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Fayetteville City Council Member: “Tread Lightly” On Municipal Broadband

March 31, 2017

In a column published this week in the Fayetteville Observer, Fayetteville City Council Member Bobby Hurst advises that North Carolina state lawmakers should “tread lightly when it comes to” building government-owned broadband networks.

Hurst calls the idea of municipal broadband “seductive” because proponents tell city leaders these systems will lead to new revenues and will end the digital divide. In reality, though, “taxpayers end up on the hook if the city system doesn’t have enough revenues each year to cover costs, or if the infrastructure wears out or becomes antiquated.” Hurst says, “municipal broadband growth exposes taxpayers to additional risk, and it harms consumers by allowing the government to amass a monopoly.”

It’s for these reasons that Hurst pledges that he “would never vote for a municipal network in Fayetteville.” He wants to spend his constituents’ dollars on public safety, infrastructure and economic development instead.

It’s also why Hurst believes that state lawmakers must keep in place a 2011 law that “imposes reasonable protections for taxpayers and consumers by limiting the growth of these networks.” (The law allows cities to build their own networks if there is no private sector company that currently offers service to their residents.) Since the law was passed six years ago, a handful of lawmakers have advised overturning it.

Hurst acknowledges that broadband is “a powerful tool that offers many benefits to individuals and communities,” but he says that cities should do what his city is doing. He explains his Fayetteville’s “goal is to marry our infrastructure and organizational skills with private internet provider’s ability to operate a network in order to provide cost competitive fiber broadband to the citizens of Fayetteville.” The best way to accomplish this goal is by “cutting red tape and encouraging investment,” Hurst says.