Economic Development

New York Times Reports On North Carolina Laws and Broadband Systems

The New York Times reported this weekend about the efforts to bring high-speed internet to communities, the state and local laws that govern or attempt to govern those efforts, and the practical outcome of the combination of those laws and efforts.

In North Carolina, as in 18 other states, state laws limit municipalities from building or expanding high-speed Internet service networks.  The reason behind those laws, supporters say, is to limit taxpayer exposure to projects that at times fail and for which there may be little demand.  But Tom Wheeler, the Federal Communications chairman, says providing access to broadband Internet is in the public interest,  And for that reason, he says, the commission can override those state laws — setting off a heated debate about the federal commission’s authority over states and about whether local governments or private companies should provide the service.

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Supporters of the North Carolina law say it promotes broadband expansion, as long as private companies are put on a level playing field with public entities — being allowed the same access to telephone poles, for example.  The law is also intended to keep taxpayers from being stuck with a bill for a failing network.  In North Carolina, as in many other states, the law says a broadband system cannot be subsidized with revenue from other utilities.  North Carolina also requires municipalities to hold a special election to approve such projects.  Wilson[, North Carolina’s] system, which was built before the law, was simply approved by its City Council.

The report is interesting for as much it says about a kind of home rule (“The federal government should stay away from state laws and issues of local concern; it cannot preempt everything.  Also, State laws should stay away from local issues.”) to as much as it says about fiscal views (“Tax dollars for espn.com?  That’s crazy.”) to as much as it says about whether the internet is a service like fast food or a hotel, a public utility (as believed by the President) like electricity or gas, or a government service like roads and schools.

The article can be accessed here.

Mike Thelen practices in Womble, Carlyle’s Real Estate Litigation and Land Use practice group. He regularly represents a wide variety of clients, from local governments to businesses, in land use and land development matters in both state and federal venues throughout North Carolina.

Follow the North Carolina Land Use Litigator on Twitter at @nclanduselaw and “like” us on Facebook here.

Categories: Economic Development

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