Understanding A Bad Bill

LUX.ET.UMBRA has a blog post about the bad bill HB1587. I appreciate his post and a look at both sides who work for and against this bill. Please go read his post. Here is my response.

Right now many rural municipalities in North Carolina do not have high quality broadband. Despite several Cities and Towns trying to work with companies to provided it. If a for-profit company can not make a profit providing service in these communities then I agree they shouldn’t attempt it. The sad fact is people in these communities can not wait for telcos profitability to materialize. The world is moving way to fast too wait. This is where municipal networks can help. To fill gaping voids in access. The presence of cable modem and DSL speed is not enough. Not in this age of a multimedia Internet.

If a municipality creates a network they will need lots of for-profit partners. Those partners can provide up stream connectivity (bandwidth to the rest of the world), fiber optic install, network hardware, consultants, network maintenance, etc., etc. All of these needs are ways for for-profit companies to make money. Municipalities should be seen as big customers, not competition.

When you look at other infrastructure created by government you see that modern business would not exist without it. Roads, water, sewer, telephone, and electricity have all been built and maintained at some time by government. Broadband Internet is the same thing. Let Local, State, and National government spend our tax dollars creating Infrastructure that for-profit companies can benefit from now and well into the future. At the same time individual citizens will reap the benefit also.

Most importantly is providing equal access to the Internet for all. Many people do not have broadband in their homes. This service is no longer a luxury. Going to a local library computer lab or coffee shop is not a optimum method for using the Internet. Can you imagine every time you needed to make a phone call having to go down the street to a business to use the telephone? Families need computers, Internet access, and the knowledge to use these tools. Without broadband available to everyone this will not happen at the rate needed to have lasting benefit.

In my opinion it is local government, not for-profit companies, who are our best long term allies in bridging the digital divide. People who do not have access now need all the help they can get. The monthly expense of a cable modem is not doable for many. That expense exclude people unnecessarily. Local government’s mandate is to serve EVERYONE. Not just those who meet requirements to be a customer.

Right now HB1587 will NOT help the citizens of North Carolina. In fact it does the complete opposite. It removes any realistic chance that local government will be able help its citizens by providing broadband. The requirements in HB1587 for a local government to provide broadband turn a democracy into a private business. If history of privatizing government is any guide you can see how this is such a bad idea. We want to be able to elect the people who serve us. Not labor under monopolies that give us little or no choice. Our best partners are those we can elect in and out of office. Not those who we vote for with dollars.

Any person, or business, that would create/sponsor this bill has completely ignored their fellow citizens. It appears they cares only to create a business monopoly at the cost of millions of peoples future. HB1587 is not about preventing government monopoly. It is a crass move by business to snuff out competition of ANY kind. Telecommunications companies are trying to create legislation that preserves their old business model. The Internet altered their businesses. Not Local governments. So instead of giving representatives thousands of dollars for their campaigns try rewriting your business plan and work with your neighbors instead of against them.

7 thoughts on “Understanding A Bad Bill

  1. darkmoon

    Thanks for reading my post.

    Just ringing in that I somewhat disagree. If you read it (HB1857) very carefully, there is no private help. The bill itself makes government operate a business as a business, which I believe should happen if in fact they proceed to compete. You’re mixing a governing power with those that abide by the governance.

    I agree with the digital divide issue. But I also realize that since 2004, I’ve been pushing for rural communities to gain access. Realistically, it’s not on their agenda. At all. You’d be surprised how many of the eNC champions blew off my emails when I asked to help ( to date, I have yet to receive one single response and I gave up in 2005). They also have their own agendas as well as the overall ideal sounds. Currently, I’m working on a wireless project to bring broadband to the homes of low income residents. But, even that has taken me three years to actually get anywhere.

    While I appreciate where you’re coming from, it’s somewhat misleading to say that government needs to have private partners and that this is privatizing government. In essence, this bill basically puts on the floor that if government enters the arena, then they have to follow the same rules and regulations as businesses in the same arena. And there should be no problems about that.

