Republicans Tell Rural Caswell County, NC They Don’t Deserve Better Broadband

Although not too far from Winston-Salem and Greensboro, Caswell County has a population of just over 23,000 people

In a painful display of callous disregard for the broadband needs of rural North Carolina, where half the state’s population lives, nine Republicans and two Democrats on the House Public Utilities committee voted down a bill to deliver service to 60 percent of Caswell County that currently goes without.

HB2067, introduced by Rep. Bill Faison (D-Orange/Caswell) would have allowed the rural county to provide broadband service to unserved residents and businesses.  What Rep. Faison did manage to put in HB2067 was initiative towards 21st Century technology.  The bill would have authorized Caswell County to install better technology, both up and down, where Centurylink offers slow DSL as the only option.  In introducing the bill, Faison explained that recent broadband data showed only 40 percent of Caswell County had access to broadband.

Already suffering from the exodus of textile jobs that used to provide an economic base for the area, the failure to obtain broadband has proven disastrous to the work of the county’s 21st Century Group, trying to restore Caswell County’s economy with a higher-tech future.  Six years of work was blocked by CenturyLink — the local phone company and 11 legislators, who told residents they don’t deserve anything better than they already have (which is often nothing.)

Without HB2067, Caswell County cannot even apply for federal stimulus broadband grant funds because the state law doesn’t provide specific authority to deliver the service.  Faison’s bill would correct that oversight and encourage public/private partnerships to get busy bringing broadband to the region.

CenturyLink and its top lobbyist Steve Brewer would hear none of it — Goliath was afraid that David would install better technology and force Centurylink to upgrade or hit the road.

Brewer was given more than half the available time for discussion about the proposed bill to fill the ears of committee members with half-truths.

CenturyLink, Brewer claimed, was more than willing to work with the county to provide the kind of speed its business park needed, yet failed to mention its long history of refusing to expand service to unserved areas.  Brewer’s claim that 70 percent of Caswell County is served by CenturyLink doesn’t mean the company offers broadband to all of those customers.  His further claim that 90 percent of those areas include equipment that is “DSL capable” also doesn’t mean those areas are providing the service today, just that they could… someday.  Many factors can disqualify a potential customer from getting DSL service, especially in rural areas where line quality is not always the best.

Bartlett Yancey House Restaurant and Gallery, a famous landmark in Caswell County.

Faison sought to explore exactly what Brewer defined as “broadband” service.  Brewer claimed DSL service offered anywhere from “1.5 to 6Mbps,” admitting speeds decline with distance and is untenable more than three miles from the telephone company switch facility.

Of course, Caswell County’s large rural expanse puts many of the unserved beyond the maximum distance DSL can work without additional equipment.  Many rural areas that can get DSL are typically offered between 768kbps-3Mbps service.  Caswell County is so rural, it met the Rural Utility Service’s (RUS) classic definition of an underserved community.  That allowed the county to technically qualify for first round federal broadband grant funding.

Unfortunately, legislators are not always as informed as they need to be to recognize statements riddled with loopholes and asterisks.

For instance, Rep. Daniel McComas (R-New Hanover) asked whether he could get high speed Internet over a phone line.  Although Brewer answered yes, what qualifies as “high speed” was left unanswered, as was exactly how many Caswell County residents requested DSL service, only to be refused by CenturyLink.  Yes, you can get DSL broadband over a phone line — but that doesn’t mean you will in Caswell County.

“The only definition of high speed Internet in North Carolina is from a statute from 10 years ago,” Faison noted. “You would have to admit that what was high speed Internet 10 years ago is not high speed Internet today.”

Just as the call for a vote was made, Brewer delivered an uninvited closing argument — probably unnecessary since no consumers were invited to speak on the issue.  If you don’t have broadband in Caswell County, 11 legislators on that committee weren’t interested in hearing from you anyway.

Brewer said the bill was completely unnecessary, because “federal broadband grants were no longer available,” and besides, it was unfair competition for the county to deliver broadband service better than what CenturyLink provides.  Of course, broadband grants -are- still available from the RUS, and few on the committee probably understood the irony of a phone company demanding that Caswell County not be allowed to deliver quality broadband service CenturyLink refuses to provide.

The substitute Committee bill would have protected CenturyLink from their fears of "unfair" competition by not allowing the county to build out broadband service where CenturyLink already provides it if it was not better service, but the company remained adamantly opposed to the county providing broadband service even in areas where they refuse to deliver it themselves for fear they would have to offer real broadband to Caswell County.

CenturyLink also claimed the county would have ‘secret insider information’ about CenturyLink’s every move through the permit process.  The glacial pace of the phone company’s broadband expansion is hardly a secret to the residents who live there.  Besides, permits are not required for the phone company to work in their own right-of-way.  Unlike cities who control the rights of way in their corporate limits, the state owns and controls the rights of way going through the unincorporated parts of the County.  Brewer’s comments were intended to scare legislators, not inform them.  It was a flat out lie.

