Disappointment with Greensboro’s position on HB1587

ncgov.jpg Disclaimer: I do work for a telecommunications company for my day job. And no, there is no direct affiliations with the telecommunication corporations supporting the bill
HB1587. The more I read about this state bill, the more I despise talking about it. Why? People are throwing the digital divide and government for the people thing left and right and I hate it. Yes, I even wrote to my Councilwoman about it last night because it’s been gnawing at me ever since I read Brian Russell’s piece. By the way, his coverage on it is a lot better than mine, but I bring a totally different perspective to the fray.
Previously, I had covered this in-depth on what it means. Mark Binker of the News & Record has done a lot of research into this and provided the City of Greensboro’s answers to HB1857. I’m going to go into details on that after making sure with Mark that it was okay with him to use.
Brian wrote a response to my initial reaction to HB1857. He brings out some great points on digital divide and we chatted about it in the comments (my side seems a bit more heated since I’m rather disgusted with this as present time, no offense to your side, Brian! ). I encourage anyone to read it to see where bill opposers are coming from. Unfortunately, even after speaking with him, I find that bill opposers are enthusiastic but misguided.
A very key thought needs to be mentioned here. Brian asks in his comments:

Do you think Telecommunications companies could abide by the exact same requirements that they are asking local governments to? Will telecommunications companies give local government broadband providers equal access to their telephone poles, cell towers, and fiber?

The answer? Short answer is: YES! In fact, speaking strictly for cellular since the bill covers all communications, not just wifi of which so many are speaking fondly of in regards to the bill, we have to follow every single one of those rules outside of the referandums (which were pulled) from the bill. Like I told Brian, the more I read the bill, the more I realize that what this is doing is more to bring the government under the same governance and laws that telecommunication providers must abide by. Industry practice speaks of things that are mentioned like antenna placement and financial obligations. Having the government follow a relaxed rule set versus private industry doesn’t make things any better. It just makes it worse. Just give it some thought. Who between government and private corporations has more waste? Answer? Government.
It’s just a societal fact. Government is bloated, thus government is wasteful. Allowing them to not even be bound by similar rules, much less more stringent rules would be a folly.
Which brings me to the document for the City that pretty much destroyed any hope I had on supporting the government’s side of things on the bill. Again, back to my conversation with Brian, I said that my initial reaction was: “Telecoms are doing what? That’s wrong!” But this document was the definite page turner for me to side with my professional industry over my community work. Here’s the play by play (my response in italics):

