by John Grooms
Before North Carolinians knew what hit them last week, or for that matter even knew what was going on, the state House of Reps passed a terrible bill designed to boost Time Warner Cables bottom line. With little public input, the bill given the Orwellian name of Level Playing Field/Local Government Competition Act is supposedly intended to "protect jobs and investment by regulating local government competition." What it really protects, however, is the cable industrys monopoly on broadband service, while making it nearly impossible for cities or communities to create their own broadband networks.
The bills primary sponsor, Marilyn Avila (R-Wake), who was apparently unashamed to be accompanied to House meetings by TWC lawyers and lobbyists, said the bill would protect businesses from "predatory" local governments that want to set up their own internet service provider (ISP) outfits. Imagine the horror: predatory local governments, picking on a poor little mom-and-pop business like Time Warner. The fact is that there are a number of municipal ISPs giving customers broadband speeds that eat Time Warners lunch, and that's what the telecom giant doesn't like. Wilson, N.C., through its Greenlight Community Network, for instance, offers its subscribers up to 100Mbps (megabytes per second) service; Chattanooga, Tenn.'s city-owned system offers 1,000Mbps. Time Warner Cable? In Wilson, N.C., 15Mbps is the maximum. In Charlotte? The same 15Mbps maximum, "available with TWs exciting Turbo Internet!" Its pathetic. Not bad enough that much of the industrialized world now has much faster, and cheaper, broadband service than the U.S. In N.C., the business monopoly that controls our broadband service has successfully greased the wheels in the House to be sure it can keep delivering subpar service for a jacked-up price and while practically dictating the precise contents of the law that guarantees their profits.
All Republicans in the House voted for the bill, as well as 15 Democrats, including Rep. Becky Carney (D-Meck.), who co-sponsored the bill. Frankly, we thought Carney knew better. The only Mecklenburg reps to vote against the bill were Tricia Cotham, Kelly Alexander, and Martha Alexander. The bill is now in the Senate where it should come up for a vote in the near future.
Besides obviously running counter to federal efforts to expand access to broadband, the bill also shows the fundamental weakness of conservatives standard spiel about The Government vs. Businesses. In this case, conservatives arguments dont mesh, to put it mildly. One argument is that government can never do anything as well as private enterprise; the other is that businesses cant compete with government. Well, which is it? Is government incompetent, or is it so great that no businesses can compete with them? It cannot be both.
Broadband cable is rapidly becoming a fundamental, essential civic service. Big telecoms are essentially saying that even though they dont relish going into smaller towns and rural areas because they cant squeeze as much money out of those places as they can in big cities, they still dont want to have to compete against local municipal systems, once they deign to move in to the less-profitable areas. If I were TWC, I wouldnt want to compete against a locally owned (heck, taxpayer-owned) company that offers faster service at a lower price, either. But if TWC is unable, or unwilling, to compete, then frankly, thats too bad for TWC. Let your state senators know that youre opposed to this blatant money-grab by TWC and friends. They're doing it at your expense. Here are Mecklenburg's state senators: District 37 Dan Clodfelter; District 38 Charlie Dannelly; District 40 Malcolm Graham; District 35 Tommy Tucker; District 39 Bob Rucho. The general phone number for the General Assembly is 919-733-7928. For e-mail, addresses are in this format: firstname.lastname@example.org.