The vote illustrates the disconnect many in the state legislature have about broadband.  Most of those in favor of the of the bill were Democrats mostly from rural sections of the state.  Two of the “no” votes came from Democrats in urban Mecklenburg County, which includes the city of Charlotte.  Representatives Beverly Earle and Becky Carney already have several choices for broadband service where they live.  Shame on them for condemning their rural neighbors in the north to a broadband backwater.

Mecklenburg County legislators were sure in a big hurry a few years back to do the bidding of AT&T, opening the doors to their kind of competition with statewide video franchising.  U-verse, which is available in parts of Charlotte, was supposed to put a stop the relentless rate increases and deliver competition.  So far, they’ve managed to sign up around 13,000 residents out of a potential 4 million plus in North Carolina, and the rate hikes just keep on coming.

The Republicans on the committee voted lock-step against the bill, even those from rural regions of the state.  Most of them are grateful recipients of big telecom money or are not running for re-election.  None of them can be bothered to ponder better broadband for their constituents unless it comes from a company cutting them a campaign contribution check.

When the vote was over, AT&T’s lobbyist Herb Crenshaw warmly shook McComas’ hand and congratulated him for a job well done. AT&T’s next check to McComas’ campaign fund will likely be bigger than the $500 he collected during the first quarter of this year.

The hit job on the broadband needs of rural Caswell County was complete.

The Members of the House Public Utilities Committee Voting Against Better Broadband for Caswell County & The Reasons Why
…and these amounts are just from the 1st quarter of 2010!

Rep. Harold J. Brubaker (R-Randolph) — Big Bucks Brubaker ran to the bank with $4,000 from AT&T, $4,000 from CenturyLink, $2,000 from Time Warner Cable, and $2,000 from Verizon.

Rep. Hugh Blackwell (R-Burke) — Blackwell accepted $500 from AT&T and $250 from Time Warner Cable.

Rep. Becky Carney (D–Mecklenburg) — AT&T and Time Warner Cable both cut checks for $500 each for Ms. Carney.

Rep. Beverly Earle (D-Mecklenburg) — She’s nice at half the price, with a grateful CenturyLink cutting a check for $250.

Rep. W. Robert Grady (R-Onslow) — Zippo.  He’s not running for re-election.

Rep. Jim Gulley (R-Mecklenburg) — Nada.  He’s not running again either.

Rep. Julia Howard (R–Davie/Iredell) — She gets around.  AT&T found her $500, CenturyLink provided a cool $2,000, and Time Warner Cable did even better with $2,500.

Rep. Linda Johnson (R-Cabarrus) — A double mint.  AT&T $500, Time Warner Cable $500.

Rep. Daniel McComas (R-New Hanover) — AT&T gave him $500, Time Warner Cable doubled that with $1,000.

Rep. Tim Moore (R-Cleveland) — Walking around money — AT&T $500, Time Warner Cable $500.

Rep. Wil Neumann (R-Gaston) — AT&T $500, but thanks to this year’s hefty rate hike, Time Warner Cable could afford $1,000 for Mr. Neumann.

Representatives Who Supported Rural North Carolina’s Need for Better Broadband, Voting For HB2067

Rep. Bill Faison (D-Orange, Caswell)

Rep. Kelly Alexander, Jr. (D–Mecklenburg)

Rep. Angela Bryant (D–Nash, Halifax)

Rep. Pricey Harrison (D-Guilford)

Rep. Marvin Lucas (D-Cumberland)

Rep. Nelson Cole (D-Rockingham)

Totals for 2010 (so far) for Telecom Contributions in the North Carolina General Assembly

AT&T $72,740

CenturyLink $51,750

Time Warner Cable $20,450

Verizon $10,500

(All figures are from the North Carolina State Board of Elections website, from candidates filings.)

Special Report: One Year Moratorium on Muni-Broadband in North Carolina: “The Crazies Aren’t Gonna Like This”

Senator Hoyle turns his back on consumers and reads from his industry-provided talking points to stop municipal broadband

[Phillip Dampier co-authored this piece.]

North Carolina communities seeking to provide Internet access to their residents would have to wait a year while legislators argue over their terms of entry under a revised bill that swept through the Senate Finance Committee yesterday on a voice vote.

S1209, originally a poison pill bill that would effectively kill municipal broadband projects, was revised into a demand for further study, accompanied by a one-year moratorium for any city contemplating its own broadband project.

That concerns officials in several cities across the state, especially Greensboro, who wants to preserve the option of municipal broadband should Time Warner Cable revisit an Internet Overcharging experiment attempted in 2009 which would have drastically limited broadband usage for its customers.

The bill’s passage with a calling of the “yeas and nays” made it impossible for members of the public to know who voted for and who voted against the compromise measure.  But an accidentally open microphone allowed many to get a real sense of how much one member of the Committee disliked consumers fighting back against telecom special interests pulling all the strings.

