by Jon Sanders
Director of the Center for Food, Power, and Life, Research Editor | John Locke Foundation
The media oppose government getting cozy with big business. They tell us so. But when it happens, and it happens a lot, they tend to like it.
Media actually upholding their principles against cronyism is, like the old Danish King’s Rouse, “more honor’d in the breach than the observance.”
Take WRAL TechWire’s announcement today, for instance.
Turning a former tobacco town into the first gigabit Internet ecosystem in North Carolina – that’s the evolution taking place right now in the city of Wilson. And WRAL TechWire is highlighting the transformation with its next Executive Exchange event with broadband expert Blair Levin delivering the keynote.
“Growing a gigabit ecosystem” is set for Friday, Nov. 4 at 8 a.m.
Greenlight, the City of Wilson owned and built fiber network, is the foundation of the transformation taking place.
While gigabit Internet access is slowly becoming available across the Triangle, Wilson has operated Greenlight for several years. What lessons can the Triangle as well as other communities learn from the Wilson story?
Come to the event and find out first-hand.
I’ll tell you the lesson to draw from “the Wilson story”: don’t build municipal broadband. Leave broadband to competing private enterprises.
You can tell from the language quoted above, however, that’s not the lesson you’ll get from the event. The event sounds like more Li’l Jack Horner cronyism: destroy something, pull out a plum for yourself, then call yourself a good boy.
In Wilson, the city already had cable TV, phone, and broadband services, provided by private providers. Yet the city thought it should compete with these businesses. Greenlight, the city’s public cable company, has been bleeding red ink since it began service in 2008. It lost more than $1 million in 2009 and nearly $1.5 million in 2010.
According to its financial statements, Wilson has taken more than $11 million from its electric and gas funds to subsidize its competitive foray into the cable business. No wonder Wilson’s electric rates are 50 percent higher than that of Progress Energy and its natural gas rates are 30 percent more than PSNC Energy rates.
Last year, WRAL inadvertently reported on what having much higher electricity rates means for poor people who don’t get sweetheart broadband rates from city government:
“It costs me an arm and a leg — and somebody else’s body parts, too. It’s a lot,” said Shannon Taylor, an unemployed mother of three. “If I didn’t use any heat, my bill was still like $600 or $700. That’s like triple my rent.”
Retiree Gary Nevins, 72, pays $316 a month for electricity in his 1,000-square-foot apartment.”
“Do I stay warm or eat?” Nevins said of the dilemma he often faced. “That’s a big choice.”
Eddie Hopkins, a veteran on disability, said his March bill was $849. “Honestly, who uses that much electricity in a month’s time?” Hopkins asked. “All of us are not making the same mistakes. All of us are not intentionally running our light bills up.”
For information about the City of Wilson and a handful of other North Carolina municipalities’ experiences with municipal broadband — and why they were so bad it prompted the state legislature to act — read my comments to the Federal Communications Commission, republished here.