Republicans reversing course on government role in rural broadband?
Published April 4, 2019
by Anna Manning, The Locker Room, April 4, 2019.
Carolina Journal reports on bills designed to decrease government’s role in rural broadband:
North Carolina for many years has been a battleground over government-backed broadband services. The issue seemed to be settled in 2011, when the Republican-controlled General Assembly passed the Level Playing Field Law, which severely restricted local governments’ ability to get into the broadband business.
Fair enough, some legislators say — but what about local governments simply paving the way for private providers to bring broadband service to rural areas?
“I do see a distinction from allowing cities and counties to provide the infrastructure in underserved areas. I do see that as different from being the actual provider,” said Rep. Josh Dobson, R-Avery, who is the sponsor of House Bill 431, which would authorize counties and cities to build and lease facilities and equipment to help provide adequate broadband services to rural areas. “It does not allow, nor would I support — allowing counties and cities to get into the broadband business.”
H.B. 431 — titled the FIBER NC Act — would grant counties and cities the authority to use property taxes to construct such facilities and equipment. The bill requires local governments to conduct a feasibility study, adopt a resolution supporting the action, and post a public notice 10 days before any meeting which would debate and discuss the resolution.
Opposition to local government broadband businesses typically has been a Republican issue, who’ve used million-dollar losses by muni-broadband providers in Salisbury and Mooresville as examples.
But Dobson doesn’t see it that way.
“I know there are some who see this as an ideological issue of government getting involved,” Dobson told Carolina Journal. “I don’t necessarily see it that way because it’s only the government providing the infrastructure. One out of every two students in Avery County that I represent does not have access to internet in their home. And that’s just unacceptable to me. I have not done my job when one out of every two students does not have access to the internet. We have to have an all options on the table approach.”
Meanwhile in the Senate, Majority Leader Harry Brown of Onslow County is sponsoring Senate Bill 310. It allows rural electric cooperatives to get into the broadband business using their existing infrastructure.
Brown agrees his bill should not be an ideological issue.