Senator Daniel Clodfelter (D-Mecklenburg) nearly raised a toast to his fellow members during the session praising them for doing the “grown-up” thing and agreeing to his manufactured compromise that phone and cable companies are celebrating as a victory today:

“This is not, I would say to you, a peace treaty.  It is an armistice. And what the bill does is provide an armistice so that the shooting war stops and a conversation will occur among those people who’ve been meeting with each other in those conference rooms for the past week,” Clodfelter said. “Thank you all, because you did the grown-up thing, and I really appreciate it.”

Clodfelter’s seemingly-sincere comments might have gone off better had the audience not heard Clodfelter’s private remarks to Senator Dan Blue (D-Wake) a few minutes earlier, inadvertently captured by a live microphone:

“The — what I call the crazies that circulate around this issue are not gonna like this,” Clodfelter told Blue.

Observed WUNC reporter Laura Leslie: “I’m sure Clodfelter isn’t the first lawmaker to think so, but most of them cover the microphone before they say it out loud.”

The bill’s author, Senator David Hoyle (D-Gaston), who spent the day mangling the words “fiber optic,” condescendingly lectured his colleagues and communities about their opposition to his bill.  Mistakenly called a Republican in the pages of the Greensboro News-Record, Hoyle complained cities don’t belong in the broadband business.  He doesn’t want government competing with private industry, which might explain why the newspaper switched his party affiliation.  But considering the amount of telecom special interest money that has flowed into the retiring senator’s campaign coffers, there may be much more to this than a philosophical debate.

Hoyle has gone all out in the North Carolina media on behalf of his telecom industry benefactors.

Money makes legislators do strange things... like disrespect their constituents with obvious industry-backed protectionist legislation

Delivering a series of eyebrow-raising one-liners, Hoyle is hardly ingratiating himself with cities and towns across the state.  He inferred most city and town leaders were naive, telling ENC Today he expects all of the attention on municipal broadband will only cause more municipalities to get into the business.

“There are a whole lot of cities that can’t wait to jump on the bandwagon — monkey see, monkey do,” Hoyle said, using language that some have since called inappropriate.

Hoyle argues these systems are destined to fail.  Once again he called out the cities of Davidson and Mooresville completing required upgrades to an old Adelphia cable system the community acquired nearly three years ago.

“There’s a couple of cities in this business that they should sure wish the heck they were not into, and that’s Davidson and Mooresville,” Hoyle said.

That came as news to MI-Connection, the municipal provider providing service to the two communities, whose revenues for the quarter that ended March 31st were up 9.4 percent from a year earlier.

Davidson resident and MI-Connection board member John Venzon told the Davidson News he’s worried that the legislation could “unlevel the playing field” for MI-Connection and make it harder to compete.

MI-Connection General Manager Alan Hall also told the News the entire board has concerns about these kinds of bills.

Hoyle and his telecommunications industry friends may wish the communities weren’t in the business, but MI-Connection believes otherwise.

As Stop the Cap! has reported on several occasions, MI-Connection’s challenges have hardly been unique to Davidson and Mooresville.  Time Warner Cable ditched over 125 Adelphia systems it purchased, and the company is still coping with legacy equipment left in place at the former Adelphia system it now runs in Calabasas, California.  The cost of upgrades for the old Adelphia systems kept by both Time Warner Cable and Comcast ran well into the millions.

Another messy misstep for the state senator has been what one could charitably call “stretching the truth.”

Mayor Susan Kluttz, representing the people of Salisbury, N.C., was called a "gentleman" and "he" by an out of touch David Hoyle

“I got a call from a gentleman yesterday, Mayor Kluttz from Salisbury, and I mean he laid me out.  He called me dumb.  I had no idea,” Hoyle complained to other members on the Senate Finance Committee.

One person who was not amused by that story was Salisbury Mayor Susan Kluttz, who was seated directly in front of Hoyle.  She had no idea what Hoyle was talking about.  I later spoke with a representative of the city who told me no one from their staff called Hoyle.  With a mistake like that, maybe that phantom caller was onto something after all.  Listening to Hoyle, the self-appointed expert on municipal fiber projects, refer to them as “fiber opticals,” “fiber opt,” “fiber install and do all the things they’re going to do,” and “totally fiber project any city,” did not inspire confidence.

At the heart of Hoyle’s opposition is the idea that local municipalities should not be involved in the private sector… ever.  In his mind, broadband service is a luxury, and the private marketplace is best equipped to decide who gets it, and who does not.  Hoyle brings no answers to the table for communities bypassed by the duopoly of providers who are increasingly focusing their time, attention, and resources on larger cities where average revenue per customer can be higher than in rural areas.  If the local cable or phone company doesn’t provide the service, that’s just too bad.

Mirroring the attitude of the state’s telecommunications companies, Hoyle believes municipalities or even private providers that seek broadband stimulus money represent unfair competition, even in cases where existing providers refuse to offer service.

That is the ultimate dilemma.  If you believe broadband is not becoming an essential component of most American lives and is simply a nice thing to have, it’s not insane to agree with Hoyle.  But hundreds of thousands of North Carolina residents don’t believe that.  Parents of children in broadband-disadvantaged schools quickly learn their kids fall behind their peers in larger, wired communities.  Businesses will not locate in areas where inadequate broadband exists.  Digital economy entrepreneurs cannot start new businesses without good broadband either.  Even senior citizens, who are among the most resistant to broadband adoption, often complain about the inherent inequity of being forced to rely on dial-up service.

