Last week I wrote a piece on the fight between Rep Robert Brawley and Speaker Tillis, and I spent the majority of that article focusing on the politics and the fight itself. In doing this I wasn’t able to give the issue that sparked the fight in the first place the attention it truly deserves. This issue was municipal broadband, and it’s the rare issue that is not only good policy, but for Thom Tillis and his Senate aspirations it also makes for good politics.
Municipal broadband laws would allow smaller towns and counties to set up their own broadband networks and administer them as a public utility. This is an issue where North Carolina’s urban/rural divide comes into sharp contrast. While the Triangle, Triad and Charlotte have plenty of access to high-speed internet, much of the rest of the state lags woefully behind. High speed internet is generally defined as 4 megabits/sec download speed and 1 megabit/sec upload speed. Unfortunately, in most of the state you’re lucky to get 2mbps download and under 1mbps for upload, and unlike the reliable cable or DSL network those of us in the urban areas are used to, in many rural areas that speed can only be reached with wireless networks that can be interrupted by cloudy weather.
Expanding high-speed internet access is good policy because it gives our students greater access to information at a time when local school districts are scrambling for money for new book. It’s also good for small businesses as it lengthens their supply chains, and expands markets for goods and services from rural areas still struggling to recover from the recession. Higher speeds allow rural design, architecture and engineering firms to upload large files such as images or high-resolution blueprints or schematics quickly and without interruption to better serve their clients, making them more competitive in the global marketplace.
Thom Tillis missed a trick by burying this bill. Sure, he may get more campaign dollars from big cable companies who oppose the bill. They don’t want the bill because they’re worried if it passes that larger cities will follow smaller towns in creating municipal networks and cut into their market share. But what he’d lose in campaign donations he’d more than offset by gains in political capital. He could position himself as pro-education by giving students better access to the information they need to succeed in the classroom. He could show small businesses tangible proof of his commitment to their needs, and pivot from recent tax cuts that benefit large corporations at their expense. Most importantly he could shore up thousands of votes from reluctant rural voters who see him as a creature of Raleigh and Charlotte.
Expansion of high-speed internet is the 21st century’s rural electrification, and he could have stolen it out from under the Democrats. Instead though he chose to side with big corporations over everyday people, and that could hurt him big this fall.
Matt: With all due respect, and not being a politician, nor a lobbyist, nor a journalist, nor a state employee (any more), nor part of any special interest organization petitioning the NCGA for anything, I don’t have to “work with” nor give a pass to a party that has been as harsh on teachers, state employees, and middle/lower economic classes, and as biased toward the wealthy as the GOP has been since 2010. I do not see my GOP state senator, my GOP state house rep, or my GOP congressman doing anything that helps the great majority of their constituents, especially those who are in most need. Mick
Of course he sided with big businesses and likely donors and against everyday folk and consumers!
What else could you expect from a leader in the GOP NCGA majority? Look at their track record of favoring wealth, business and corporations. Beyond last session’s business-friendly tax reform, unemployment benefit capping and this broadband bill, there are also the bills to immunize manufacturers from liability suits; to criminalize citizens who might expose the chemicals used in fracking or who take photographs at hog factories; and the capping of privilege fees that cities can assess on businesses.
The only surprising thing might be that his broadband bill position hurts rural folk, a demographic that has been a deep pool of GOP support. Just shows that he can not only be greedy and torqued by donations, but also dumb as a rock.
Thanks for reading guys. One thing I would say is that while their track record isn’t what I’d call stellar, its good to remember that this bill was initially introduced by a Republican. Are there parts of the GOP who are self-interested and beholden to big business, sure, but its a lot easier to work with them and get things done (as they are in the majority) if you recognize that some of them are trying to look out for their constituents.
Tills = Time Warner Cable.
Tillis = Corruption.
If a Conservative is speaking, a conservative is lying.