Day 18 – The Battle for N. Carolina Broadband Rolls On

If a picture is worth 1000 words, then this one of Time Warner’s favorite pocket legislator, Rep. Marilyn Avila, with Time Warners lobbyists of the hour, Brad Phillips and Marc Trathen (r), says it all about broadband’s shaky future in North Carolina. If North Carolina goes to bed next Thursday night with We the People having taken another severe body blow by unfettered corporate influence, then they can thank these Three Musketeers and their “all-for-one-corporation” single-minded myopia.

Best we fight like hell to turn the tide of this battle against House Bill 129. The past week and a half has been non-stop pushback in this David and Goliath battle between communities that want the freedom to choose their own best broadband solutions, and Time Warner who cares less than a whit about what the market wants.

I can understand sometimes why one of my Twitter followers asked, why don’t we just buy legislators jackets like the race car drivers wear with patches for the corporations they front for? But I believe that, luckily, there are plenty of legislators on both sides of the aisle who are reasonable human beings who take their jobs as representatives of the people seriously.

Every day this month has been trench warfare as the forces for community broadband work to sway legislators one by one. Last week we did a little myth-busting by taking on the incumbent un-truth that many muni networks fail. Most, in reality, succeed. An air attack followed via a radio debate with an opponent who tried to prevail with the myth that governments shouldn’t be involved with broadband (unfortunately we’re still trying to hunt down the other 35 minutes of the debate). Then, thanks to Phillip Dampier at Stop the Cap we busted the myth that Rep. Julia Howard’s word is her bond. Meanwhile, city after city is passing resolutions demanding legislators kill the bill.

You gotta know the game

There are two games at play in N. Carolina. The bill being bullied through the legislature is nothing short of a scorched earth campaign to make every realistic option but Time Warner’s lagging services nonexistent. As fellow consultant Andre Cahill points out, “the bill is so poorly worded that it would prevent the City from accepting money from the Google Fiber initiative or Federal broadband grant programs.”

Here’s a state that isn’t destitute by any means, but it has a sizeable number of rural communities that definitely won’t turn their backs on any reasonable opportunities to improve the economic and quality of life situation in their areas. Yet one company, ONE, is about to lock the entire state out of the running for using better versions of the technology that’s clearly becoming the coin of the realm if you want a better life for your constituents. That’s the local game.

I bet you didn’t know the National Broadband Plan promotes community networks. Yep, right there on page 153. “…cities should try to attract private sector broadband investment. But in the absence of that investment, they should have the right to move forward and build networks that serve their constituents as they deem appropriate.” Throughout the plans are additional calls for communities choosing their broadband solutions.

Glad to see the written word, but, where are the Plan’s champions in Washington as NC fights this uphill battle?The Plan’s chief writer Blair Levin has made only one statement I’ve seen in the media about community broadband. “Curiously, several municipal advocates choose to focus on the merits or demerits of aspirational goals (such as the 100 Mbps to 100 million homes) rather than use the release of the plan to build support for the municipal recommendation.”

Actually, we advocates have been building support of those recommendations for years before the Plan. What N. Carolina can really use in the game is for Mr. Levin to use some of his star power to make a case for community broadband in the state that’s consistent with the Plan. Right now, when it really counts!

N. Carolina’s fight is our fight

The second game at play in the Carolinas is much deeper, more insidious and potentially coming to a state near you.

I have to ask the question. How can the party that advances local rights against a bureaucracy supposedly “overreaching” with “burdensome” regulations, and “taxation without representation,” write laws allowing the same from another monster bureaucracy? The anti-muni bill dictates everything a city can or can’t do except when their broadband teams can wipe their noses. What, it’s ok if the entity that’s screwing your constituents, overburdening them with regulations and sucking their money out of state is in the private sector?

The real game here is that a handful of legislators are writing bills that take away communities’ and individuals’ rights. Constituents’ wishes mean nothing. Their needs mean nothing. NOTHING! Oh, wait, I’m sorry. I forgot. Maybe the legislators aren’t writing the bill. We could be witnessing a repeat of the great and former State Senator David Hoyle’s noble act of allowing Time Warner to draft anti-muni network legislation in his name.

In Maine, FairPoint moaned and complained and threatened to take away communities rights and the state rolled over for them. So now Vermont is facing the same Fairpoint act because one incumbent success breeds more contemptible assaults on other states’ constituents. Time Warner, if allowed to spit on N. Carolina communities’ rights, will soon be in another state doing the same damn thing. If not them, another incumbent.

So North Carolina’s battle is your battle. Join in the fight now so we try to stem the tide and (hopefully) not have to fight other bigger battles in our own states tomorrow. Here are the legislators who sit on the State Assembly’s Finance Committee. Craft a short message (review here for main talking points), key up your e-mail app and/or telephone and make your voices heard. Tell them to 1) allow communities to make their own decisions about what’s best for their community’s economy, healthcare and education; and 2) have an honest, roll call vote in the Finance Committee meeting next week. Don’t forget to thank those who stand with us.

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