An Open Letter to N Carolina Gov. Bev Perdue: Support Community Broadband

I just called North Carolina Gov. Purdue’s office to explain why passing H129 – that abomination of anti-muni network legislation – would be bad for the state and the community broadband movement nationwide – 919-733-2391. It’s your turn.

Here’s an open letter from Harvard professor and legal scholar Lawrence Lessig to Gov. Purdue. It’s worth the read.

Dear Governor Perdue:

On your desk is a bill passed by the overwhelmingly Republican North Carolina legislature to ban local communities from building or supporting community broadband networks. (H.129). By midnight tonight, you must decide whether to veto that bill, and force the legislature to take a second look.

North Carolina is an overwhelmingly rural state. Relative to the communities it competes with around the globe, it has among the slowest and most expensive Internet service. No economy will thrive in the 21st century without fast, cheap broadband, linking citizens, and enabling businesses to compete. And thus many communities throughout your state have contracted with private businesses to build their own community broadband networks.

These networks have been extraordinarily effective. The prices they offer North Carolinians is a fraction of the comparable cost of commercial network providers. The speed they offer is also much much faster.

Read the rest here. Then take action!

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.

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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.

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Facts Can’t Trump Broadband Reality in North Carolina

Recently I’ve written a few columns on this neat little campaign incumbents are running to fight off regulations from an FCC trying, in the face of mixed reviews, to make the market more competitive. “Facts are stubborn things,” a quote probably unearthed by a wise PR person, is their campaign to prove broadband competition is great by flooding us with facts irrelevant to the reality communities face.

This tactic is not isolated in its use to incumbent execs and their industry lobbyist brigades. Incumbents’ pocket legislators often try to baffle us with b.s. they pass off as facts because they have no dazzling, credible justification for trying to kill communities’ efforts to make the broadband most appropriate for their citizens. N. Carolina is currently suffering such a factoid flood – again.

The legislature there has some members who’ve sunk to new lows. It’s not only future networks they’re trying to kill with Senate bill S1209. This being their fifth or sixth run at such legislation, Time Warner’s and AT&T’s water bearers are going for the scorched earth approach. This bill intends to kill everything related to community involvement, including public private partnership. Here’s an e-mail I got last week.

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Communities United for Broadband: Picking Up Where Google Leaves Off

Anybody here doubt for a minute that Google has lit a fire for broadband under a lot of folks? With just a handful of staffers, a Web site and probably a PR firm (all of whom, btw, deserve a 4-week all-expense-paid vacation to Cancun), they turned legions of people of all stripes and from all walks of life into rabid broadband fans.

The real question today, though, is not who might win Google fiber, but how do you harness this energy, creativity and the collective realization that “broadband really can make a difference to our community?” Over 1,100 cities responded to Google’s RFI and nearly 200,000 people nationwide submitted letters to the company. These numbers represent power, but it’s fragmented. Or rather, it was.

Last Friday, Greensboro, NC broadband advocate Jay Ovittore and I felt too much has been done for it all to end now. We believed Facebook was the key to moving people forward. Facebook pages enabled hundreds of communities to each attract thousands of supporters. Can you imagine these forces unified? Communities United for Broadband is our Facebook answer.

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Going for Google Broadband Gold (one NC community’s approach)

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Google recently turned the broadband world on its ear by announcing it’s going to set up fiber-to-the-home (FTTH) networks for a handful of lucky communities that will deliver 1 gigabit per second speeds. Dozens of cities large and small are lining up to apply.

I wanted to get a perspective on what’s motivating communities that survived NOFA 1 to endure a different frenzied race for broadband gold. Hunter Goosmann, General Manager of ERC Broadband in Western North Carolina, recently received their Opportunity to Re-Apply letter from NTIA and RUS. ERC’s not only going for Google gold, but also a chance at Round 2 funding (sleep must not be a valued commodity in that part of the world).

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Tips for the Broadband Dash for Dollars

It’s been a pretty busy week, and a lot of my writing has been directed to other blogs instead of mine. Here’s a roundup of excerpts and links to a few to help your broadband stimulus grant prep work. 

Double victory in N. Carolina (implications for broadband stimulus)

 Within a 24-hour period last week, the Senate and House sent both bills to committees for study, effectively killing that line of attack for a year.

Instead of spending all that money on lobbyists and public campaigns to stifle community efforts, Time Warner, et. al., should be flying their designers into these rural areas to find out how they’re pulling this off. The argument that you need to legislate a level playing field is ridiculous. You don’t have a 100 Mbps product to compete with and it’s not clear when you will. These towns with far fewer resources than private sector companies are delivering the service with satisfied customers now. Don’t kill these projects, figure out how to clone them! Or partner with them.

