I cringed when I learned that Bellsouth would use the AT&T name. Though the new AT&T has little in common with the AT&T of old (aside from wanting to own the world), the name carries baggage for me. When I was in charge of phones at one former company, I was shocked to discover that AT&T had slammed my company – switching fourteen of our phone lines to their long distance service without our approval. I was so furious that I immediately filed a complaint with the N.C. Public Utilities Commission, after which an AT&T lawyer called to soothe my nerves. Had my employer not imploded days later (making the whole matter moot), I would have pressed the Commission to drop the hammer on AT&T. A similar case in Texas had recently cost a slamming telco $1.4 million. Seemed like a good starting point to me.
One thing that being a lifelong geek has shown me is that, given the chance, telecommunications companies will screw you over. They may smile while they do it, but they will screw you anyway. Any industry whose business plan depends more on lobbyists and lawyers than products and services is one not to be trusted.
It is with this jaundiced eye that I read of an evil bill making its way through the North Carolina House. House Bill 1587, called the Local Government Fair Competition Act, is designed to prevent local municipalities from deploying their own telecommunications services. The bill is (surprise!) being pushed by the N.C. Cable Telecommunications Association, the same group whose rates have increased far faster than inflation.
Internet service is now as important as water and roads when it comes to serving communities. This is what the “Digital Divide” is really all about. Many families in this state cannot afford the exorbitant rates the commercial broadband providers charge. Municipal solutions may be the only affordable alternative for our state’s less fortunate neighbors.
The town of Wilson began to build out its own fiber-optic network plant when it couldn’t convince the local cable provider to do it. The town of Carrboro offers free wireless Internet in to its citizens. Local communities that are now underserved by commercial companies should not be unfairly restricted from innovating their own solutions.
Telecoms want to own the last mile. Whoever owns the last mile owns the customer, whether the customer likes it or not. By deploying internet cables the way they do roads, cities and towns across North Carolina can ensure that the Information Highway reaches everyone equally – that no child is digitally left behind. The public owns the right-of-way under which commercial cable TV companies run their cables. Why can’t the public run its own cables under its own ground?
Please take a moment to let your state representatives know that our cable companies don’t have the right to dictate who can have access to the Internet. Currently the bill is before the House Finance Committee, so its members should be the first you call.