RALEIGH — Becky and Dale Carlson are relying on fast and cheap Internet access as they sell photos and online greeting cards in the home business they hope will carry them into retirement.
So Becky Carlson said she opposes a legislative proposal that would make it harder for cities and towns to build broadband Internet systems that compete with big telephone and cable companies and hold down rates.
"It's really important to a lot of small business, but especially us because it's only online," said Becky Carlson of Apex, who runs Bluemoonistic Images. "Photography files are so huge. You can't send large files if you don't have fast Internet."
This week the Senate Finance Committee postponed considering legislation that would force municipalities to get voters' approval before borrowing money to build a competing broadband network.
The bill is the latest in a series of efforts by telecom corporations to keep local governments out of the broadband business.
Douglas Paris, an assistant to Salisbury's city manager, said these bills "are designed to contain and cripple existing systems, and set the bar so high for new systems that it would be difficult for communities to move forward." Salisbury has borrowed $30 million to build a fiber-optic network and will begin testing the system in a few months.
On the other side ...
Opposing the telephone companies is the politically influential N.C.League of Municipalities and corporate giants Google and Intel. They argue that crimping municipal broadband could stifle economic growth in a wired age.
Cable and phone companies have been urging the General Assembly to restrict municipal broadband services since a 2005 state appeals court ruling upheld the right of towns and cities to offer their residents broadband. Companies argue that local governments have an unfair advantage because they don't have to pay taxes and can subsidize their rates, undercutting the corporate competitors.
Sen. David Hoyle, D-Gaston, the Senate bill's sponsor, said tax-free government enterprises shouldn't be competing with business, but a compromise with municipalities is being negotiated. Hoyle said stopping local governments from adding broadband to the range of utility services may save municipalities from future losses.
"They're going to own a cable system that may become obsolete," Hoyle said, "and they're going to say to us [legislators], 'Please save us.'"
The North Carolina conflict is playing out amid a national push to extend broadband to corners of the country that private enterprise hasn't reached. Congress included $7.2 billion in last year's stimulus bill to expand broadband to overlooked parts of the country.
The new networks promise to offer speeds 20 to 2,000 times faster than the data lines now reaching into most American homes.
A North Carolina nonprofit in January received more than $28 million in federal stimulus funds to extend the state's broadband Internet network by nearly 500 miles in 37 underserved southeastern and western counties.