    People need to read that bill carefully before creating opinions about stifling government help and how big bad businesses are creating monopolies and such. I have no love of telcos in general, but that bill doesn’t say what everyone thinks it says. Having seen the responses by local governments, it makes me side with the other side of the bill even more so due to how it’s worded. I just think that there needs to be a lot more definition and detail work going on which there isn’t.

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  2. darkmoon

    Just an FYI. I'm writing up a response and update. I assume I have your permission to link and such being that you and I differ on opinion but it's definitely annoying. HB1587 already passed House and is on its way into Finance Committee. It didn't pass the voice vote for an amendment to allow for cities where private industry isn't there to go ahead with it (I still think that local government should have this option, BUT still be bound to the same rules and regs that everyone else is).

    I agree with the digital divide thing on how it's hard to convince them. But after three years of "nothing", I gave up on any sort of city interaction. My perspective? It's all talk, but zero walk. I've now working with private foundations to make the difference happen since they're more than happen to at least do something about it.

    I'm cynical about the whole process. Sounds like you're way more optimistic about the democratic process. Not myself. I've been disappointed time and again and I've never seen any change worth making a difference in from politicians which is why I finally drew up some of my personal time and try to give back. Citizens can make a difference. But I personally am fortunate that there are those like yourself that are fighting the fight so people like me that have given up on even bothering to can work in the background.

    Outside of all of that, the only person I trust truthfully is myself. You can't get anything done. People in general are more suceptible to profit margins than "ideals" and that's why I find that telcos would be way more efficient at providing service. They are tied by that whole profit margin area though which hurts rural. There is where I break from them. If you have time, I welcome an email from you on what you're trying for wireless via Chapel Hill. I have a couple ideas that I've proposed to be played out here for minimal cost. If you're interested, I'd love to share information across the board.

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  3. darkmoon

    Oops. typo. "I’ve now working with private foundations to make the difference happen since they’re more than happen to at least do something about it." … should be more than "happy".

    ^_^

    Reply
  4. BrianR Post author

    Would be happy to talk with you! I'm sorry you've given up on working with local government. I don't blame you at all! I've seen some harsh stuff that has questioned my resolve MANY TIMES.

    I think working with private foundations is a good idea. But I want to continue to hold local government's 'feet to the fire'. Some day, in my life time I hope, Mayors and Council members will act and we'll be poised to help them do the right thing. I'm sure there will be lots of I told you so. With good humor of course. 🙂 [Gota point out that Carrboro already has some public wifi. They get it big time.]

    BTW – its really hard to be optimistic about the democratic process. I have Ruby and lots of other people here in Chapel Hill and Carrboro to thank for being optimistic. If it wasn't for them I wouldn't be so idealistic and fight so hard. Plus this is my home now and I'm going to fight for it!

    Reply
  5. BrianR Post author

    Hey Darkmoon. I’m glad we’re both on the same side about bridging the digital divide. Yes its hard. I’m discovering that myself. When I served in AmeriCorp as a Tech VISTA I saw it first hand. Now my other projects are just as tough.

    In my mind education is the key. I have hope that people will come around. We can help raise their technical literacy. I think its possible while being partners with people. NOT shoving tech at them. Sadly the world is moving so fast that making a living in the modern world requires access to the Internet more and more. This massive change will leave people behind.

    You keep saying “People need to read that bill”. I don’t know who you’re talking too. I’ve read it about five times. I understand what it means to local government VERY well. I think our differences are based on point of view. Not ignorance as you keep suggesting.

    I don’t trust the idea of all government. It can become corrupt and not function. But right now all we have in the way of real democracy in the US for ALL people regardless of income is local democratic government. People who are truly poor depend upon local government ALOT. So I rather have a local government we can re-elect, impeach, lobby, talk too, persuade, and change than a private or “public” for-profit company running my utility. That’s what Internet access is, a utility. This fight against HB1587 is no different than the battle for public electricity, telephone, water, and sewer.

    Do you think Telecommunications companies could abide by the exact same requirements that they are asking local governments to? Will telecommunications companies give local government broadband providers equal access to their telephone poles, cell towers, and fiber?

