Day 30 – N. Carolina Broadband Battle of Inches Shifts Momentum

I coach two adult women’s soccer teams because, well, heaven knows I don’t have enough to occupy my time. Like many coaches, I appreciate our Hollywood counterparts’ inspirational speeches that make eyes misty and lower lips quiver, like this one by Al Pacino.

Though the analogies don’t quite line up as well for soccer, I think Al’s sermon is fitting for the North Carolina broadband fight. This has been a battle that communities are are showing signs of winning inch by inch, and those inches will (hopefully) become yards and eventual victory as communities continue to rally against Time Warner and State Assembly bill H129. Broadband advocates in states that may face similar incumbent attempts to snuff out community networks should take note.

When Time Warner opened their scorched earth campaign against muni networks a month ago, things looked very grim for communities. They were outgunned by Time Warner’s huge money and lobbying resources. The bill they introduced was abysmal in the breadth of its overreach, and the depth of its intent to micromanage/choke existing community networks out of existence, and prevent new ones from seeing the light of day.

The legislative picture was equally bleak. That a representative of the people would author a bill so transparently a legislative gift to Time Warner and other incumbents almost kills your faith in the democratic process. Then there was the maneuvering as two meetings supposedly to bring constituents and incumbents together behind a bill that would benefit both sides turned out to be shams. The first Assembly committee to review the bill was procedurally run in such a way as to limit input and bully the bill through to approval, which leaders did.

But then, communities started fighting back and winning small victories, inch by inch. Though the bill’s “review” swiftly, and some say unfairly, passed it out and over to the Finance Committee, the early media attention started putting the bill’s sponsor (Rep. Marilyn Avila) on the defensive. Cracks started to appear in the ranks of bill supporters. Advocates educated and rallied individuals from all walks of life to call and e-mail each legislator on the Assembly Public Utilities Committee, the bill’s 2nd stop. They went to the blogs, and Facebook groups to alert, educate and motivate people who took action.

Local radio and media hits such as this column took away one of incumbent’s major talking points, the false notion that all muni networks fail. One by one, community lobbyists started peeling off both Democrat and Republican legislators supporting the bill. More news stories stated coming out painting communities’ side of the story. Meanwhile the calls and e-mails steadily increased, as did local and national news stories. Then last Thursday, those inches turned into the first yard.

H129 was dealt a significant setback when broadband champions in the Finance Committee introduced a couple of amendments that neutralized several of the most onerous parts of the bill. In what appeared to be a Time Warner panic move, discussion was cut off and a second meeting was scheduled for tomorrow (March 23) to allow public comments and more debate on the bill. An AP story on the vote in Businessweek reported a clear win for community broadband and additional news coverage elevated the David vs. Goliath battle to the national AND international stages.

On this day before the next big vote, broadband advocates have one more opportunity to make their voices heard. Today. One more opportunity to win more inches, influence more legislators, inspire more constituents and beat back the company with more money and more lobbyists. Here’s the list of legislators who vote tomorrow morning on H129 with links to phone numbers and e-mail addresses. As Al asks, “Now, what are you gonna do?” Let’s work hard today, win big tomorrow.

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