Day 2 – The Battle for North Carolina Broadband

A couple of weeks ago I spoke in Salisbury, NC to the Mayor, City Council, several state legislators and a couple hundred stakeholders/fans of the city’s Fibrant fiber network (the video’s embedded in Salisbury Post article). The gist of my talk was to spell out how to use the network to impact economic development.

Early on I told the audience I had supported N. Carolina’s previous fights for communities’ right to make their own broadband decisions, and promoted Salisbury’s, Wilson’s and Asheville’s networks at every opportunity. I pledged to continue to fight along with them again. Though I knew a Time Warner effort was lurking in the shadows, I didn’t expect the battle would come so quickly and with such a breadth of potential negative impact.

Luckily, the communities have had three previous battles to perfect their rapid response capabilities. Even though Time Warner’s NC legislative allies took Monday night as the opportunity to schedule a first showdown for today, yesterday citizens across the state struck back with a fury that obviously took some legislators by surprise. Today’s meeting was postponed for a week, and the bill’s author sent out an olive branch seeking to bring the two sides together to work out a compromise.

If insanity is doing the same thing over and over expecting a different result, then ya’ll got some borderline crazy people amongst Time Warner and its allies. Three times now the TW lobby machine has tried to bully a bill through the legislature. Three times the people have rallied their butts off, lit up phone lines, buried e-mail boxes, moved vans and carloads of people into Raleigh in time to counter legislators’ sneak-meetings called to take place within hours or at inconvenient times the next morning. And three times the people of NC beat the mighty machine down.

But what do we get in 2011? Progress? Nope. Battle #4. This time with a bill potentially more virulent to the will of communities to bring their constituents better broadband than Time Warner and other incumbents are willing or able to provide. And once again, the communities swing into action. The battle is far from won, but hells bells, Day 1 was mighty impressive.

As my mother would exclaim when her children had taxed per patience beyond reason, “when are you gonna act like you got some sense!?” Time Warner, when are you gonna act like you got some sense!?

The outcome of these battles when Time Warner finally has to tuck it in is that the Legislature refers the bill to a study committee to further examine the merits of the bill. In legislative parlance, that means “consider making sensible changes to the bill to address the reason it was brought up.” The usual reality is study committees are where bills go to die.

This year, how about the Legislature convene a committee of stakeholders and charge them to craft a broadband plan that makes sense for the people. Time Warner will throw a monumental hissy fit, of course, because they know that means additional serious competition is imminent. But as Spock said after the Enterprise kicked Kahn’s bootie, “the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few. Or the one.”

Staff this committee with representatives of community networks in the state, eNC, associations that represent communities, the business community and both ISPs and equipment vendors. Give them a deadline, set up a time line and come up with a plan that makes sense for the many, not the few or the one.

Though it’s probably a great community bonding exercise for the people of N. Carolina, these annual battles chew up a lot of resources that could better be used bringing better broadband to the state. This state level broadband planning might also provide inspiration and illumination for a few other states. Everybody wins, even Time Warner if they act like they got some sense.

If you haven’t already, check out yesterday’s post to get talking points for the campaign, and lists of state Assembly folks on the committee that’s handling the bill.

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