Last Nail in Coffin of N. Carolina’s Anti-Muni Network Bill

O joyous day! O rapture! That insidious bill incumbents’ pocket legislator, NC state Senator Hoyle, tried to pass to kill muni broadband networks met its final demise over the weekend.

The citizens of North Carolina can breathe a sigh of relief. 34 communities pursuing Google gigabit broadband can dance the Macarena with reckless abandon. Everyone who believes in the right of communities to determine their own broadband future can take a moment to celebrate, but only a moment because the battle never ends.

Early this morning I received an e-mail from Catharine Rice of the SouthEast Association of Telecommunications Officers and Advisors (SEATOA) with the details on how this bill went south, way south. It ends with a shout out to the many NC legislators who refused to back down under the endless assault from incumbent lobbyists. Here it is. Take notes. You might need some of these tactics in your state one day.

Pronounce ’em, bag ’em, moving on

Saturday morning, July 11, at 5 a.m., the NC House of Representatives  killed Senator Hoyle’s attempt  to force a moratorium on municipalities seeking to provide their communities broadband service. This was the industry’s 3rd (actually 4th) attempt to stop municipalities from providing superior bbnd infrastructure to the communities.

The bill died on Saturday [July 10] after a one-two punch. First, the House Ways & Means Committee had refused to hear S1209 since June 8, under the hands of Committee Chair-Rep. Faison (D-Orange, Caswell), when it crossed from the Senate to the House.

Then late Friday evening, the House itself added an amendment to its Study Authorization Bill (SB900) permitting, but not requiring, the Revenue Laws Study Committee to study the laws and circumstances surrounding municipalities providing broadband service to their communities, but dropping all other terms of S1209, mainly  the moratorium. The Senate concurred with House bill 900 unanimously later in the evening and it was enrolled for review and signature by the Governor. (See Sections 7.5 (a) and (b) here)

Ten minutes later, Senator Clodfelter introduced H455, a bill whose effect would have changed the approach of the House’s version of the municipal broadband study. With H455, Senator Clodfelter gutted a House kidney awareness bill, and poured into it the “study” portion of S1209 (Hoyle’s Anti-Muni broadband bill), changing the House version by setting a date when the study (and recommended legislation) would have to be completed (March 2011), and increasing the number of seats on the subcommittee from 12 to 14. The House version did not mandate a study, but made it optional, did not specifically authorize the committee to recommend legislation, and set the seats for the subcommittee at 12, naming 8 with an additional four unassigned seats.

Clodfelter’s H455 contained two other sections, one addressing a fluke in sales tax refunds for MI-Connection, the Mooresville-Davidson muni broadband network. Around 2:45 Saturday morning, on Rep. Luebke’s (D-Durham) motion, the House denied concurrence with the Senate on H455 (96 to deny, 1 to allow). At 3:45 a.m., the House approved a Senate/House conference committee report for the purpose of keeping only one section of H455, (effectively deleting H455’s changes to the House study version of S1209).

H455 (here) now provides a state sales tax refund status for Davidson and Mooresville’s MI-CONNECTION system, status the two towns would have if individually providing cable service, but from which they were disqualified by having  joined together to provide broadband cable  service.  On a vote of 91 to 6, the House approved the Senate/House conference report. At 4:55 a.m. the Senate concurred with that report and it was enrolled for the Governor’s attention.

Thank you’s should resonate around the state, from the grassroots, to the local elected officials, to the NC League of Municipalities, to certain legislators, especially now as they face re-election (and an angry telecom industry).

There are MANY legislators who deserve our thank you’s, starting with Reps Hackney (D-Chatham, Orange), Holliman (D-Davidson), Luebke (D-Durham), Weiss (D- Wake), Faison (D-Orange, Caswell) and Bryant (D-Nash,Hallifax). In the Senate, those 15 Senators who began the crack in the dam by voting against a powerful Senator Hoyle to vote down the notion of a moratorium against rural NC broadband. These Senators are Joe Sam Queen (D-Haywood), Allran (R-Catawba), Atwater (D-Chatham), Boseman (D-New Hanover), Dickson (D-Cumberland), Dorsett (D-Guilford), Foriest (D-Alamance), Goss (D- Watauga), Jones (D- Hallifax), Kinnard (D-Orange), McKissick (D-Durham), Purcell (D-Scotland), Shaw (D-Cumberland), Snow (D- Cherokee), Vaughan (D-Guilford), and Forrester (R-Gaston, Iredell, Lincoln).

Continue following Communities United for Broadband’s Facebook page for a how-to document coming soon from organization Co-Director Jay Ovittore to help communities plan legislative strategies and tactics to overcome incumbents’ attacks on community broadband projects. Jay worked tirelessly to rally citizens throughout N. Carolina, and to education legislators on the key issues affecting broadband in the state.

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