The Republican-dominated North Carolina State Assembly this week approved a bill that would prohibit communities from upgrading their internet access, forcing individual municipalities into a private monopoly of managed broadband services by companies like Time Warner and Comcast.
Both firms have been restricting the amount of bandwidth users can consume, even though bandwidth itself is not a tangible, meter-able commodity.
The bill, which was heavily supported by telecom giant Time Warner, comes on the heels of several communities successfully launching their own fiber-optic broadband programs. One program in Wilson, North Carolina, called Greenlight, even features speeds up to 100 Megabits-per-second (Mbps) at a lower price than its corporate competitors.
That’s because Greenlight is a public utility, instead of a profits-making scheme, that places access and quality of service above harvesting dollars off customers. Instead of focusing on margins or how to impose fees on metered bandwidth use, they’re able to focus on simply providing the best the Internet has to offer.
Prior to the arrival of Greenlight, most Internet users in Wilson only had access to 7 Mbps speeds, at a much higher price than the public utility’s plans. For about the same price as the slower connection, Greenlight users get access to 20 Mbps speeds, with options to upgrade to 100M for about $150 a month.
However, in a Monday night vote, North Carolina assemblymen voted 81-37 to bring that to a halt, banning any other communities from upgrading their own connections and forcing them to continue patronizing private providers.
Currently-existing community broadband services like Greenlight, which five North Carolina communities have already set up, would not be affected should the bill clear the state senate.
The cities of Asheville, Bladenboro and Momeyer have all passed resolutions condemning the statewide bill.
Proponents of the broadband restrictions claim municipalities should not be able to borrow money to build networks without explicit voter approval. They also want the restrictions passed to prevent groups like Greenlight from providing service below what it costs, using money from other public utilities to cover the income gap.
North Carolina’s broadband limitation bill now moves on to the state senate.
Stephen C. Webster is the senior editor of Raw Story, and is based out of Austin, Texas. He previously worked as the associate editor of The Lone Star Iconoclast in Crawford, Texas, where he covered state politics and the peace movement’s resurgence at the start of the Iraq war. Webster has also contributed to publications such as True/Slant, Austin Monthly, The Dallas Business Journal, The Dallas Morning News, Fort Worth Weekly, The News Connection and others. Follow him on Twitter at @StephenCWebster.
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