by Rick Henderson
Editor-in-Chief, Carolina Journal
While most of the Internet-related headlines today will deal with the Federal Communications Commission’s ruling (along party lines) to treat Internet Service Providers like regulated utilities, another party-line ruling also hits close to home: The commission voted to overturn laws in North Carolina and other states limiting the ability of cities to expand broadband access beyond their jurisdictions. (Already-operating services such as Greenlight were exempted from some of the restrictions in the 2011 law but not allowed to operate outside their jurisdictions.)
The challenge to North Carolina’s law was brought by Wilson, which wanted to expand its government-owned Greenlight service beyond Wilson County limits. A law passed by the 2011 General Assembly banned cities from doing this, and from issuing debt to expand service unless first getting the approval of voters (muni broadband services previously could go into debt by using Certificates of Participation, which don’t require a vote of the people).
A 2009 John Locke Foundation report noted the folly of allowing local governments to compete with private companies in the dynamic broadband industry, pointing out that the technology Wilson used for Greenlight was likely to be obsolete before it was fully operational, let alone paid for.
CJ contributor Sam Hieb explained the current controversy last week, noting that the 2015 General Assembly is likely to step in if the FCC issued such a ruling.