How Big Telecoms Write Laws To Preserve Their Monopoly

How Big Telecoms Write Laws To Preserve Their Monopoly

The people of Wilson, NC had built their own broadband network when the private sector wasn't providing it, until the lobbyists got their way.

Affordable and fast broadband is key to economic development, next generation medicine and enhancing education. Yet the private sector has so far failed to deliver the latest fiber optics to much of the United States. Though America once led the world in connectivity, we have fallen to 16th globally. Even worse, federal data rank North Carolina broadband 50th nationally — the bottom of the bottom of the barrel.

So in 2006, Wilson began building its own fiber-optic network, named Greenlight. The story of how Wilson acquired state of the art fiber optic connectivity is available in a recent Common Cause report. Today, Common Cause and the Institute for Local Self-Reliance released The Empire Lobbies Back: How National Cable and DSL Companies Banned The Competition in North Carolina detailing how private sector telecommunications firms fought for four years to effectively ban municipal broadband.

Starting in 2007 — before Greenlight was even operational — Time Warner and a coalition of other for-profit telecommunications providers supported an American Legislative Exchange Council model bill to shut down the nascent movement towards municipal broadband. Communities, businesses, and consumers across the state fought back and killed the bill, allowing Greenlight to thrive.

In 2009 and 2010 the industry tried unsuccessfully again — bill sponsor Sen. David Hoyle even admitted to “carrying water” for corporate interests who wrote the bill for him. But in 2011, the telecommunications lobby was back at it again, and Rep. Marilyn Avila pushed their bill through over the objections of municipalities, consumer advocates, and major firms in the Triangle, halting any new municipal broadband initiatives.

“The largest telecommunications firms in the nation have written their competition out of the market,” said Todd O’Boyle, director of Common Cause’s Media and Democracy Reform Initiative and a co-author of the report. “This is bad for consumers, small businesses, and schools.”

Since the state has eliminated public sector competition, it is unclear if next-generation fiber optics will ever reach rural North Carolina. “North Carolina and 18 other states have restricted or eliminated municipal broadband. It is time for Congress to pass legislation preempting these awful policies that harm consumers and communities,” stated former FCC Commissioner and Common Cause Media and Democracy Project Special Adviser Michael Copps.