 Who’s your partner in the stimulus dash for dollars

 After sitting through and reading about the numerous public comment meetings on the broadband stimulus bill, it’s clear to me that partnerships are all the rage right now. Rugged individualism is not a winning trait at the moment. Even if yours is the poster child for unserved communities, there’s too little money and too few federal agency staff facing too many entities wanting and needing a piece of the stimulus pie to realistically deal with oodles of small applications.

How are you going to sustain your network once it’s built?

If the heart of your broadband network’s sustainability plan is selling subscriptions to individual residents, you should re-think your plan. Were the network a house, this is similar to fixating on making a classy roof while ignoring the strength of your foundation. 

Smart cities go after financially superior alternatives. Towns such as Fredericton, New Brunswick in Canada bring the largest local businesses into a room and have everyone chip in to underwrite the network operating costs. Each business gets broadband superior service for a cheaper price. Or like Santa Monica, CA, you focus on selling fiber services to local businesses. This helped generate ver $2 million in operating capital for their network.

WiMAX or WiFi? A familiar question 

Not a post, but a recent article on the question in Christian Science Monitor

N. Carolina’s Fight for Broadband is the U.S.’ Fight

Much of America, including North Carolina, is at vital crossroads with broadband technology. $7 billion in stimulus money will start us down the right path – unless, of course, those incumbent telcos and cable companies throw a monkey wrench into the works like they’re trying to do in N. Carolina.

Through disinformation and proposing a state anti-local government laws, Time Warner (TWC) is trying to subvert N. Carolina communities’ right to select the best broadband solutions to meet their needs. TWC wants no government-driven broadband stimulus projects and no requirement to partner with local government for projects. If TWC wins here, this could be bad news for broadband in other states as incumbents try to repeat this performance.

Community broadband supporters in NC and across the U.S. need to join in the counterattack. Lay out the facts for state legislators. The winning strategy for many communities is municipal involvement in these networks, either through partnering with vendors and service providers, ownership by public utilities and nonprofits, or direct government ownership. History supports this position (see the cities in this report).

Municipal broadband became popular because incumbents refused to provide adequate service in rural and urban communities that want and need them. These same incumbents then attacked like rabid beasts the communities that created their own broadband solutions. Neither the community need nor the incumbent retaliatory threat has changed.

Opponents of municipal broadband fall over with the vapors claiming that taxpayer dollars will pay for kids to download YouTube videos. Several in-depth analysis reports I’ve done show a very different reality. Muni broadband attracts new companies, creates hundreds of jobs, spawns home-based businesses and otherwise transforms communities’ economic landscape. Basically, everything the stimulus bill is supposed to do. Casual Web surfing is a minor side benefit of these greater outcomes.

Incumbents try to scare us by saying municipalities shouldn’t get stimulus money for broadband networks because muni wireless networks failed and cities lost money. In reality, the failures incumbents talk about were networks that private companies owned, NOT the cities. Cities had very few cash dollars tied up in these deals. What’s more, those private companies used an incredibly bad business model: they would build networks for free AND give away many of the access services. Talk about failure of the free market!

Municipal broadband, on the other hand, has quite a few stellar successes in North Carolina and elsewhere to recommend it.

Wilson is  small town in eastern NC that got mad as hell at the high price of pitiful service TWC offers and decided they weren’t going to take it any more. They built their own network and its success has become the lightening rod for TWC’s legislative bid to kill muni broadband in the state. 

Pangaea, the community nonprofit network in Rutherford and Polk Counties, NC, is successful in critical areas targeted by the stimulus bill. In healthcare, they link hospitals, remote medical centers, pharmacies and doctors offices to increase efficiencies, instantly share data and enable doctors to devote more time to patients. Pangaea transformed education by connecting the libraries, public schools and community college to improve education delivery, start online curricula, and enable students to get associate degrees while still in high school so they have more and better career opportunities.

Craven County’s government-owned network is saving schools $275,000 a year in leased lines, while local government saves $50,000 annually in similar savings. Training, and distance learning are done at schools where people before had to spend time and money traveling to the school district’s central office, or miss out on the opportunities altogether.

In Madison County, NC the Mountain Area Information Network was key to saving the National Climatic Data Center that, because of the nature of its research, will draw huge amounts of money from around the world. The network keeps businesses and jobs in Madison and surrounding counties, attracts telecommuters and enables people to start new businesses that sell to worldwide markets.

There are hundreds of similar success stories waiting to happen, many courtesy of the broadband stimulus bill. Beating down this latest anti-muni broadband bill in the legislature also is key. Wilson’s success represents the future of broadband in America. If you want to see that future unfold, help NC communities fight the next good fight. You can bet your bottom stimulus dollar that a win for locals here will neutralize potential battles in other state legislatures.

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