Senator Purcell

Some of the same arguments about disparity of access went on during the early 1900s in rural North Carolina, deprived of electricity and telephone service by private providers.  Once President Roosevelt effectively declared these types of services as essential utilities, where private providers didn’t go, municipalities and co-ops did.  In North Carolina, keeping the brakes on an expansion-minded state government came even before Roosevelt was president, with the passage of the 1929 Umstead Act — a law that prohibits the state from directly competing with private enterprise.

The Umstead Act has been seized on by the telecommunications industry, arguing municipal broadband violates the spirit of the law, even though it never applied to local municipalities.  Besides, the law has been amended since 1929 because, free market theory notwithstanding, free enterprise doesn’t have every answer and cannot meet every need.  Just ask BP.

Only Ayn Rand could appreciate that Hoyle and his allies support an entrenched duopoly that embraces its profitable urban customers while they fight for restraining orders like S1209, blocking efforts by others to deliver service the duopoly won’t provide.  We call that corporate welfare and protectionism.  But some in the state legislature can’t see that because of the blizzard of cash being dropped in front of them by that duopoly, just to leave things entirely in their hands.

Hoyle noted nobody, including himself, liked the final bill.  In Hoyle’s eyes, that adds up to a “good bill.”

Other members on the Committee had different views to share.

Senator William Purcell (D-Anson, Richmond, Scotland, Stanly) is the former mayor of Laurinburg — the same city from the 2005 court victory in BellSouth/AT&T v. Laurinburg, which paved the way for municipal broadband in the state.  He asked pointedly, “What assurances do we have that the private companies are going to provide [service] to smaller areas?”

Senator Queen

Hoyle answered by pulling out his talking points generously provided by the cable and phone companies and delivered a non-answer, finally stating, “we are not going to get broadband to everyone in the state.”  Perhaps Hoyle is foreshadowing his next job after he retires from the Senate — working for the same telecom companies he seems to represent now.

Senator Joe Sam Queen (D-Avery, Haywood, Madison, McDowell, Mitchell, Yancey) delivered the most passionate presentation of the day on behalf of his constituents, among the least likely to have broadband service available to them.  As Hoyle disrespectfully rolled his eyes and winked at the cable industry lobbyists in the audience, Queen blasted the industry’s record of performance in his district, which covers the High Country — the rural Appalachian mountain counties in the western half of the state.

“We don’t have last mile access in the mountains,” Queen told the Committee.  “[My constituents are] frustrated that it’s not getting done by the cable companies, the network companies, whoever’s doing it. They’re just cherry-picking and leaving off so many of our citizens, and that’s just unacceptable.”

Queen noted the private industry that refuses to serve many of his areas also refuses to allow others to provide that service.

“The private sector is not getting it done fast enough,” he added. “We have electricity to everybody, we have water to everybody. We should have Internet to everybody in the 21st century.  In my counties, we are still struggling to make that happen.  Our children don’t have the virtual broadband educational opportunities that they have in the urban areas. Our business owners don’t have the access to markets that our urban citizens have.”

Senator McKissick

One senator had a question about the year-long moratorium.  Senator Floyd B. McKissick, Jr. (D-Durham) asked if no action was taken by the end of the 2011 session, would the moratorium expire automatically?  Although provisions in S1209 do provide for a firm sunset date, Paul Myer from the North Carolina League of Municipalities told me nothing precludes the Senate from quietly extending the moratorium, or removing the sunset provision altogether, effectively making the ban permanent.

Meanwhile, communities contemplating such projects would have to give 15-days written notice to every private provider potentially impacted, providing more than two weeks for a fear-based opposition propaganda campaign.  And we know where they’ll get the money to pay for it, too.

The only good news out of all this:

  • Cities already providing or constructing broadband projects may continue;
  • A Google Fiber city in North Carolina gets a pass;
  • Federal broadband grant recipients may proceed, although many of those grants are going to existing providers anyway;
  • The bill is headed next to the House, where we have a new opportunity to derail it.

Recognizing the spirit of this entire proceeding which left consumer interests out in the cold, no public comments were heard and no recorded vote was taken.

Needless to say, the revised S1209 is only slightly less loathsome than the original, and must be opposed.  But more on that coming shortly.

We couldn’t close this piece without recognizing that when all the talk was over and vote was taken, it was rest and relaxation time for selected senators, brought to you by Electricities who picked up the tab for a fabulous spread of food and drink.  WUNC reporter Laura Leslie wrote about what she called an Irony Supplement.

The S1209 compromise also won the grudging support of Senator David “Business-Friendly” Hoyle (D-Gaston).

After telling Senate Finance that “Somebody, maybe a lot of bodies, needs to stand up for our free enterprise system,” Hoyle went on to knock the state’s biggest public utility co-op:  “If anybody thinks that the experiment with Electricities was a resounding success, I’d like for you to raise your hand.”

