Suck It, Telecoms! Public Broadband Gets Reprieve in North Carolina

The North Carolina legislature just sent a bill to study committee (a.k.a shelved it at least until next year) that would have crippled municipal broadband projects in the state.

Here’s why that’s a really, really good (albeit temporary) thing: According to a recent study, America ranks 15th in the world in broadband access. This is partly because we have a very large population spread over a very large amount of space. But it is also because private companies don’t care about poor people and refuse to build broadband infrastructure in rural areas and many low-income city neighborhoods.

This is where municipal broadband plans come in. Local governments set up networks providing fast Internet access to underserved or totally ignored areas, for free or at significantly lower prices than would private providers.

But not if the telecoms can help it! ISPs, distressed by the prospect of actual competition in an otherwise monopolized industry, claim that municipal broadband has an unfair advantage over private broadband providers.

And one way to “level the playing between between the public and private sectors”, as a Time Warner Cable spokesperson ridiculously put it, is to lobby for deeply unpopular legislation that would effectively kill local government broadband projects.

The North Carolina bill, backed by Time Warner Cable and Embarq, an offshoot of Sprint, would have placed such onerous restrictions on municipal networks as to effectively make them unworkable.

Among other things, the bill would have:

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