Municipalities in North Carolina that want to build their own broadband networks will find it significantly more difficult to do so, due to a new law backed by cable companies. The controversial House Bill 129 was enacted late last week, after Gov. Bev Perdue declined to either sign or veto it. While Perdue issued a statement saying she was concerned that the bill "may have the effect of decreasing the number of choices available to their citizens," she also urged lawmakers to rethink the measure rather than nix it herself.
The law contains a host of restrictions that would curtail the towns' ability to build their own fiber-to-the-home networks. Among others, the bill would prohibit towns from offering broadband services below cost.
Harvard Law professor Lawrence Lessig was among those who opposed the bill. "Many communities throughout your state have contracted with private businesses to build their own community broadband networks. These networks have been extraordinarily effective," he said Friday in an open letter to Perdue urging her to veto the bill.
In fact, other cities in North Carolina have already built their own networks. In 2008, Wilson, N.C. rolled out a network -- Greenlight -- which offers broadband connections of 10 Mbps upstream and downstream, more than 80 cable channels and digital phone service for $100 a month. When it launched, Greenlight was the fastest and cheapest network in the area.
Another North Carolina town, Salisbury, recently began rolling out Fibrant, its own fiber-to-the-home network, which offers connections at speeds of 15 Mbps in both directions.
"Commercial broadband providers are not happy with this new competition, however," Lessig continued. "Rather than compete with better service and better prices, they secured a government-granted protection against competition."