In your Aug. 15 editorial “ Thom Tillis, cable’s friend,” you criticized a court decision that reaffirms a bipartisan North Carolina state law that protects the financial interests of North Carolina taxpayers. In doing so, you failed to provide some critical background information and context.
Over the last decade, several North Carolina cities have created government-owned broadband networks without a vote from their constituents. Broadband service is an inherently complicated and expensive enterprise. In fact, one North Carolina city that created a government-owned network lost millions of dollars in each of the first five years following its rollout, despite initially promising residents that it would be cash positive within the first three years.
The risk posed to hardworking North Carolina taxpayers is why both Democrats and Republicans in the General Assembly were compelled to act. In 2011, when I was state House speaker, the General Assembly undertook a broad, bipartisan effort to pass a state law that protects taxpayers from the potentially harmful economic consequences incurred through government-owned broadband. The law was never about picking sides or even preventing municipalities from creating their own broadband. It was about helping to give taxpayers a say in that decision and to ultimately protect them from sustaining unnecessary risk to their family’s checkbook.
That’s why the North Carolina law grandfathers cities with existing municipal broadband services so they can continue offering them to residents within their city limits. It’s also why the law allows new cities to create their own broadband service so long as they hold a public vote that determines the financing. In the end, that empowers taxpayers to consider the risks and benefits before their city takes on the financial burden.
Unfortunately, a handful of unelected bureaucrats in Washington didn’t share this concern for the taxpayers of North Carolina. In 2015, the Federal Communications Commission, a government board accountable to no one, issued a ruling that attempted to essentially invalidate North Carolina’s common sense law. The FCC ruling has since been litigated in the federal court system, and last week the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals made a decision to rein in the FCC’s unprecedented bureaucratic overreach and restore decision-making back to the states.
This was a major win for the hardworking taxpayers of North Carolina, who are now assured that they and their neighbors get to decide whether their city creates a government-owned broadband service. It’s disappointing, but certainly not surprising, that you see it differently, criticizing the court’s ruling to allow duly-elected representatives and local taxpayers to make their own fiscal decisions instead of FCC bureaucrats. Maybe someday you’ll learn.
U.S. Sen. Thom Tillis
The length limit was waived to permit a fuller response to the editorial.