Should the North Carolina Government Have a Role in Broadband Expansion?

Excerpt From: Carolina Journal. Written By: Barry Smith.

Lawmakers are trying to make it easier for broadband providers to reach that last lonely house on that far-away dirt road.

Supporters — a group of bipartisan lawmakers — are adamant such a system won’t compete with private businesses.

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But critics are asking pointed questions.

Is extending broadband lines the right solution for every neighborhood in the state, given that developing technologies could make such lines obsolete?

Have supporters considered the idea not everyone is interested in a broadband connection? A study shows a slight downtick in homes connected to wired broadband while seeing an increase in wireless connections as people are increasingly using their smartphones to get internet access using 4G LTE networks.

Sponsors say House Bill 68 primarily specifies that broadband expansion qualifies as a public-private partnership under state law and clarifies state laws to encourage sharing “dark fiber” cables — underused lines run by one company. The measure also allows the Rural Economic Development Division to use grants to expand broadband and requires extensive reporting on efforts to extend broadband.

The bill is called the BRIGHT Futures Act — BRIGHT being an acronym for “Broadband, Retail online services, Internet of things, Grid power, Health care, and Training and education.” The bill refers to targeted areas for broadband expansion as “BRIGHT markets.”

No money is connected to the bill, but sponsors hope the legislation could make it easier to obtain federal grants to subsidize broadband expansion. But what about costs? Even a primary sponsor says companies don’t always see enough return on investment to justify the expense.

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