Yesterday afternoon, Raleigh City Council passed a resolution opposing H1252/S1004, the so-called “Level Playing Field Act.” This opposition was mentioned prominently in today’s committee meeting, where I definitely think it swayed opinions.
Here’s the text of the opposition resolution:
A RESOLUTION TO EXPRESS THE CONCERN OF THE CITY OF RALEIGH ABOUT CERTAIN PROVISIONS OF RECENTLY INTRODUCED LEGISLATION REGULATING GOVERNMENT PROVISION OF BROADBAND SERVICE AND CABLE TELEVISION SERVICE.
Whereas, Senate Bill 1004 and House Bill 1252, companion bills entitled The Level Playing Field Act, have been introduced in the 2009 Regular Session of the North Carolina General Assembly; and
Whereas, it is possible that the bills do not provide the level playing field implied in their titles for local governments versus private providers; and
Whereas, the United States Congress has enacted the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act which includes provision for up to $4.7 billion in federal grants to local governments to assist them in providing affordable access to high capacity broadband service in unserved and underserved areas; and
Whereas, S 1004 and H1252 could have the effect of denying the availability of such grants to local governments if those bills are enacted into law; and
Whereas, North Carolina law already imposes strict accounting and other regulations on the provision of enterprise services and in the provision of funds to encourage economic development throughout the State; and
Whereas, local government only desires that the playing field for the provision of these services be truly level for both public and private sectors;
NOW THEREFORE BE IT RESOLVED BY THE RALEIGH CITY COUNCIL THAT;
1. The General Assembly reexamines the need for the Level Playing Field Act to determine its true effect on local government’s obligations to its citizens and to remove the chilling effect these bills will have on local economies if they become law.
2. The General Assembly make public and private providers subject to the same standards and requirements if it is determined that one of the groups is at an actual disadvantage.
3. The General Assembly takes no action to impede or remove the local government’s ability to access American Recovery and Reinvestment Act funds.
4. A copy of this Resolution be given to each member of the Senate Commerce Committee and the House Committee of Science and Technology
Here’s a rough transcript of the Council’s comments:
CM = Charles Meeker, Mayor
PI = Philip Isley, District E
MAB = Mary-Ann Baldwin, At-Large
NM = Nancy McFarlane, District A
RK = Rodger Koopman, District B
TC = Thomas Crowder, District C
TM = Thomas McCormick, City Attorney
CM: All right: the report of the mayor and council members. Mr Isley?
PI: I don’t have anything to discuss.
CM: Mr. Stephenson?
CM: Ms. Baldwin?
MAB: Yes, we believe y’all received an email from Mr. Crowder, he forwarded it to you about the “Level Playing Field Act.” That basically is the bill that was introduced that regulates broadband and cable services. There is some question as to whether this would impact our plans for WiFi on City Plaza, and Mr. McCormick has prepared a resolution and we’d like to hear from him and his recommendation.
CM: Mr. McCormick?
TM: Yes sir. First off this would not … this bill … well, there are two companion bills, neither of which would affect anything the city is currently planning, including the WiFi. It relates only to the provision of communication services to the public for a fee. And our WiFi program does not involve providing service for a fee so it would not affect that.
TM: The biggest concern I think that the city has under this bill is that there’s language in the way the bills are drafted now that arguably can prohibit us from receiving federal stimulus money for broadband activities. And so I’m trying to address that in this resolution and I think it would be a good idea for you to suspend your rules and not hold this for two weeks since the House bill, the House companion bill, is already moving some in committee and it might be good if we can get this down there, right away.
CM: Would this affect what Wilson is doing, in terms of its system. I mean it’s got …
TM: Wilson has a .. is a totally different issue, and it would have a much larger impact on Wilson, Salisbury and some towns like that.
TC: But is this just going to cross the same line of just wanting to keep our abilities to get into the broadband should in the future we want to do that, especially maybe in at-risk areas where we, as Councilor West says, have a “digital divide?”
TM: Yes sir. I mean, this bill … either one of these bills, if passed as written, would make it very difficult …
TC: I guess I’m … [crosstalk]
TM: … it wouldn’t prohibit the city from doing it. And, um … and this resolution, I think would … would … this resolution supports the city being able to do that at some point, although Raleigh has never ever talked about that.
TC: I’m not saying that, but we are in opposition of it just preventing us from doing any of that in the future through this resolution, is that correct?
TM: I think this resolution takes care of that, yes sir.
CM: All right, and this bill as proposed is one of these special interest things that advantages an existing incumbent and disadvantages anybody else, including a municipality which, you know, the only … the only area that I know of that has any kind of competition on rates in the state is one area where the municipalities put in a system and all of a sudden the incumbents’ rates have dropped, so I would … unless there’s an objection I’m in favor of suspending the rules and voting on the resolution.
TC: So moved.
PI: [Who’s sponsoring] the bills?
CM: I think our friend Ty Harrell.
MAB: Ty Harrell. Actually, he is.
CM: [To Isley] Just like the one he did to us. Yeah. [Unintelligible]
TM: David Hoyle is the Senate primary sponsor.
CM: Ok, our rules are suspended. There’s a motion to approve the resolution. It’s been seconded. Any discussion?
CM: All in favor say ‘aye.’
CM: Any opposed?
CM: That’d be unanimous. Anything else, Ms. Baldwin?
MAB: No, thank you.