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Bill to restrict cities’ broadband services sent to study committee

By Mark Wineka
mwineka@salisburypost.com
Salisbury city officials said Wednesday they are pleased that House Bill 1252, aimed at putting more restrictions on municipalities which offer broadband services, will be handed off to a study committee.
The Public Utilities Committee, chaired by state Rep. Lorene Coates, D-Rowan, voted unanimously Wednesday morning to have a study committee look at the bill.
Salisbury Mayor Susan Kluttz had argued in previous meetings with the N.C. House’s Science and Technology Committee that the legislation needed more study ó that lawmakers didn’t understand the ramifications for cities.
“We feel like if they do study this bill, they’ll recognize how bad it is,” Kluttz said.
Kluttz, City Manager David Treme and Assistant to the City Manager Doug Paris attended the Public Utilities Committee’s meeting ready to speak, but comments were not taken from the standing-room-only audience.
Salisbury has obtained funding and recently set in motion its plans for establishing a $30 million fiber-optic cable utility that will offer telephone, television and Internet services.
In the state, the cities of Wilson and Salisbury are leading the municipal efforts for fiber-to-the-home.
City officials claim House Bill 1252 is an industry-supported effort to discourage cities from getting into the broadband business and keep monopolies the private providers already hold.
Supporters of the bill say it’s only an effort to level the playing field and have cities follow the same requirements as private providers.
Kluttz had written to the mayors of the N.C. Metropolitan Mayors Coalition asking them to oppose House Bill 1252. She said coalition Chairman Kevin Foy, the mayor of Chapel Hill, attended Wednesday’s committee meeting with nine other mayors.
The N.C. League of Municipalities also opposes the bill.
House Bill 1252 would require cities providing broadband services to comply with laws applicable to private providers. It would prohibit the cities from cross-subsidizing communications services with other governmental funds.
The cities also would have to impute costs that would be incurred by private providers and annually remit to the city’s general fund those costs.
Treme said he hoped a joint study committee would include people who come at the broadband issue from the cities’ perspective.
Treme and Kluttz praised Coates’ handling of the committee meeting and the strong opinions on both sides.

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