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  6. darkmoon

    Umm…. ACTUALLY…. I know for a fact that everything in that bill, telecomms have to abide by.

    My day job associates directly with Sprint cellular infrastructure (no I don’t work for Sprint), and they have to follow everything in the bill. Thus, the fact that people are screaming about how this limits government? I call the BS. In fact, here’s the thing.

    Sorry, but I still hold to the ignorance piece since I have to explain the following:

    No one provider owns towers. Period. This is all private property (non-vendor) and sometimes public. Those are leased and many are owned by city. Basically the bill was protecting the businesses saying that if you as a government begin to compete against us, then you can’t just pull our antennas off of your water tower because you want the better access. Being that it’s leased directly from the city, this could bode really well for government “wireless” coverage and very bad for telecoms that are on a first-come-first-serve basis on positioning on a pole. Thus, you can have Alltel, Verizon, and Sprint all on the same tower, but each carrier at a different position.

    The fact that I work in wireless? I know this is industry practice. But all this talk about how the bill is bad for government? BS. Holds the government to the same standards that we in industry have to follow. While I’m all about pushing for muni-wireless to an extent, this is the wrong way to approach it. Government should be held to stricter standards, not relaxed standards.

    Thus, that’s why my ignorance stance is true. Not a single person has asked about what telecoms have to face in industry. I can tell you for a fact, and anyone in the industry can back it up. We have to follow EVERYTHING in that bill and more (speaking from cellular only).

    Outside of digital divide, I don’t find any basis for governments that oppose this. It’s all FUD. It’s like when governments go all Microsoft, and disregard open source or linux (we have this huge problem of it in Greensboro/Guilford County). Why? It’s not because they’re trying to help “the people”. I’ve fought against Guilford County Schools IT time and again to help save money and bring costs down. The fact is, they don’t care and if they do bring someone in to do wireless, my money is on the fact that they would know zilch about RF.

    IMHO, when I first heard of the bill, I was like… bleh… that’s ridiculous. Having read it multiple times and putting against what industry is faced with (aka. my professional life), I must say that there’s more to it. There has yet to be an argument that sufficiently backs the government positions.

    One other thing. Depending on how your local government is set up, you cannot impeach, lobby, persuade, re-elect, or what not the divisioning within the city. Like in Greensboro, those that work under the city manager (non-elected) don’t have to answer to City Council (elected). Having also asked directly for help with digital divide projects here, I can say that it’s a joke to think they care one bit. I’d love to put every govt process through a Six Sigma ringer and find out how much is wasted. But alas, it doesn’t quite work that way.

    Hopefully the above is some insight on what telecoms are faced with in pushing the bill. Again, I’m not disregarding the digital divide cause. Very important, and having 90 of 100 counties approximately being regarded as “rural”, I know of the uphill battle we all face. Yancey county has Comcast cable service for instance, but they won’t turn on the internet infrastructure even though it was on for a time before. It is about profit margins, and in that regards, I believe that governments should have the option to take initiative. But if they do, they still have to follow the same laws. I think that’s the key factor here.

    Reply
  7. BrianR Post author

    Thanks Darkmoon. Lots of good information. There needs to be more open and frank communication about this. I’m learning…

    Despite the info you share I still trust my local government more than Telcos. I personally want them to have an advantage. I am involved. I think citizen CAN make a difference. We can change how our government runs. Every aspect of it. It is SLOWER than molasses and makes mistakes but I still have hope. The concepts of local government are in the right direction towards participatory democracy. We need to move that way not towards privatization. That is the antithesis of community ownership and control.

    As far as I know my local government staff is directed by our Council through the Town Manager. I’ve watched the council request all kinds of reports and more from them. This puts them to work. The Mayor and Council do this on our our behalf. True this isn’t perfect. Yes I don’t always agree with my Town government. But, keep in mind we can choose not to vote for council members who choose Town Managers who don’t work for the people.

    The way HB1587 hurts towns is that it throws a huge barrier in front of them. You think its hard now convincing them to work on bridging the digital divide. If this bill passes they will have a HUGE excuse not too. THAT is my biggest worry and why I will continue to work to defeat HB1587.

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