North Carolina looking at measure to limit municipal broadband

North Carolina is considering a bill that would keep municipalities from operating their own broadband networks. The bill in its original form was recently challenged by Salisbury, a municipality in North Carolina that currently runs its own broadband network – Fibrant. After the bill’s sponsors met with Salisbury Mayor Susan Kluttz they agreed to pull the bill and rewrite it to include an exemption for existing networks like Fibrant. However, any new networks would seem to be limited. This is the fourth time such a bill has been advanced in North Carolina, the measure is currently being put forward by Republican Representative Marilyn Avila.

Large cable providers such as Time Warner and AT&T are pushing for the bill, which would limit the creation of any more networks like Fibrant. Fibrant currently competes against private sector companies to provide cable and broadband services in Salisbury which has an aging private network with gaps in access to services according to city officials. According to a piece in the Salisbury Post, the city tried to partner with private companies before setting up a network in direct competition with them, but that partnership was ultimately unsuccessful.

In its current form, the bill is designed to restrict the abilities of cities and towns to create their own community broadband networks by limiting their ability to fund the networks, advertise them or offer more affordable options than private sector providers. Cable providers claim that competing against networks like Fibrant is unfair because municipal governments have advantages over private companies such as utilizing subsidies or utility funds to offer the service. Cable providers also argue that municipalities can go into debt to keep their network going, a practice that is not always possible for private sector providers.

“Time Warner and other companies have refused to upgrade their aging networks, and Fibrant {…} are the most technologically advanced systems in the state,” said Christopher Mitchell, director of the Telecommunications as Commons Initiative for the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, in the article.

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