No one did.

But after session today, quite a few of the Hons found their way across the street for free food and drinks provided by – wait for it – Electricities.

As one House Republican told me tonight, “If you can’t bash them and then eat their hors d’oeurves, you’re in the wrong business.”

No, sir, I’m not.  But I’m thinking you might be.

Senate Finance Committee deliberations on a revised S1209, a bill to establish a one year moratorium on municipal broadband projects. (June 2, 2010) (34 minutes)
You must remain on this page to hear the clip, or you can download the clip and listen later.

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Not All Bad News From North Carolina – A New Bill from Rep. Bill Faison Offers Hope for Caswell County

Caswell County, North Carolina

A new bill from Rep. Bill Faison (D-Orange, Caswell) would offer one North Carolina county the chance to build its own municipally-owned cable and broadband provider to deliver service to places other providers refuse to go.

H2067, “An Act to Allow Caswell County to Provide Internet Services, An Authorized Purpose Under Cable Television,” would authorize Caswell County to build its own municipal broadband system by adding cable television systems to a list of defined public enterprises.  That opens the door to selling bonds to raise private funds for system construction.

Faison told us that a 2005 ruling in the BellSouth (today AT&T) v. Laurinburg case, a state appeals court ruled that communities had the right to build systems to deliver broadband service to their residents.  He told IndyWeek there are many areas in his district and beyond that have been bypassed by cable and DSL service providers, with little hope in sight that many of the residents he represents would ever see anything beyond dial-up.

In making his case for the bill, Faison cited as an example electrical co-ops across the state that brought basic utilities services to under-served towns. “High speed internet is just as important today as electricity was in another era as a basic service,” said Faison, a proponent of municipal broadband.

“We need to supply to every one. Where AT&T will go and provide at a reasonable cost, I am happy to let them do it—but where they won’t go, someone must step up and bring that service to those people,” he added.

Faison

We had a few moments to talk to Rep. Faison about his bill and its timely introduction during the ongoing heated debate over S1209, a poison pill bill that would stop municipal broadband projects in the state.

He told us Caswell County officials appealed to him as their State Legislator to introduce the bill so they could move forward on their project, and H2067 concisely delivers within the parameters of the 2005 court case.

It will be interesting to watch progress on Faison’s H2067 in contrast to the anti-consumer S1209, introduced by Sen. David Hoyle (D-Gaston).  The only downside to Faison’s legislation is that it is limited to Caswell County.  But Faison also shows the way forward for other legislators to introduce similar bills to authorize projects in the areas of the state they represent.

For Caswell County residents, it means the potential to finally get quality broadband service after years of broken promises from incumbent providers.  Comcast of Danville, Virginia provides limited service, mostly in parts of Yanceyville, the county seat.  AT&T offers limited DSL service, but not to several areas of the county.  Those unlucky enough to be bypassed still rely mostly on dial-up.

Rep. Faison deserves your support for being a legislator that truly represents his constituents, and his actions illustrate he thinks of them first.  Please take a moment to write or call to thank him for his vision on this important issue and his support for getting the job done.

Rep. Bill Faison — [email protected] — (919) 715-3019

[flv]http://www.phillipdampier.com/video/Caswell County.flv[/flv]

Here is a senior citizen and a librarian in Caswell County, trying to live life without acceptable broadband.  These are real people with real stories to share. Broadband is not a luxury for these residents.  (4 minutes)

North Carolina Action Alert: Victory Short-Lived, S1209 Is Back Like a Bad Penny This Tuesday

North Carolina Legislature

We collectively sighed last Wednesday when the Senate Finance Committee temporarily pulled S1209, but the victory is short-lived.  Sources tell us S1209 is scheduled to return this Tuesday, one day after the long Memorial Day weekend.

We are not happy with some of the rumors that have been circulating around the Legislative Building in Raleigh.  One suggests S1209 will be modified into a one year, renewable moratorium on municipal broadband while a joint task force ponders questions about financing of municipal broadband, broadband adoption and speed, and overall competition in North Carolina.  Without a clear sunset provision, the legislature can renew the moratorium indefinitely, assuring incumbent phone and cable companies of a continued easy ride into our wallets.

Much has also been said by Sen. Clodfelter regarding the legality of municipal broadband in North Carolina.  Some of his earlier comments suggest he’d be a proponent for a moratorium while the state legislature thrashes out the legal questions.

But the courts have already effectively dealt with this question and handed victory to municipalities.  Why bother with a moratorium when in 2005, Laurinburg, North Carolina won its court battle against big telecom companies.  The judge ruled:

“Laurinburg’s network is run over fiber optic “wires or cable,” providing a “system” for “transmit[ting]” and “receiv[ing]” electronic signals capable of being converted to “audio” and/or “video” streams of information. See N.C. Gen. Stat. § 160A-319(b). We believe this fits within a broad construction of the definition of a CTS. Therefore, we hold that Laurinburg is acting within its municipal authority to run its network, and was not acting ultra vires in contracting with School Link to provide the network’s ISP service.”

