Major Opposition Mounts By Eve of Municiple Broadband Vote

It’s certainly a big debate in the United States – namely in two cities in the state of North Carolina – but should barriers be erected to stop city governments from creating their own ISP in the name of competition in a marketplace? That appears to about to be decided on and efforts to block city broadband is currently being faced with huge opposition.

Note: This is an article I wrote that was published elsewhere first. It has been republished here for archival purposes

We’ve been following a very interesting story from two cities in North Carolina for a while now. In one city, the city of Wilson, the city government listened to complaints about slow broadband speeds. So the city then rolled out fibre optics in an effort to boost broadband speed. When the city approached the two local ISPs to offer the improved network infrastructure, Time Warner Cable and Embarq, the two ISPs refused. So, the government created Greenlight Inc. – a new ISP for the area. Once the ISPs caught wind of it, they lobbied the state of North Carolina to introduce legislation that would cripple or block the new company altogether. Shortly afterwards, city residents in the two cities that would get the new broadband started getting push polls over the phone by the ISPs. More recently, a major tech company threw their support to the opposition of the bills – the so-called “level the playing field” bills.

Later today, there will be a vote on the bills. Opponents of the legislation say that they will be there to witness the vote in action. Already, city officials have been shocked and angered when they found out that legislation like this had been tabled.

Salisbury (the other city in question) Mayor Susan Kluttz said that she was “floored” when she found out that legislation like this would even be considered in the first place. From the article:

“This is a bill written by Time Warner Cable and the Cable Association through their attorneys,” Salisbury City Manager David Treme said. He described it as a double-standard, anti-consumer and incumbent-protection bill.

The competition municipalities can provide through fiber-optic cable will lower prices for consumers, improve customer service, broaden choices, offer the service to everyone and spur economic development, Treme said Thursday.

“Plus, it will have instant accountability,” Kluttz added. Customers of a city cable utility would own the enterprise and have local people heading the operations and providing the service, the city officials said.

“This is a hometown business,” Treme said.

Kluttz added that Wilson and Salisbury have studied the broadband issue “for so long we know how dangerous this (the bill) is.”

Opposition isn’t just limited to one tech company and city officials. It seems that other major companies are joining the opposition crowd. In a joint letter to the North Carolina representatives (PDF), many major companies expressed their opposition to the bills in question.

We, the undersigned private-sector companies and trade associations urge you to oppose HB1252, the so-called “Level Playing Field Act.” HB1252 is “level” only in the sense that it will harm both the public and private sectors. It will thwart public broadband initiatives, stifle economic growth, prevent the creation or retention of thousands of jobs, and diminish quality of life in North Carolina. In particular, it will hurt the private sector by undermining public-private partnerships, hamstringing our ability to sell our goods and services, interfering with workforce development, and stifling creativity and innovation.

The United States is currently suffering through one of the most serious economic crises in decades. We also continue to lag behind the leading nations in per capita broadband adoption, access to high-capacity networks, cost per unit of bandwidth, and growth of new broadband users. To address these concerns, Congress and the Obama Administration have made more than $7 billion available to catalyze public and private efforts to accelerate deployment of broadband infrastructure and services. States can ill afford to enact measures like HB1252, which impair use of these broadband funds and the ability of the public and private sectors to work hand-in-hand to reverse these trends.

So who said that? Here’s the list of entities that opposed the legislation through that joint letter:

American Public Power Association
Atlantic Engineering Group, Inc.
Fiber to the Home Council
Google, Inc.
Intel Corporation
Utilities Telecom Council
Telecommunications Industry Association

That is quite the list to say the least. The vote that will happen later today should prove to be one of the most interesting votes. It could even set the tone on whether or not governments should set up their own ISP if the service is bad. Clearly there are those that are openly upset over slow broadband. One doesn’t have to look far for people complaining about slow US internet speeds online.

Since ISPs would have to actually compete in the US again if this becomes a country-wide phenomenon, one wonders if things like throttling and data caps mysteriously fades away. If one wants to really be optimistic, maybe one could go as far as to say that ISPs might actually start acting like their Swedish counterparts and defend their customers more rigorously.

Another point to make that might throw a wrench into the machine though. What if the ISPs in those areas just pack up and leave, leaving the one ISP to be the new monopoly? What’s to stop that ISP from engaging in similar practises to that of the private interests? One hopes that the better alternative winds up prevailing. After all, if the status quo is kept, would anything really change at all while other countries develop even better internet access thanks to heavy competition? One hopes that if the bills fail, the text-book case scenario prevails and that internet access improves from here.

[Cartoon link via BoingBoing]

Drew Wilson on Twitter: @icecube85 and Google+.

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