• 50°

Bill limiting municipal broadband faces Senate test

By Emily Ford
eford@salisburypost.com
SALISBURY — Salisbury’s exemption from a bill that restricts city-owned broadband networks like Fibrant was intact Monday night when the N.C. House approved the legislation.
But the city could face a tougher fight in the N.C. Senate.
Sen. Andrew Brock, R-Davie, said several senators have expressed reservations about full exemption for Salisbury and four other cities with broadband networks already up and running.
The proposed law would prevent cities from offering broadband services at below cost or using funds from other city utilities. It also would require voter approval before cities borrow money to build or buy a broadband network.
Brock said he doesn’t want to see Salisbury get hurt, but his top priority is the taxpayers who would end up footing the bill if Fibrant fails.
“There are some headwinds,” Brock said. “There are some senators who are not too enthusiastic for giving the full exemption to … all the cities.”
Salisbury and other municipalities that won exemption in the House “will have some issues before final passage in the Senate,” he said.
City officials, however, said they feel confident about maintaining their exemption in the Senate.
“I’m not worried,” Assistant City Manager Doug Paris said.
The amendment that protects Salisbury and other cities, which N.C. Rep. Harry Warren (R-Rowan) introduced, had broad support in a House committee where it was approved 26 to 1.
Brock said he hasn’t yet studied the bill, which may not come up in the Judiciary I Committee for weeks. When he does, Brock said, he wants to know more about how Salisbury received the blessing of the N.C. Local Government Commission to launch Fibrant.
“We are happy to provide Senator Brock with any documents he need to make sure he’s fully satisfied,” Paris said.
While Brock said he has reservations about cities entering the broadband business and competing with incumbent providers, Salisbury can’t go back now.
“I don’t like it, but I will support the city as much as I can to see they don’t get hurt,” he said.
Brock said he’s concerned that Warren’s amendment allows Salisbury to sell Fibrant in Spencer, East Spencer, Rockwell and Granite Quarry and wants to hear from those towns about their interest in Fibrant.
The towns may not want Salisbury running lines for Fibrant if it means a utility subsidized by taxpayers will compete with private industry, he said.
Salisbury officials said they expect an exemption but will continue to lobby senators, attend committee meetings and testify at public hearings.
“We don’t take anything for granted,” Mayor Susan Kluttz said. “We will be on top of it.”
The city will retain its new lobbyist, former Raleigh Mayor Tom Fetzer, throughout the Senate session. The city pays Fetzer $5,000 per month.
The Senate Judiciary I Committee will give the bill “a good going over,” Brock said.
“There are lots of attorneys on that committee, good attorneys, Democrats and Republicans, and they will be picking apart bills word by word,” he said.
Brock said senators are talking about the broadband sunset clause suggested by the Rowan County Tea Party, which would have the exemption for Salisbury and other cities expire after three to five years.
He’s concerned that would be too short, not allowing the cities to fully establish their systems and pay off their debt.
“For some of us that believe in free enterprise, we are put in a tough box,” Brock said. “We had cities that went out on a limb and we want to make sure we don’t saw off the limb.
“I just wish, when they borrowed this money, they would have done it with a vote of the people.”
Salisbury borrowed $30 million in bonds to build Fibrant without voter approval, which is legal unless the bill dubbed “Level Playing Field” becomes law.
Contact reporter Emily Ford at 704-797-4264.

An on-going community conversation thread has been created in our forum area.  If you’d like to comment on this story or the Fibrant project, click here.

Comments

Comments closed.

Local

City officials differ on how, what information should be released regarding viral K-9 officer video

High School

High school basketball: Carson girls are 3A champions

Lifestyle

High school, college sweethearts marry nearly 50 years later

Local

With jury trials set to resume, impact of COVID-19 on process looms

Legion baseball

Book explores life of Pfeiffer baseball coach Joe Ferebee

Education

Rowan-Salisbury Board of Education to receive update on competency-based education

Business

Biz Roundup: Kannapolis expects to see economic, housing growth continue in 2021

Business

A fixture of downtown Salisbury’s shopping scene, Caniche celebrates 15th anniversary this month

Local

Slate of new officers during local GOP convention; Rev. Jenkins becomes new chair

Landis

Landis officials narrow search for new manager to five candidates; expect decision within a month

Lifestyle

Together at last: High school, college sweethearts marry nearly 50 years later

Education

Rowan-Salisbury Schools sorts out transportation logistics in preparation for full-time return to classes

High School

Photo gallery: Carson goes undefeated, wins 3A state championship

Nation/World

Europe staggers as infectious variants power virus surge

Nation/World

Biden, Democrats prevail as Senate OKs $1.9 trillion virus relief bill

Nation/World

Senate Democrats strike deal on jobless aid, move relief bill closer to approval

News

Duke Life Flight pilot may have shut down wrong engine in fatal crash

News

Two NC counties get to participate in satellite internet pilot for students

Local

PETA protesters gather in front of police department

Coronavirus

UPDATED: Eight new COVID-19 deaths, 203 positives reported in county this week

Crime

Sheriff’s office: Two charged after suitcase of marijuana found in Jeep

Crime

Thomasville officer hospitalized after chase that started in Rowan County

Local

Board of elections discusses upgrading voting machines, making precinct changes

News

Lawmakers finalize how state will spend COVID-19 funds