Doesn’t the legislature have better things to do than to spend all of this valuable time doing work for big phone and cable companies?

We need you to again write and call your legislators. We have been told by numerous sources that your input has been very effective in pushing back S1209.  The more North Carolina consumers speak out against this anti-consumer bill, the less likely it will ever become law.

Here are the points you need to raise in your next letter or phone call:

  1. Why is the legislature still spending time on this unnecessary, anti-consumer legislation?  S1209 is wanted by large phone and cable companies.  You want your town or city to have every option open to deliver better service if a consensus is reached for it in your community.  The current system already provides effective checks and balances.  We don’t need S1209.
  2. Studying broadband issues is fine, but placing a moratorium on municipal broadband projects in the meantime is completely unacceptable.
  3. Corning’s plant in Hickory, North Carolina produces 40 percent of the world’s supply of fiber optic cable.  Passing S1209 impedes fiber projects in North Carolina, hurting our own workers and state economy.
  4. North Carolina needs all the broadband expansion it can get.  We are ranked 41st out of 50 states.  Passing S1209 preserves mediocre broadband service in our state indefinitely.

For some of you, this will be your third or fourth call or e-mail.  Perhaps it’s time to remind legislators you are becoming increasingly concerned that measures like S1209 continue to be debated.  While Time Warner Cable and CenturyLink/Embarq’s legislative priorities continue to get plenty of time and attention in Raleigh, they don’t get a vote in the next election.  Remind them you do, and your continued support hinges on whether you can feel confident members represents your interests, not those of big cable and phone companies.

Remember the three rules when contacting your legislators:

  • Be polite.
  • Be persuasive.
  • Be persistent.

Well-informed constituents who can defeat industry talking points represents the nuclear option against bad telecommunications legislation.

Now get on the phones and e-mail and get busy.  Remember — one e-mail message per address.  No carbon copies!

Here is the list:

County First Name Last Name Tel (919) Party Email Address Leg Asst email
Alamance Anthony E. Foriest 301-1446 Dem [email protected] [email protected]
Buncombe Martin L. Nesbitt 715-3001 Dem [email protected] [email protected]
Cabarrus Fletcher L. Hartsell 733-7223 Rep [email protected] [email protected]
Carteret Jean R. Preston 733-5706 Rep [email protected] [email protected]
Catawba Austin M. Allran 733-5876 Rep [email protected] [email protected]
Chatham Robert Atwater 715-3036 Dem [email protected] [email protected]
Cherokee John J. Snow 733-5875 Dem [email protected] [email protected]
Columbus R. C. Soles 733-5963 Dem [email protected] [email protected]
Cumberland Margaret H. Dickson 733-5776 Dem [email protected] [email protected]
Cumberland Larry Shaw 733-9349 Dem [email protected] [email protected]
Davie Andrew C. Brock 715-0690 Rep [email protected] [email protected]
Duplin Charles W. Albertson 733-5705 Dem [email protected] [email protected]
Durham Floyd B. McKissick 733-4599 Dem [email protected] [email protected]
Edgecombe S. Clark Jenkins 715-3040 Dem [email protected] [email protected]
Forsyth Linda Garrou 733-5620 Dem [email protected] [email protected]
Gaston David W. Hoyle 733-5734 Dem [email protected] [email protected]
Haywood Joe Sam Queen 733-3460 Dem [email protected] [email protected]
Henderson Tom M. Apodaca 733-5745 Rep [email protected] [email protected]
Johnston David Rouzer 733-5748 Rep [email protected] [email protected]
Mecklenburg Daniel G. Clodfelter 715-8331 Dem [email protected] [email protected]
Mecklenburg Charlie Smith Dannelly 733-5955 Dem [email protected] [email protected]
Mecklenburg Bob Rucho 733-5655 Rep [email protected] [email protected]
Moore Harris Blake 733-4809 Rep [email protected] [email protected]
Nash A. B. Swindell 715-3030 Dem [email protected] [email protected]
New Hanover Julia Boseman 715-2525 Dem [email protected] [email protected]
Onslow Harry Brown 715-3034 Rep [email protected] [email protected]
Orange Eleanor Kinnaird 733-5804 Dem [email protected] [email protected]
Randolph Jerry W. Tillman 733-5870 Rep [email protected] [email protected]
Robeson Michael P. Walters 733-5651 Dem [email protected] [email protected]
Rockingham Philip Edward Berger 733-5708 Rep [email protected] [email protected]
Scotland William R. Purcell 733-5953 Dem [email protected] [email protected]
Surry Don W. East 733-5743 Rep [email protected] [email protected]
Union W. Edward Goodall 733-7659 Rep [email protected] [email protected]
Wake Daniel T. Blue 733-5752 Dem [email protected] [email protected]
Wake Neal Hunt 733-5850 Rep [email protected] [email protected]
Wake Joshua H. Stein 715-6400 Dem [email protected] [email protected]
Wake Richard Y. Stevens 733-5653 Rep [email protected] [email protected]
Watauga Steve Goss 733-5742 Dem [email protected] [email protected]

Action Alert: Stop Sen. Hoyle’s Anti-Municipal Broadband Bill in North Carolina

A retiring state senator wants to throw North Carolina consumers under the bus with new legislation that could cost residents millions in savings on their cable, telephone, and broadband bills.

