Monthly Archives: May 2007

NC HB1587 is still bad

Yesterday the NC House Utility Committee [excel file of emails] meet and discussed HB 1587, “The Local Government Fair Competition Act”. Turns out lots of people showed up and spoke in favor and against the bill. So the committee vote was delayed until Wednesday June 6 at 10am. Here is a synopsis of the meeting I received:

Your emails and phone calls are working! The Public Utilities Committee delayed vote on HB1587 one week, after the industry and a few members of the public spoke. The Committee Chair, Saunders (Mecklenburg) introduced a new version of HB1587 on site, advocated to push the bill to the Finance Committee with a yes vote, and then called off the vote after hearing a number of questions from his committee members (Harrison, Bryant, Coates, Holmes, McComas) and short public comment (Exec Director, North Carolina Telephone Alliance, Mayor from Mooresville, Freedom Works (industry), and Action Audits (Nash County, TJCOG, SEATOA). Saunders will reconvene the Public Utility Committee for a vote next Wednesday, June 6, ROOM 1228, LEGISLATIVE BUILDING. Please repeat your emails to committee members (attached) from your communities. Please repeat your phone calls and please come and speak on behalf of your community. Your members need to understand how this bill hurts the communities they represent! Only that will give them the leverage to vote against the wishes of the Chair.

One result of this meeting was an amendment to the Bill. I think it was in response to many localities who have already invested a lot of money in the creation of municipal networks. (fiber for voice, video, and data) In short a way to grandfather in these communities and protect them against the terrible new rules this bill would impose. Good first concession. But not enough.

This is really bad news for Chapel Hill and even Carrboro. In order to be exempt from the bill the locality would have to be deemed a utility by the rules set in this bill and other laws governing utility regulation. To my knowledge Chapel Hill wouldn’t qualify. (I am not a lawyer and this is not legal advice. Just one citizens interpretation.)

It appears the new parts of HB1587 will allow a local government to become a telecommunications services provider with strict conditions such as:

  • require municipality to hold 2 public forums
  • require municipality to create a business plan
  • require municipality to hold a special election (!)
  • prevent a municipality from subsidizing a service
  • the municipality must PAY ITSELF PROPERTY TAX as if it were a private company
  • must open up ALL of its property to private use for communications businesses (poles, right of way, conduits, facilities…)
  • must keep separate books on this venture
  • shall conduct an individual annual audit
  • the municipality must pay equal to or GREATER the amount of liability insurance as a private provider would pay
  • GRANDFATHER all localities that are defined as a “public utility” BEFORE the date this bill passes

From a business perspective this may seem fair. I mean this would make local governments have to put up with the same difficulties a private business would. Right? Wrong!

I certainly don’t disagree with the idea that community forums should be held or that any group entering into a venture should write a business plan. But these other requirements would seriously cripple cash strapped local governments. Especially ones like Chapel Hill which face IMMENSE growth in the coming years. (growth = expense)

The part that is REALLY wrong about this is that it would turn a locality who choose to become a telecommunications service provider into a entity with the restrictions of a private company. This bill could PRIVATIZE local government! A serious step in the WRONG direction.

Local governments are the most direct form of democratic government in the United States. (They ain’t perfect. That’s for sure. But it is fixable. 🙂 ) They need EVERY tool they can find to protect citizens and plan for their futures. By restricting local government in this way we would be hurting millions of people in North Carolina in a very direct way.

This new amendment is a big threat from the bill sponsors. It basically says go ahead and provide telecommunications. But we’ll make it so difficult for you to get into the business you’ll think twice.

These dirty tactics are the very definition of unfair business practices. Its clear the bills sponsors don’t work for the people but for big business.

Time to email some Representatives again!

PDF HB1587 5/29/07 3:46PM

PDF HB1587 Fiscal Research Report 5/29/07

Library Thing

I just learned about the neat book cataloging site Library Thing. I love how it grabs book info from so many sources. Who knew that the UNC Libraries allow external websites to grab data! Yeah UNC! The person who showed me the site today said that it works with the Duke library but the functionality wasn’t public yet. Seems there is a big debate among librarians there about sharing that data. A shame.

I am now addicted. Entering in books by hand. May buy a quecat scanner for $15 to speed stuff along. 🙂 Man I love books! My library on Library Thing is here. (or what I’ve entered so far… its going to take me a while to enter in all of them.)

