Cable companies blocked municipal broadband in North Carolina and left a gap. Let others fill it.

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Nearly a decade ago , the North Carolina General Assembly approved legislation that essentially blocked municipalities from acting as internet service providers, barring any new or expanded municipal-owned and operated systems. At the time, Wilson had been building its Greenlight system, with lightning-fast internet speeds, and a handful of other North Carolina cities and towns were following suit. The large telecommunications companies – Time-Warner-Cable (now Spectrum), AT&T, and CenturyLink – argued that this amounted to unfair government-subsidized competition. Those arguments seemed reasonable enough to a majority of state legislators and carried the day. But those companies also pledged then that they had both the capability and will to address the poor service plaguing rural North Carolina. The consequences of the inability of the major telecommunications providers to get fast, reliable service to areas of rural North Carolina make life for rural residents more dire every day. That was the case before COVID-19. It is even more the case today as residents work from home remotely, requiring good internet connections; schools are forced to reach students remotely via computer link; and more and more of our elderly residents require virtual health care through the tools of telemedicine.

It is past time for the larger telecommunications companies to stop their lobbying efforts to prevent us from bringing all tools to the table. Rural North Carolina must move forward, and public and private sector leaders in this state need to either help that happen, or get out the way.

[Clark Jenkins of Tarboro served in the North Carolina Senate from 2003 until 2015, representing Edgecombe, Martin and Pitt counties]

Cable companies blocked municipal broadband in NC and left a gap. Let others fill it.