It is inherently dangerous to a democracy for all of its telecommunications infrastructure to be held in the hands of unelected and unaccountable private actors with no obligation to behave in a nondiscriminatory manner. Municipal networks by their nature answer directly to the local community and their policies are subject to scrutiny and modification by public action, if need be at the ballot box. The preservation of a system of mixed public and private ownership of telecommunications infrastructure is essential to maintaining the free flow of information unfettered by the economic interests of dominant private actors. ,
Asheville Opposes Rep Avila's Attempt to Enshrine Time Warner Cable Monopoly
The continuing saga of H129/S87 in North Carolina has proved at least one thing, Time Warner Cable knows how to pull the puppet strings. The bill was written by Time Warner Cable and pretends to be about creating a level playing field while it effectively outlaws community networks (and some public safety networks) -- much to Time Warner Cable's financial benefits.
It remains unclear whether Representative Avila, who is championing this TWC power grab, truly knows what she is doing or is simply ignorant and blindly trusts the TWC lobbyists actually running the show.
After Legislators received a torrent of phone calls opposing TWC's bill, Rep Avila promised to negotiate with communities to find some middle ground and ensure the legislation at least grandfathered existing community networks. Instead, she turned the meetings over to TWC to run -- rather than negotiating, they set their terms. She has made multiple public claims about being reasonable but in private, she has made it clear that this is Time Warner Cable's bill.
Communities are dead set against this bill, noting the many ways in which it creates unique barriers for their networks while giving a free pass to TWC. Hardly shocking as TWC wrote the bill and is calling the shots via Rep. Avila (whose own district opposes the bill).
Now Asheville has passed a resolution against the bill [pdf], fearing its passage would derail their public safety network. The staff report explains why:
The stated purpose of the bills is to protect jobs and promote investment in North Carolina. The mechanism for protection is structured as restrictions on local government on engaging in what governing boards deem to be public-purpose communication and/or broadband projects. While one might assume that the bill’s target of communications services that deliver broadband and other services “to the public, or any sector of the public, for a fee” would rule out Asheville, this is not necessarily the case. The City of Asheville owns and operates assets that support a public safety radio system, a critical need for our officers in the field. Over the lifetime of the communications system, the City has leased surplus communications system assets to the private sector in order to underwrite a cost savings plan for the operations of the system, thus saving citizens from an additional tax burden.
Restrictions of the bills include limiting permanent or temporary subsidy of a broadband enterprise fund by other enterprise funds, as well as making cities liable for taxes that, normally, only private telecommunications corporations would have to pay. The bills state that cities “shall not subsidize provision of communications services with funds from any noncommunications service”, and would rule out a private/public partnership (such as a potential partnership with Google Fiber) or grant funding (such as ARRA or other Federal funding). Such restrictions would significantly harm Asheville.
The restrictions also forbid the financing or leasing of real property (which could be rights-of- ways for a communication network or tower sites) per NCGS 160A-19 and 160A-20. Asheville’s ability to build new public safety telecommunications towers, or relocate them, would be affected. Finally, the bills apply these restrictions to interlocal agreements. While the bills exempt facilities that are “within the city's jurisdictional boundaries for the city's internal governmental purposes,” it is not always clear-cut what an “internal governmental purpose” is, and whether a city that partners with a county or other local government would be subject to these restrictions. It is worth noting that not all of the City of Asheville’s critical public safety telecommunications towers are within the City’s jurisdictional boundaries.
And its fiscal impact:
These bills could have a negative fiscal impact in two ways. First, the City’s ability to accept grant dollars or engage in communication system interlocal agreements would likely be negatively impacted because of the City’s practice of underwriting public safety communications expense with leases to the private sector. Second, if City Council wished to engage in broadband economic development activities to boost the tax base, such as a public- private partnership to build a high speed broadband system similar to Google Fiber, such an action would be significantly more difficult to accomplish than it is today.
Not mention, this bill will kill jobs. There is no evidence that community networks have resulted in a single lost job in North Carolina, but we know it has created many jobs as well as improving the business climate by creating competition and lowering broadband prices.
This bill would also reverse the dramatic improvement in schools in Salisbury due to their community network. Without building their own networks, schools will have to continue relying on last-generation, overpriced connections from… companies like TWC and CenturyLink! Shocker that they are pushing so hard for it to pass!
Quite simply, this bill is a dramatic overreach -- Rep Avila is using the power of the state to overrule local communities to benefit TWC (as well as others, like CenturyLink). This Representative may not understand the impact of her legislation, but TWC does -- that is why they wrote it so expansively.
The bill is going to be discussed next week in the Finance Committee. Stop the Cap! has provided a list of committee members and links to their contact info. Folks in NC need to reach out and tell them to oppose the bill! Continue trying to get resolutions passed in counties, communities, grassroots organizations, etc (download a sample resolution [rtf]). Also, sign the petition and pass it along to friends, family, and neighbors.
The bottom of this post has links to more information about the bill, but the upshot is this: We need more competition in broadband, not state legislators giving more power to Time Warner Cable!
As an example, we are providing Asheville's resolution here. It is a bit shorter than the one from Rockingham County, but again shows the tremendous opposition to Avila's TWC bill.
RESOLUTION OF THE CITY COUNCIL OF THE CITY OF ASHEVILLE TO OPPOSE HB-129 AND SB-87, “LEVEL PLAYING FIELD/LOCAL GOV’T COMPETITION”
WHEREAS, the City of Asheville owns and operates a vital public safety communications system; and
WHEREAS, the City may, from time to time, need or desire to lease unused portions of the communications system, and use the proceeds to underwrite the costs of building and constructing the system; and
WHEREAS, the ability to operate a telecommunications system is a potentially important public service that local governments should be able to provide to their citizens; and
WHEREAS, the Southeastern Telecommunications Officers and Advisors Association as well as the North Carolina League of Municipalities strongly opposes these bills; and
NOW, THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED BY THE CITY COUNCIL OF THE CITY OF ASHEVILLE THAT:
1. The City strongly opposes House Bill 129 as well as Senate Bill 87.
2. The City Manager, with the assistance of the City Attorney, is authorized to convey this resolution to the North Carolina General Assembly and to submit written comments as appropriate in support of this resolution.
3. This resolution shall be effective on and after its passage.
Read, approved and adopted this 8th day of March, 2011.
Image from AshevilleGrown