Day 58 – N. Carolina Broadband Battle’s Toll on Private Business

Another vote looms in another NC legislative committee that appears to be on the verge of pushing anti-muni network bill H129 a little further down the line. It’s time to rally one more effort to get on legislators’ phones and e-mail boxes. In particular, we need to involve those broadband supporters who haven’t had time to make a call yet, or are feeling just a little shy about getting on the phones.

It may be easier to get first timers to take a public step to help kill the bill if we reinforce the fact that the lack of effective broadband affects plenty of neighbors, friends and just regular folks throughout the state you don’t know, but who share the distinction of being Carolinians. Broadband is just technology, kind of cold and impersonal. But the lack of broadband that this bill will ensure has significant personal and local business consequences.

A letter was forwarded to me from Michelle Kempinski of Cedar Grove, NC who wrote to our group that’s fighting Time Warner et al tooth and nail on a daily basis. It paints a very clear picture of why we must continue this fight for as long as it takes.

Trying to operate my business with no access to broadband Internet (or even reliable phone service) is no longer an issue for me out here in Cedar Grove. My seven-year-old small business is now officially ‘out of business.’ There’s just not enough local development projects to go around.  And, with no broadband access, there was no hope to expand my services to clients outside this very narrow geographic area.

There was no hope that I could efficiently communicate, collaborate, and share online documents and applications with clients and peer professionals. I couldn’t even buy a functional phone line. For years I paid for a level of service from Centurylink that I can only describe as absolutely embarrassing.

In March, a week after we made what we felt was progress turing the tide, the state Assembly committee voting on the bill gutted every meaningful amendment that has been adopted the week before, and then jammed the bill through with all of the death-dealing restrictions. Watching the bill move through the state Senate this month hasn’t been a load of laughs either. There’s still the trickery, like the shifting of the bill that would counter H129 into a committee where the leadership will allow it to die without any public debate. The fast-tracking to try to get the bill passed as quickly as possible to minimize our opposition. And of course, the fear mongering and blatant un-truths flood the debate.

You know, it’s too bad that our state politicians value Time Warner’s profits to the exclusion of the tangible, lasting, and beneficial services that business like mine offered in this state. Let’s see how much tax revenue our state reps get from their buddies at Time Warner. For sure, this year they won’t be getting any revenue from my business taxes.

They won’t be profiting from my business license renewal fees. They won’t see any revenues from the developers that I brought in to pay for development permits, inspection permits, impact fees, or payment-in-lieu-of fees. They will be receiving a whole lot less personal income taxes from my family. They won’t see me supporting our economy by hiring employees, purchasing business products, specifying local building materials, or even enjoying a night out on the town.

We had a major bright spot a couple weeks ago when FCC Commissioner Mignon leveled the strongest national criticism at not only North Carolina’s ridiculous bill, but also similar bills in other states. National and local media that started leaning in our direction up to this point started breaking heavily our way, giving oomph to our efforts in the legislature. It’s becoming increasingly clear to those straddling the fence that community broadband needs to be vigorously supported, not waylaid just as community networks become the best game in town.

Living in and trying to run a business in an area with no broadband telecommunications infrastructure is a nightmare. I do not have high hopes for the DSL service from Centurylink. Even if they ever get around to installing it in our area, I question their ability to provide quality service and ongoing maintenance on those lines. If Centurylink cannot even install and maintain functional telephone service, I doubt that they have the ability to handle DSL service. I guess that’s what happens when one company has been granted the right to monopolize a service area.

I was concerned about speaking up too much and drawing negative attention to the fact that my business didn’t have (couldn’t even get) broadband internet access. Now that I no longer have a business, please feel free to send my story to anyone that will listen. Maybe this will act as a warning to anyone who’s thinking of moving (or relocating a business) to this regressive political environment.

At the end of this article from Stop the Cap is a list of NC state senators and their contact info. Make your voices heard. Even if it’s the first time. Especially if it’s the first time! To help you get your thoughts in order, here’s a collection of comments on why this bill needs to go the way of the dinosaur.

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