Senator David Hoyle (D-Gaston), has introduced S1209 — what Hoyle calls “The Nonvoted Local Debt for Competing System Act.”  We call it “The Anti-Consumer Muni-Killer Act,” representing little more than a lavish parting gift to telecommunications companies that have supported Hoyle for years.

As we have been reporting here, here, here and here for the past few months, the telecom industry has pulled out all the stops looking for friends in the state legislature to do their bidding.  This year, the industry is following the game plan it has used successfully in other states to kill potential community-based competition for their broadband duopoly.

The state’s cable and phone companies (and their legislator lackeys) argue that taxpayers should not be on the hook for municipally-owned networks.  In the guise of “protecting consumers,” Hoyle and his bill’s co-sponsors would compel municipalities to fund municipal broadband projects with General Obligation B0nds — a regulatory minefield that includes referendums held at taxpayers’ expense and direct taxpayer involvement in the funding process.

As we’ve discussed earlier, Hoyle’s proposal would compel endless referendums for everything from system construction and financing to basic system upgrades and repairs.  The implications of such legislation:

  • It makes municipal broadband projects untenable. What local government would consider a municipal project that would require endless referendums?  The only thing Hoyle didn’t include in his bill was a mandatory public referendum about where the engineers should order lunch.
  • Someone has to pay for the referendum process — North Carolina taxpayers.  So much for protecting the taxpayer!
  • The legislative minefield Hoyle lays for local communities is tailor-made for well-financed telecom industry opposition campaigns that are designed to demagogue municipal competition while tying the hands of communities to fight back.

The irony is, the current system already in place in North Carolina protects state taxpayers.

Both proposed and operational municipal broadband systems rely on Revenue Bonds that have to be approved by the North Carolina Local Government Commission.  These Revenue Bonds are not taxpayer-funded, and local residents are not on the hook should something go wrong.  The financing agreements with investors are designed to pay off the costs of such systems over time and they then become self-supporting.  But even from day one, municipal broadband represents an asset to a community’s efforts to attract digital economy jobs.

They also save you money.  Just ask the residents of Wilson, who didn’t face a rate increase outpacing inflation and finally had an alternative for “good enough for you” broadband from current providers.

Unfortunately, the current system is no good for Senator Hoyle because it doesn’t protect his friends in the phone, cable, and broadband industry, threatened with competition that would derail their duopoly gravy trains for good.

Hoyle should be willing to admit as such, considering his friends in the cable industry already have.  Marcus Trahen, a lobbyist for the North Carolina Cable Telecommunications Association told legislators at a Revenue Laws Study Committee meeting, “We don’t care if cities have internal systems; what we are worried about is competition.”

Under the guise of “protecting” taxpayers, Hoyle only manages to guarantee fat profits for Time Warner Cable, AT&T, and CenturyLink (formerly Embarq) without better pricing and service for you.  Perhaps Hoyle forgot North Carolina is ranked 41st out of 50 states for its comparatively-mediocre broadband services, mostly provided by those three companies.

Hoyle also argues that publicly owned systems harm private industry, despite the fact many in private industry support municipal broadband.  Several letters of opposition to S1209 have been sent to legislators from companies like Google, Intel, Alcatel-Lucent, and five private provider trade associations.

Hoyle doesn’t plan to stick around and watch the damage his proposed bill would create for North Carolina’s economic and high tech future.  After he retires from public office, his bill would leave a legacy of tied hands among local communities from Asheville to Greenville, and all points in-between.  Doesn’t your community deserve a better option?  If you want a third option that could dramatically lower prices and offer better service, shouldn’t local officials have the right to offer it if current providers won’t?

The fact is, none of these municipal projects would even be proposed if the cable and phone companies delivered the service communities want at fair prices. Cable and phone companies don’t need to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars to defeat these projects — they could simply lower their prices and offer the kind of service consumers demand.

For Hoyle’s part, he’s shocked…  shocked to discover consumers are offended by his telecom-friendly attitudes.  He told Indy Weekly, “the lobbyists don’t influence me; I’m in the pocket of the people that provide jobs for this state, and Time Warner Cable employs 8,500 — I can’t imagine anyone that would want to compete with that.”

Senator Hoyle weighed the interests of Time Warner Cable against 9.4 million North Carolina consumers and sided with the cable company.

Let’s push the scale in the other direction.

What You Need to Know

The author of S1209 is  Sen. David Hoyle (D-Gaston).

The bill currently lists five co-sponsors:

  • Sen. Peter S. Brunstetter (R-Forsyth)
  • Sen. Clark Jenkins (D-Edgecombe/Martin/Pitt)
  • Sen. Jerry W. Tillman (R-Montgomery/Randolph)
  • Sen. Dan Blue (D-Wake)
  • Sen. Fletcher Hartsell (R-Cabarrus/Iredell)

The latter two, Sens. Blue and Hartsell were formerly on our supporters list, and we’re reaching out for clarification as to why they are listed as co-sponsors on this bill.  We’ll update our readers about whether they will stand with North Carolina consumers or the telecom industry as soon as we hear back from their offices.

