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N.C. governor to let broadband legislation become law

Mon, 05/23/2011 - 8:00am
Gary D. Robertson, The Associated Press

RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) – Gov. Beverly Perdue announced Friday she would let a bill become law that creates rules for North Carolina towns and cities wanting to sell broadband services, despite calls to veto legislation that opponents say would discourage high-speed Internet in isolated areas.

Perdue said she would neither sign nor veto the bill, meaning it will become state law at midnight. But she urged lawmakers to reexamine the issue and adopt additional rules that provide more broadband options for consumers.

The House and Senate approved the bill by margins that would appear to have made it likely legislators could have overcome a Perdue veto.

A 2005 state appeals court ruling upheld the right of towns and cities to offer broadband services to residents, but legislators had never set parameters on how these government endeavors could operate. Big telecom companies had led the charge to set the restrictions.

"There is a need to establish rules to prevent cities and towns from having an unfair advantage over providers in the private sector," Perdue said, but she was concerned the restrictions could decrease choices for citizens. "Instead, I call on the General Assembly to revisit this issue and adopt rules that not only promote fairness, but also allow for the greatest number of high-quality and affordable broadband options for consumers."

Senate leader Phil Berger, R-Rockingham, said he'd be glad to listen to ideas Perdue may have.

The rules prevent towns and cities from borrowing for the project without voter approval and bar them from offering broadband to customers below cost. Towns and cities would have to separate broadband finances from other government operations and make payments equal to tax bills they would incur if they were private providers. Service areas also would be limited.

The North Carolina League of Municipalities and other opponents blamed Time Warner Cable for the bill and argued the company's unwillingness to offer high-grade broadband in unprofitable, less populated areas led cities such as Wilson to offer faster service themselves.

Time Warner has pointed out many pro-business groups backed the legislation and says it will create a level playing field when local governments compete directly with private providers.

"We will continue to do our part in making high-quality, affordable broadband available to North Carolina citizens," said Jack Stanley, a Time Warner Cable regional vice president.

Wilson and four other cities that currently offer service – Salisbury, Morganton, Davidson and Mooresville – would be exempt from most of the bill's provisions. Other cities that can show poor high-speed Internet access rates also would be exempt.

The bill becomes law despite a late drive by activists to attempt to persuade Perdue to veto the bill. Harvard Law School professor Lawrence Lessig wrote an open letter to Perdue on the Huffington Post website Friday asking her to block the measure to affirm the right of communities to provide "the infrastructure of tomorrow – by driving competition to provide the 21st century's information superhighway."

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