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North Carolina Republican, Democrat Agree Municipal Broadband Is Bad For State

May 11, 2016

North Carolina FlagMembers of both political parties, Republican and Democrat, are skeptical of government-owned broadband networks. This agreement is evident even in a hard fought election year—and last week a column in the Fayetteville Observer by former North Carolina Republican state representative Danny McComas and David Young, former chair of the North Carolina Democratic Party, proved as much.

The two leaders argued government broadband crowds out private investment, that providing broadband is not like providing gas or water service, and that cities should focus on providing services the private sector does not.

On the issue of private investment, McComas and Young noted government networks receive generous taxpayer subsidies and are exempt from many local rules by which private networks must abide. As a result, the two argued, “Private ISPs simply can’t compete when the playing field is so badly tilted against them.” McComas and Young also worried that if the Federal Communications Commission is allowed to carry out an order to overturn North Carolina’s law restricting government “it will signal to private job creators that our government is more focused on competing against them than it is on creating a hospitable environment for investment and innovation.”

McComas and Young also said cities should be cautious about building their own broadband networks because providing broadband is not like providing utility services. They said, “While roads and bridges may need to be resurfaced or reinforced regularly, they don’t go out of date quickly. Broadband infrastructure does – and government agencies, even utilities, simply don’t have the expertise, or funding, to keep up with the improvements needed to keep a broadband system on the cutting edge.”

Finally, the two unlikely political allies argued the cities and counties should focus their energies and tax dollars on providing services the private sector does not, instead of competing with private firms. Noting that “our state ranks near the bottom in per capita public health spending and average teacher salaries” and “existing traditional infrastructure also ranks poorly …” the two said local governments should concentrate on providing basic services. They also pointed out that in one city—Salisbury—that has a government network “$1 of every $12 in tax revenue goes to support” the network and that means “$3 million in revenue … won’t reach the city’s public school students, police or fire departments.”

McComas and Young said, “[T]here’s a better – more bipartisan – solution when it comes to broadband.” For example, they suggested partnering with the private sector and identifying was “to break down barriers to private investment …”