Local governments would be allowed to lease wired and wireless network infrastructure to private internet providers under a bill that passed the N.C. House Thursday in a 109-8 vote.
House Bill 68 is titled the BRIGHT Futures Act, which stands for Broadband, Retail, Internet of Things, Grid Power, Healthcare and Training. Its main goal is expanding access to high-speed, broadband internet in rural areas of the state where it’s often too expensive for private service providers to extend their lines.
“I represent some of the lowest income areas in the state and access to broadband is extremely limited,” said Rep. Brenden Jones, a Republican from Tabor City and co-sponsor of the bill. “It is vital that citizens living in our rural and underserved areas have access to technology tools of the 21st century.”
The bill’s acronym goes beyond internet because expanded broadband access could improve local economies, healthcare resources and education.
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The bill does not allow local governments to offer internet service directly to customers or set up services that compete with private internet providers. That practice is banned in North Carolina, although the city of Wilson has its own network that was launched before the ban.
Bill sponsors say cities, towns and counties could make use of what’s known as “dark fiber” – additional capacity in existing infrastructure that government uses to connect traffic lights, schools and public facilities. Leasing capacity to private internet providers could provide revenue to local governments that could support the expansion of government-owned fiber networks.
The bill now goes to the Senate.