public utilities and nonprofits, or direct government ownership. History supports this position (see the cities in this report).

Municipal broadband became popular because incumbents refused to provide adequate service in rural and urban communities that want and need them. These same incumbents then attacked like rabid beasts the communities that created their own broadband solutions. Neither the community need nor the incumbent retaliatory threat has changed.

Opponents of municipal broadband fall over with the vapors claiming that taxpayer dollars will pay for kids to download YouTube videos. Several in-depth analysis reports I’ve done show a very different reality. Muni broadband attracts new companies, creates hundreds of jobs, spawns home-based businesses and otherwise transforms communities’ economic landscape. Basically, everything the stimulus bill is supposed to do. Casual Web surfing is a minor side benefit of these greater outcomes.

Incumbents try to scare us by saying municipalities shouldn’t get stimulus money for broadband networks because muni wireless networks failed and cities lost money. In reality, the failures incumbents talk about were networks that private companies owned, NOT the cities. Cities had very few cash dollars tied up in these deals. What’s more, those private companies used an incredibly bad business model: they would build networks for free AND give away many of the access services. Talk about failure of the free market!

Municipal broadband, on the other hand, has quite a few stellar successes in North Carolina and elsewhere to recommend it.

Wilson is  small town in eastern NC that got mad as hell at the high price of pitiful service TWC offers and decided they weren’t going to take it any more. They built their own network and its success has become the lightening rod for TWC’s legislative bid to kill muni broadband in the state. 

Pangaea, the community nonprofit network in Rutherford and Polk Counties, NC, is successful in critical areas targeted by the stimulus bill. In healthcare, they link hospitals, remote medical centers, pharmacies and doctors offices to increase efficiencies, instantly share data and enable doctors to devote more time to patients. Pangaea transformed education by connecting the libraries, public schools and community college to improve education delivery, start online curricula, and enable students to get associate degrees while still in high school so they have more and better career opportunities.

Craven County’s government-owned network is saving schools $275,000 a year in leased lines, while local government saves $50,000 annually in similar savings. Training, and distance learning are done at schools where people before had to spend time and money traveling to the school district’s central office, or miss out on the opportunities altogether.

In Madison County, NC the Mountain Area Information Network was key to saving the National Climatic Data Center that, because of the nature of its research, will draw huge amounts of money from around the world. The network keeps businesses and jobs in Madison and surrounding counties, attracts telecommuters and enables people to start new businesses that sell to worldwide markets.

There are hundreds of similar success stories waiting to happen, many courtesy of the broadband stimulus bill. Beating down this latest anti-muni broadband bill in the legislature also is key. Wilson’s success represents the future of broadband in America. If you want to see that future unfold, help NC communities fight the next good fight. You can bet your bottom stimulus dollar that a win for locals here will neutralize potential battles in other state legislatures.

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