Wilson, NC builds fiber network and fights HB1587

I found this cool blog called The Fiber Optic Files – Wilson, NC today. Its written by Brian Bowman, the Public Affairs Manager for the City of Wilson. He linked to my post about the bad bill NC HB 1587. From there I learned more about the fiber network Wilson is constructing and the wonderful resolution [PDF] the Wilson City Council passed in opposition to HB 1587.

This blog also pointed me two great pieces in the Wilson Times. One is a article called Fiber bill faces nays. Both the City Manager and City Attorney of Wilson were quoted in this article. Check this out:

Wilson city manager Grant Goings said local governments have a strong history of stepping up and providing critical infrastructure when the profit motivation is not high enough to entice private sector investment.

“I suspect that there were some unhappy well drillers when the city built a public water supply system, and I doubt our sewer system was good for the septic tank business. But to move communities forward you have to invest in infrastructure,” Goings said.

Exactly! There is a long history in the United States of attempts to block the creation of public infrastructure. Water is one good historical example, so is rural telephone, and now broadband Internet. Many important services are not always profitable but are still necessary. (not to say that providing broadband to everyone wouldn’t be profitable….)

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.

More good points! I’d love to hear more elected officials in Chapel Hill and Carrboro speak to this.

Plus there is another Wilson Times editorial called Bill would protect monopolies.

The short title of the bill is “The Local Government Fair Competition Act,” but the honest title should be “The Monopolies Protection Act.”

The bill, which is in committee in the N.C. House, would establish a series of hurdles for local governments seeking to provide communications services, including telephone, cable television and Internet connections. While some of the provisions can be justified, others are transparently intended to discourage cities or counties from creating competing networks, such as the fiber-optic network the city of Wilson is already installing.

The bill, whose sponsors include House Majority Leader Hugh Holliman and former Speaker Harold Brubaker, would for the first time require the N.C. Utilities Commission to regulate a municipal function. None of the usual municipal utilities — water, sewer, electricity or natural gas — is regulated by the Utilities Commission, which was established to protect consumers against monopolistic corporate giants. Because consumers are also voters and can change leadership at the next election, municipal utilities have been considered self-regulating.

Great to learn about people in other municipalities fighting HB1587!

Listening to "Spirits in the Material World"

Got my record player hooked back up. The first album I randomly selected to listen to was The Police’s Ghost in the Machine. The first song Spirits in the Material World strikes a cord with me. Here are the lyrics.

There is no political solution
To our troubled evolution
Have no faith in constitution
There is no bloody revolution

We are spirits in the material world
Are spirits in the material world
Are spirits in the material world
Are spirits in the material world

Our so-called leaders speak
With words they try to jail you
The subjugate the meek
But its the rhetoric of failure
We are spirits in the material world
Are spirits in the material world
Are spirits in the material world
Are spirits in the material world

Where does the answer lie?
Living from day to day
If its something we cant buy
There must be another way

We are spirits in the material world
Are spirits in the material world
Are spirits in the material world
Are spirits in the material world

This whole record is pretty socially conscious. Reggae overtones through out. Reggatta de Blanc (White Reggae) of some quality for sure. “One world is enough – for all of us!”

Why you should care about the Carrboro Citizen

Jock Lauterer has a straight to the point bit of witting in this weeks Carrboro Citizen called Why we should support our hometown newspaper. My fav part:

So why is this new paper special? How is it different from the others? And why should you care about whether The Citizen fails or flourishes?

To answer those questions, let’s go to little Yerington, Nev., where that town’s 3,700-circulation weekly paper, the Mason Valley News, bears the following unequivocal motto beneath it’s nameplate:

“THE ONLY NEWSPAPER IN THE WORLD THAT GIVES A DAMN ABOUT YERINGTON.”

There you go. The Citizen is the only newspaper in the world that really cares about Carrboro. And here’s my proof: Why has there never before been a full-fledged, standalone, all-local newspaper in Carrboro?

Because historically publishers have looked at Carrboro not as a community but as a market.

Market obsession is the problem with media in general. Too much concern about profit and not enough about good journalism. Profit and good journalism aren’t mutally exlusive. But service is more important than gigantic paydays.

I’m going to snag that nameplate for a bit after I modify it to suit my needs. 🙂