  1. Industry enters a market primarily to compete; local government does not. No municipality would make a huge infrastructure investment to provide broadband/telecommunications service for the purpose of competing. Government would only consider entering the market where there is inadequate or no service to its residents.
    You don’t seriously have me believe that municipalities don’t compete. Case and point: Philadelphia. Their wireless infrastructure previously was to be done via the competitive realm. This was shot down and went through a private partnership later on due to government stepping on businesses. (Disclaimer here: my corporation is indirectly involved in that deal).
  2. In general, local governmental units are not ready to offer any “so-called” competing service, but the option to do so should remain a viable choice. The possibility of this choice may serve to keep Industry honest, on its toes, and responsive to the people’s needs.
    Agreed on the government should have the option to do so. But the whole “keeping the industry honest?” Please. Just take a look at who let AT&T and BellSouth merge back together. It wasn’t private industry that did, it was government.
  3. Last session, Industry told the General Assembly there was no need to be concerned about all residents having equal access to service and vigorously opposed any amendment to the Video Service Competition Act that suggested ever so slightly, that at some undetermined point way out into the future, new communications technologies should be built-out and made available in every village and every hamlet of North Carolina. Industry told you with no uncertainty that it would not be bringing 21st Century technologies to all of North Carolina.
    And? Where the heck is government? Had years to provide such “21st Century” technologies. Yet, I’ve yet to see any wifi in the western NC areas I’ve been to even though they’ve got DHS money to buy ATVs and all sorts of other things. Those could be used for public/private networks if they so choose but did not. In all technicality, wifi is 20th century (IEEE802.11 specification was official in 1997).
  4. Even though service to all is not in Industry’s business plan, Industry comes imploring this body to legislate that the telecom have-nots (so ill-fated due to sparsity of households or scarcity of wealth) will remain the have-nots, their chance for a more prosperous designation dependent solely on the business decisions of Industry. (Industry is not elected to foster opportunity for all to reap the benefits of economic growth.)
    Like I’ve said before. For three years, I’ve actively seeked help from governments for digital divide projects. Not a single year, there’s been any help. This accounts for both rural and low-income projects. These days, only foundations are behind the ideals of the “have-nots”. FUD answer.
  5. Industry has emphatically made known its view that service to all cannot be done at a profit; yet, Industry pushes this bill requiring any government-operated service to be profitable and self-supporting in four years! The very thing Industry decries impossible, it asks you to force on government, i.e., the people. What other enterprise, public or private, has such profitability standards legislated upon it?
    You can actually be profitable if you know how to plan it out. My current nonprofit project is a low-cost self-sustaining wireless project to provide broadband to low-income at a minimal cost. Not a hand-out, but a wireless solution that can be financially self-sustainable. I’ve pushed for such in 2004. Think outside the box a bit and be more grassroots and less government. Sheesh.
  6. To promote HB 1587, Industry has turned to its tried and true scare tactic. You have received letters from Industry employees stating this bill is needed to protect their jobs. They fear losing their jobs because THEIR EMPLOYERS HAVE TOLD THEM THEY SHOULD BE AFRAID. Has the telecommunications Industry ever pulled up stakes and abandoned its infrastructure investment (which was subsidized by tax dollars) because of a legislative decision? Without this bill, cities and counties have been free for many years to provide communication services, and no telephone or cable company ever saw that possibility as a reason to abandon the market.
    This is a FUD if there ever is FUD. I mean give me a break. The all-caps? FUD. FUD. FUD. Provide what service again? Communications? When was the last time a government went out and provided communications for its citizens without this bill? Wait a second…. I think I got it. Maybe one in a million. If that.
  7. Industry does not tell its employees that job cuts are already planned, with or without this bill. Industry decisions, such as merger and acquisition, mean inevitable job losses. For example, the recent decision to combine AT&T and BellSouth will result in the loss of over 10,000 jobs.
    Technology advances mean that machines will continue replacing workers. The desire to pay lower wages means Industry will move more jobs out of our state—regardless of HB 1587.
    What the heck does this have to do with anything? More FUD. Seriously, this has to be one of the most ridiculous points I’ve heard in a long time. Let’s put it in plain terms. Merging two companies together means that there will be two people will be doing one job. So what does that mean? One person has to be laid off. Let’s go back to who LET the AT&T and BellSouth merger go through? Government. Just another level of it. Where was local government and protesting of that, when the merger was going on? Nowhere. The whole technology replacing workers thing is so funny that I had to laugh. Seriously, are you for real here? That argument can be analogous to: “Why do we have dump trucks? Wouldn’t that be more beneficial for jobs if we all had workers with wagons since they’ll have jobs? Grow with the times people. Education is a lifetime achievement, not a one-time deal.
  8. Local government-operated service would not cost jobs—to the contrary, it would create jobs through the need for more local communications workers, through attracting more people and new businesses to our State, and perhaps by actually convincing existing Industry that it can partner with government to bring service to areas previously thought to be unprofitable. Through unduly stringent procedural, accounting and reporting requirements, HB 1587 would eliminate any opportunity for innovative partnerships that could provide service and produce profit for Industry.
    I’d be curious as to how much management would get paid here versus workers and how qualified the workers would be in a government position. Seeing that they RFP out to the lowest bidder currently, I assume that the talent pool would be similar which upper management rakes in the large salaries. This isn’t costing jobs, but it’s definitely more government waste. I’m not exactly sure how this is going to attract new businesses either, since you’re competing directly with business. Not a very logical answer.
  9. High-speed broadband has become an indispensable part of our lives and our ability to compete with business and labor forces beyond the borders of our state and our country. While our Industry at home focuses on extracting profit from its embedded base made of equipment and technology that is largely fifty years old, other countries have become the new leaders in communications, rolling out broadband access that is 500 times faster than what the United States defines as broadband—and they provide it for a lot less than our slow broadband costs consumers. Passage of HB 1587 may well cause North Carolina to experience the reality once faced by Scottsburg, Indiana, when major employers threatened to leave the city because their needs for high-speed broadband could not be met. Just as Rural Electrification was the catalyst to universal electric service, municipal broadband may one day be the last tool in the arsenal to spur development of universal high-speed broadband access in North Carolina.
    I agree that the Internet is an integral part of many urban lives, but it’s not indispensable. Just ask any low-income family. They don’t have it. It’s not provided for by the government. Do they want it? Sure, who doesn’t. But they get by is the point. Indispensable by definition means that it’s a necessity. Sorry. Not even automobiles are indispensable and I don’t see anyone pushing for everyone to have a car.
    The whole 500 times faster for cheaper argument is misguided since we Americans have a lot more land to cover. If laying down fiber for the size of Rhode Island is all you had to do, of course it’s going to be cheaper and better overall. I must say that the whole rural electrification was not brought on by local governments either. Feds mandated it. When was the last time you saw a local government in NC step up to drive universal high-speed broadband access? Like I’ve mentioned before: eNC has been fighting this fight for years. I’ve yet to see governments take any sort of credit, while a lot of that money has gone private as incentives. Action speak louder than words, and so far government has been zilch on the action part and active on the words part.

  10. Please leave the tool of municipal broadband service available as an option to create and maintain for our residents a stable, secure and competitive economy. Vote NO on HB 1587.
    Finally. A point that actually means something. YES. It should be an option for government.

The greatest problem I have with this document is that it wants to push for pretty much nihil regulations on government providers. To not regulate government providers is like saying that if the FDA produces its own drugs, they don’t really need to go through clinical trials because they’re the FDA. If you enter a competitive business arena, you have to be regulated by the same laws that everyone else plays under. The key is that on a level playing field, it’s about how you play the game, not changing the rules so that you get an unfair advantage. And that goes for both sides of the fence. Unfortunately, from my perspective, this time around it’s the private sector that is actually trying to level the playing field.