Your Action Alert

You must immediately contact legislators on the Senate Finance Committee, set to consider Hoyle’s bill this week, most likely on Wednesday.  But don’t wait until then.  You should be making contact today, just in case the bill gets voted on earlier, before opposition has a chance to build.

Tell the senators to oppose S1209 for the benefit of North Carolina’s economic future:

  • Make it clear voting for this bill is just another way to stop municipal broadband from delivering the kind of broadband service North Carolina wants and needs to grow its economy.
  • S1209 was custom-crafted to protect the interests of incumbent phone and cable companies, not North Carolina consumers.
  • The current system already protects taxpayers because they are not paying for municipal broadband projects.  S1209 forces local governments to spend taxpayer funds on endless referendums.
  • Explain you are already empowered to stop unwanted municipal projects through organized vocal opposition at town meetings as well as at the ballot box.  But your town would not be empowered to offer services private providers refuse if S1209 becomes law, because the legislation forces such projects into miles of red tape.
  • Worst of all, S1209 gives phone and cable companies plenty of time to demagogue such projects, spending ratepayer funds in a hopelessly mismatched fight.
  • Let them know you see through S1209’s anti-competitive intent, and you’re prepared to vote for those who stand up for North Carolina consumers and oppose these types of telecom industry-friendly bills.

Important! When writing, -DO NOT- simply carbon copy everyone on a single e-mail message.  Those mass mailings are discarded, unread.  For maximum effectiveness, send an individual e-mail to each legislator and another to their legislative assistant. Calling the legislator’s office can be even more effective and immediate.

Here is the list:

County First Name Last Name Tel (919) Party Email Address Leg Asst email
Alamance Anthony E. Foriest 301-1446 Dem [email protected] [email protected]
Buncombe Martin L. Nesbitt 715-3001 Dem [email protected] [email protected]
Cabarrus Fletcher L. Hartsell 733-7223 Rep [email protected] [email protected]
Carteret Jean R. Preston 733-5706 Rep [email protected] [email protected]
Catawba Austin M. Allran 733-5876 Rep [email protected] [email protected]
Chatham Robert Atwater 715-3036 Dem [email protected] [email protected]
Cherokee John J. Snow 733-5875 Dem [email protected] [email protected]
Columbus R. C. Soles 733-5963 Dem [email protected] [email protected]
Cumberland Margaret H. Dickson 733-5776 Dem [email protected] [email protected]
Cumberland Larry Shaw 733-9349 Dem [email protected] [email protected]
Davie Andrew C. Brock 715-0690 Rep [email protected] [email protected]
Duplin Charles W. Albertson 733-5705 Dem [email protected] [email protected]
Durham Floyd B. McKissick 733-4599 Dem [email protected] [email protected]
Edgecombe S. Clark Jenkins 715-3040 Dem [email protected] [email protected]
Forsyth Linda Garrou 733-5620 Dem [email protected] [email protected]
Gaston David W. Hoyle 733-5734 Dem [email protected] [email protected]
Haywood Joe Sam Queen 733-3460 Dem [email protected] [email protected]
Henderson Tom M. Apodaca 733-5745 Rep [email protected] [email protected]
Johnston David Rouzer 733-5748 Rep [email protected] [email protected]
Mecklenburg Daniel G. Clodfelter 715-8331 Dem [email protected] [email protected]
Mecklenburg Charlie Smith Dannelly 733-5955 Dem [email protected] [email protected]
Mecklenburg Bob Rucho 733-5655 Rep [email protected] [email protected]
Moore Harris Blake 733-4809 Rep [email protected] [email protected]
Nash A. B. Swindell 715-3030 Dem [email protected] [email protected]
New Hanover Julia Boseman 715-2525 Dem [email protected] [email protected]
Onslow Harry Brown 715-3034 Rep [email protected] [email protected]
Orange Eleanor Kinnaird 733-5804 Dem [email protected] [email protected]
Randolph Jerry W. Tillman 733-5870 Rep [email protected] [email protected]
Robeson Michael P. Walters 733-5651 Dem [email protected] [email protected]
Rockingham Philip Edward Berger 733-5708 Rep [email protected] [email protected]
Scotland William R. Purcell 733-5953 Dem [email protected] [email protected]
Surry Don W. East 733-5743 Rep [email protected] [email protected]
Union W. Edward Goodall 733-7659 Rep [email protected] [email protected]
Wake Daniel T. Blue 733-5752 Dem [email protected] [email protected]
Wake Neal Hunt 733-5850 Rep [email protected] [email protected]
Wake Joshua H. Stein 715-6400 Dem [email protected] [email protected]
Wake Richard Y. Stevens 733-5653 Rep [email protected] [email protected]
Watauga Steve Goss 733-5742 Dem [email protected] [email protected]

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