Thursday, May 24, 2007

Lafayette, LA to Wilson, NC: Fight It!

Does this sound familiar?:

Wilson, NC is getting hit with a "Local Government Fair Competition Act" written up by their local incumbents (AT&T and Comcast) that intends to keep the city from expanding its current, successful fiber optic ring to provide its citizens with a little competition to the current phone and cable monopolies and the internet duopoly.

Sounds mighty familiar. That is exactly the title of the bill that has cost the people of Lafayette millions of dollars and which has delayed Lafayette's fiber-optic project by 3 years. Without this law Lafayette's citizens would be using their network now; instead we are just starting after a long obstructionist battle waged by the incumbents--all of which was enabled by the "Local Government Fair Competiton Act."

Lafayette, Louisiana to Wilson, North Carolina: FIGHT IT. No half-a-loaf compromises, no handshakes, no backing off when offered a "grandfathering" clause.

People of Wilson: You cannot expect your opposition to honor any commitment it makes in conferences. They didn't in Louisiana and you shouldn't expect it in North Carolina. Without such a law you are free to make your own decisions and take responsibility for them. Such a law gives the incumbents the opening they need to sue you based on a law they have drafted. The incumbents will not hesitate to return to the legislature in the very next year to further "fix" the bill to disadvantage localities. They will use the law to pursue lawsuits that they cannot win. They will use lawsuits to simply delay project and they will use lawsuits to try and pursue interpretations of the law other than those they agreed to in conference. (Things got to such a pass here that even the legislator that skirted the rules to sponsor the bill later complained that the incumbents were suing over things that had been settled in favor of the municipality during compromise discussions!) You DO NOT need the "bigger, smarter guys at the statehouse" to protect you from yourselves. DO NOT buy the line that this sort law "protects the local taxpayer" or that it "levels the playing field." It intends to shift your control of local resources away from local citizen-owners and to a compliant state house; you can protect yourself quite well without their dubious help, I am sure. It intends to establish rules that would cripple your local utility's ability to compete; rules that the incumbents would rage against should anyone dare suggest applying such to them.

From the Wilson Daily Times Article:

City of Wilson officials and the North Carolina League of Municipalities are seeking to kill a bill that would place what they say are undue restraints on municipalities establishing "communications services." Wilson officials expected some legislative opposition when they started planning to provide broadband services to the city.
The bill, called the Local Government Fair Competition Act, places several obstacles in the way of local governments seeking to provide services such as broadband Internet, telephone and cable television. The bill is sponsored by state Reps. Drew Saunders, D-Mecklenburg, Hugh Holliman, D-Davidson, Harold Brubaker, R-Randolph, and Julia Howard, R-Davie. Lawmakers representing Wilson County have not sponsored the bill.
Some of its provisions include requiring two public hearings where the city's business plan would be available, including cost analysis and four-year projections. Also, a special election would be held to allow citizens to decide if the city should establish any communications service. Such a service would also have to be self-supporting and could not be subsidized by the city's electric fund.
"There is no good reason for this bill," said Ellis Hankins, director of the N.C. League of Municipalities.
And

City attorney Jim Cauley said the House bill was written and supported by the telecommunications industry and is "clearly designed to protect their pocketbooks at the expense of the public good."


"In the interest of corporate protectionism, it will create such a barrier to the construction of municipal broadband infrastructure that many citizens will not have access to high-speed fiber-optic services in the foreseeable future, thereby making our economic development efforts that much more difficult," Cauley said.
I hope the people of North Carolina will learn from Lafayette's experience and kill this ugly example of "corporate protectionism."

2 comments:

Brian Bowman said...

Greetings from Wilson, NC. You guys are an inspiration to us. The buildout has already begun. This legislation seeks to sandbag NC cities who want to provide superior service. We see the "fair competition" act as the "no competition" act. Long live Lafayette!

Brian Bowman (bbowman@wilsonnc.org)
Public Affairs Manager - City of Wilson

John said...

Thanks Brian, for your good wishes.

It sounds to me like Wilson is a doing a good job of defending itself. I think it was crucial to Lafayette's success that her public officials were direct and passionate in defense of the project and Lafayette. It's good to see that this is true in other places as well.

Et...Long Live Wilson! :-)

---I've a soft spot for the refrain of La Marseillaise. It goes in part: "To Arms Citzens, To Arms..." An aroused citzenry is your best defense.

John

If there's any way we can help....?