Here we go again!

The telcos have not stopped fighting munis but they have changed their strategy. A telco-sponsored bill in North Carolina would tie up muni broadband projects with enough red tape and local politicking to keep them from getting off the ground.A North Carolina bill, reportedly crafted by the telcos, puts high hurdles in front of municipalities seeking to provide broadband Internet access, phone or cable services to their residents.

It echoes Pennsylvania’s House Bill 30, the “Verizon bill,” which effectively prohibited munis from deploying broadband networks without the permission of the incumbent. That bill, although successful in the legislature, turned into a public relations nightmare for Verizon, largely because it robbed communities of local control.

The telcos have not stopped fighting munis but they have changed their strategy. North Carolina’s “Local Government Fair Competition Act” requires so much local input into the process that it promises to tie up projects with enough red tape and nasty politicking to keep them from getting off the ground.

The North Carolina League of Municipalities is fighting the bill. According to its director, Ellis Hankins, “there is no good reason for this bill.” He points out that broadband is one more part of a city’s infrastructure and that munis are already offering other infrastructure services such as water, sewers and electricity.

A story this week in ComputerWorld highlights Charlotte where city officials have not proceeded with a deployment announced some time ago, due to the fact that they cannot find a compelling business case to proceed. Charlotte already has a number of different competitive operators. It quotes Susan Johnson, an executive with the city’s Business Support Services department., saying that the city has been unable to find a compelling business case for the deployment because it already has numerous private competing services and relatively low broadband access rates..

That may be true for markets the size of Charlotte, but what about the future of cities whose smaller populations make them unattractive markets for commercial providers? As in Pennsylvania, we have a case where telcos are attempting to force through legislation at the state level that protects potential future markets for them while forcing local leaders to jump through burning hoops to launch needed local initiatives.

Jim Cauley, city attorney for Wilson which plans a $28 million deployment, told The Wilson Times the telecommunications industry wrote and supported the bill which is “clearly designed to protect their pocketbooks at the expense of the public good. In the interest of corporate protectionism, it will create such a barrier to the construction of municipal broadband infrastructure that many citizens will not have access to high-speed fiber-optic services in the foreseeable future, thereby making our economic development efforts that much more difficult.”

Click here to read the story from The Wilson Times.

Click here to read the ComputerWorld story.