North Carolina lawmakers have put the brakes on a bill that would have crippled municipal broadband in the state.
Wednesday morning, the House Public Utilities Committee sent the measure to committee for further study. That move will effectively delay consideration of the bill for at least one year.
The proposed law, backed by Internet service providers Time Warner and Embarq, would have effectively prevented cities and towns from building their own high-speed Internet networks. The controversial measure drew much opposition from residents -- including critics who mobilized on the Facebook group "NC Citizens Against Anti-Competition Bills HB1252 and S1004."
Three towns in North Carolina, including Wilson, already built their own broadband networks. The service in Wilson has gotten much media attention, partly because the network is faster and cheaper service than what had been commercially available. Wilson's network offers speeds of 10 Mbps both upstream and downstream, 81 cable channels and digital phone service -- all for around $100 a month. Time Warner's comparable, but slower, service in the area starts at around $109 a month, according to the company's Web site.
The public affairs manager in Wilson, Brian Bowman, also started the blog SaveNCBroadband to oppose the measure. Wednesday, Bowman called news about the bill's delay "an excellent victory for the spread of next-generation broadband in NC."
Other broadband advocates likewise cheered the news. "This represents our second pro-consumer victory in less than a month against big cable and telco companies," wrote Phillip Dampier, a Rochester, N.Y. resident who started the blog Stopthecap.com to protest Time Warner's plan to impose pay-per-byte billing. Faced with consumer backlash and pressure from lawmakers, Time Warner shelved that initiative last month.
Industry consultant and analyst Craig Settles, who was critical of the proposed law, added that he favors national legislation protecting towns' ability to create their own networks. "That this bill even received serious consideration is testimony to the need for a national law from Congress protecting communities and muni broadband networks from incumbents incapable of competing on a field already tilted in their favor."