NC communications bill needs lots of work

ncgov.jpg I figured that I would weigh in now that Mark Binker (News & Record) has got his article in after he spoke to me at some length about it and I gave him my opinions on the subject matter. While I’m not an attorney by any means, but a lot of the legalese had a ringing of… well.. let’s just say it wasn’t bulletproof for either side.
I’ll further disclaimer to say that as a professional having dealt in the telecommunications arena for almost a decade, I firmly believe that government should never interfere with businesses unless it’s by a few exceptions. Government is always a governing force of the laws, and being such, you cannot and should not compete against private industry when you have two things on your side: taxes, and enforcement of law. In that regards, government that do enter into this competitive nature should immediately be held at a higher ground. It’s basically the typical, who enforces the enforcer type or rule. If a police officer speeds, who gives the officer a ticket? In all technicality, it’s a law that is broken. In the same instance, government should be held in that higher plane.
Below, I’ll make my notes in italics.
HB1587 discusses a bill that is proposed where the industry has been wanting more restriction on government if and when they enter into the industry. Government must provide two public hearings (§ 160A‑329.2) and give the areas where private industry is covering or not covering.
Issue here? Most of the requirements are based on what type of network is provided, who is served, and what the terms of the service are. There is nothing designating if government would be entering a market that is already served by private industry (eg. major competitors). The bill just speaks of general availability, which is a ridiculous thought since that’s totally subjective.
The bond part basically says that you can have a bond passed to help set it up. Whoopiedeedoo.
Then comes another juicy tidbit. General Operating Limitations (§ 160A‑329.4). This basically means that governance of this utility will be under the North Carolina Utilities Commission. Government cannot subsidize this service from other funding such as other utilities and cannot go under cost. They should keep separate financials for this service and for the most part, follow pretty much everything that pertains to most telecommunications corporations.
Okay, I particular love the (7) part where it talks about first come, first serve on poles and what not since I could totally see government renting out space to private industry, and then taking off their antennas to be replaced with their locally owned and operated ones. It happens, a lot. Protection for private businesses. (8) The financials are pretty amusing too since (9) the independent audit would make sure there was no funny money business which seems to get lost a lot in the whole government money swirl. Things always cost more for some odd reason.
Since I haven’t asked Mark’s permission to reveal some of the things shown to me, I can tell you that there is a lot of truth in SOME of the arguments from the other side but that’s about it. The part where broadband is needed in the article by Greensboro’s assistant city attorney is indeed correct. It’s needed for a multitude of things including helping high school kids pass their computer literacy exam. I don’t know of any school that doesn’t require typed reports either. Heck, they required those when I was in school. That’s a whole bunch of FUD underlying a lot of the arguments from both sides. If Mark allows me to go through that file in detail, then I’ll do some more in-depth analysis of it but I can tell you right now that I was not pleased with what I read coming from the government. At all. Made me even less confident that they should be without restriction in fact.
So in the end, what happens? This bill is in favor of the private sector (well duh, companies lobbied for it). Truthfully, I don’t see anything wrong and it should be more stringent in my opinion. Based on the facts above on how government enforces laws and gets to collect taxes. Taxation as a revenue source usually means that you can’t just go out and run a business on that money. Doesn’t work that way. And if you do, you should be under some tough guidelines just like insider trading rules. I’m very disappointed with the governments also for not stepping up to the plate in a quicker fashion. Most of the conversation resulted around WiFi and other broadband services.
I can tell you right now that having been around promoting wireless technology since 2004 and there has been little interest in the South. This is for a technology that is a decade old. Now governments want the “option” to help? Where were you at the inception of e-NC? Why aren’t you more involved? I know of two different digital divide projects going on in Greensboro currently done by private nonprofits. What’s your take? There isn’t any. That’s the problem. A lot of talk against the bill, but no action at all. The whole profit thing is amusing also since was a lot of talk against it. Yet, people fail to realize that Blue Cross/Blue Shield doesn’t make any “profit”.
Last of all, here’s the key kicker of this bill that bugs me. Seriously. The definition of communications. While all of the talk has been about broadband, the definition also covers other types of communications. So in essence, the government under this bill could basically start their own cellular service. Or anything else in that mannerism. That’s pretty scary in itself. The comments about how Reidsville has free WiFi doesn’t have any relevance since that was done on a public/private network for public safety. If Greensboro wanted to do that, they also could even though they decided a long time ago that it wasn’t safe to do such a thing (and I agree). In that fashion, the “free” network doesn’t apply. If you use DHS funding though for it, then it’s a whole other ugly ballgame.
Sorry Pricey, I don’t agree it’s anti-consumer or anti-competitive. Again, back to the governing body goes into business. From a bigger perspective, another analogy would be like if the SEC decides that it’s going to go up on the NYSE as a stock. Uhh, no.
When you come right down to it, this is just a really really ugly bill. Both sides has tremendous holes in their arguments and didn’t bother to patch it up before taking it to the House. I’m assuming the people sponsoring the bill don’t know much about the technologies behind it or else these questions should have been covered within the bill itself. This could be a draft, but imho, it doesn’t even look like a final that is worth taxpayer money.
Last of all, if you still haven’t figured out my stance in this, then I probably lost you around the second or third paragraph. Don’t worry, there’s a whole other snoring crowd over there too.

  • Seavey

    My personal favorite part of this bill is the last section where they try to impose a risk of antitrust liability on local government despite the fact that local governments are immune under both Federal and NC law. The bill removes state immunity.
    I can’t imagine why anyone other than potential plaintiffs, that is, outside of the telecom industry, would think that this is a good idea.

  • Seavey

    My personal favorite part of this bill is the last section where they try to impose a risk of antitrust liability on local government despite the fact that local governments are immune under both Federal and NC law. The bill removes state immunity.
    I can’t imagine why anyone other than potential plaintiffs, that is, outside of the telecom industry, would think that this is a good idea.