John Stephenson: The real broadband story

February 4, 2013 

The broader broadband story

Christopher Mitchell and Todd O’Boyle’s Point of View piece Jan. 29 ignored important facts about broadband deployment that will take Tar Heels from tobacco and textiles to high technology.

Nearly 300 million Americans have access to at least one and, in most cases, two or three broadband providers. Moreover, wireless and satellite providers continue to invest in 4G wireless technology and new satellites that can now offer speeds rivaling wired broadband.

By contrast, government-owned broadband has demonstrated mixed results at best and abject failure at worst. Cities’ attempts to build and operate their own broadband networks have been marked by poor results, huge debts and accounting gimmicks that threaten taxpayers.

In North Carolina, broadband “consultants” persuaded cities like Salisbury and Mooresville to ignore basic economics and to compete against private providers. But the broadband networks recorded deficits and were forced to tap other sources of financing. Despite these losses, as many as three dozen North Carolina cities appeared ready to go down the same dangerous path.

Recent state court decisions also opened a door to further government competition against the private sector. When would the fiscal recklessness stop? State legislators in North Carolina and elsewhere have been forced to act to protect taxpayers from higher taxes and lower credit ratings by enacting laws requiring government-owned broadband providers to account transparently, compete fairly and to seek permission from voters through referenda – many of the same requirements for other government projects like schools.

Now, North Carolina cannot rest on its laurels when it comes to broadband. More can be done to encourage broadband adoption. Surveys show that many of those who still don’t have a broadband connection do not see its relevance to daily life. Educational efforts like the Connect 2 Compete initiative are aimed at addressing this issue. Additionally, regulations for wireless towers, rights of way and utility pole attachments that haven’t changed much since the 1980s hamper investment in broadband networks.

By lowering or eliminating regulatory barriers, North Carolina would drive investment in America’s broadband infrastructure, which will spur innovation, create jobs and grow the economy for all Tar Heels.

John Stephenson

Director, Communications and Technology Task Force, American Legislative Exchange Council

Washington, D.C.

The length limit was waived to permit a fuller response to the piece.

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