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

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