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As reported by the Independent Weekly, Democratic state legislators in North Carolina have penned the "Level Playing Field/Cities/Service Providers" bill, which contrary to its name, seeks to prevent municipal governments from installing high-speed broadband or wireless internet service and acting as an ISP, even if commercial ISPs have no plans to offer service to their communities. Worse yet, it could derail North Carolina's piece of a $4.7 billion package to fund expanded broadband service to under-served communities.

According to Brian Bowman, the Public Affairs Manager for Wilson, NC, on the Save NC Broadband blog:

If the cable/phone companies really want a level playing field, they’d open their books just like we do in the spirit of open meetings and open records law. They don’t want a level playing field. They want to be the only team on the field.

Bottom line, these companies are using your state lawmakers to protect monopolies. It was wrong in 2007 when a similar bill died in the house and it’s wrong today.

Close on the heels of Time Warner Cable's announcement that it would begin testing "tiered bandwith" caps in Greensboro, and the annoucement of Salisbury's plan to follow in Wilson's footsteps and provide fiber to the home for its residents (promising symmetrical speeds of up to 100Mbps; Wilson tax money does not fund Greenlight, it is self-supported through subscription fees), these bills not only threaten the possibility that North Carolina will finally claw its way above the national average in residential broadband access, and do so in an affordable manner, it also threatens North Carolina's access to the $4.7 billion the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) has set aside from the $787 billion stimulus package to bring broadband to underserved and un-served communities.

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Current Status and Legistlative Contacts
HB1252 is expected to be considered by the Committee on Science and Technology tomorrow (apparently, despite numerous complaints, author Ty Harrell (D-Wake) was pushing to have it voted on on April 15, but ran out of time). If the Committee on Science and Technology, which Harrell chairs, approves the bill, it will then be sent to the Comission on Public Utilities, chaired by Lorene Coates (D-Rowan), and then, Finance, chaired by Paul Luebke (D-Durham).

SB1004 is waiting to be considered by the Senate Committee On Commerce, chaired by Sen. Floyd McKissick (D-Durham).

If you oppose this bill, and there's plenty of reasons to oppose, just as there were plenty of reasons that the previous attempt, the "The Local Government Fair Competition Act" failed in 2007, contact the bills' sponsors:

The sponsors of House Bill 1252
Ty Harrell (D-Wake) | (919) 733-5602 | ty.harrell@ncleg.net

Earl Jones (D-Guilford) | (919) 733-5825 | Earl.Jones@ncleg.net

Marilyn Avila (R-Wake) | (919) 733-5530 | Marilyn.Avila@ncleg.net

Thom Tillis (R-Mecklenberg) | (919) 733-5828 | Thom.Tillis@ncleg.net

The sponsors of Senate Bill 1004
David Hoyle (D-Gaston) | (919) 733-5734 | David.Hoyle@ncleg.net

Debbie Clary (R-Cleveland/Rutherford) | (919) 715-3038 | Debbie.Clary@ncleg.net

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ILECs and LATAs and RBOCs, Oh My!: Why NC is Screwed When it Comes to Telecom Coverage
Most people would look at North Carolina and think it was a prime candidate for a rollout of one of the leading high-speed internet packages, such as FIOS or U-Verse, considering that it is the 10th largest state population in the U.S., home to a number of major banking and telecommunications companies, the site of three major research universities, the hosts what is widely considered to be the east coast's Silicon Valley.

Unfortunately, if you think that way, you're looking at the Old North State from the standpoint of a rational human being. The Telcos see it far differently.

RBOCs
The Regional Bell Operating Companies were the result of the U.S. DoJ's anti-trust suit against AT&T. Commonly called "Baby Bells," the RBOCs were split regionally in an effort to prevent monopolies and increase investment in telecommunications technologies.  North Carolina was served by BellSouth and independent regional carrier GTE, which was roughly the size of an RBOC, but was not limited by geographic boundaries like the units spun-off from AT&T.

Following the Telecommunications Act of 1996, which substantially erased the lines between the RBOCs and the long-distance carriers, the larger RBOCs began gobbling up the smaller RBOCs and independent regional carriers, creating circumstances wherein what were formerly local, competitive markets became fragmented segments of national markets.

ILECs
Incumbent Local Exchange Carriers are essentially what's left of the RBOC -- they're the telecom companies that, prior to the 1996 Telecommunications Act, held local monopolies. Competitive Local Exchange Carriers, on the other hand, are the smaller, more agile telecom carriers, that, for the most part have been bought-up as soon as they pose a financial threat to the ILECs. North Carolina has three major ILECs: Verizon, AT&T and Embarq and none of them are interested in providing substantial service outside of their main ILEC boundaries.

LATAs
Local access and transport areas are the geographic regions in which former RBOCs and ILECs own the physical exchanges and network infrastructure. LATAs are the reason that calling a physically local number within the same area code (such as Durham to Raleigh) might incur long-distance charges, but further distant numbers within separate area codes (Durham to Roxboro) does not. As a result, wireline providers are able to license their high-speed backbones to their competitors at prohibitively expensive rates, discouraging competition.

Further confusing the issue is that LATAs are not defined by state, county or even city boundaries and a single city may have multiple LATAs owned by multiple providers. DSL providers are not permitted to provide broadband service that crosses LATA boundaries, even if the adjacent LATA is also owned by the same company, so while your residence might be only 1,000 yards from the geographically-closest CO, the closest CO in your LATA may be more than 6,000 yards, making it effectively too far away for DSL.

And the LATAs, themselves, are often divided by the ILECs. LATA 426, technically the "Raleigh" LATA, encompasses the Research Triangle Region, and has five different ILEC/CLECs providing service to various locations. None of these companies, particularly BellSouth (AT&T) and Verizon, have any incentive to improve the quality of their data services in these municipalities, because the customer base is so balkanized that the costs of infrastructure improvements outweigh any potential profits.

LATA 426 is North Carolina in a microcosm.  Divided between Verizon, AT&T and Embarq, as well as a host of small, regional and local players, the rules as they exist, discourage the telecom industry from serving the residents and businesses of North Carolina with the latest in high-speed broadband, if they provide any service at all. (Click here to see just how segmented North Carolina's telecommunications infrastructure is.)

If the telecom industry manages to ram HB1252 and SB1004 through the state legislature, it will only get worse.

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Cross-posted at BlueNC (link)

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Originally posted to mustang dvs on Tue Apr 21, 2009 at 01:04 PM PDT.

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