FreePress, January 8, 2013
Here’s a fun experiment:
Grab the next person you see and tell her you’re about to talk about tech policy (you know, to prepare her). If she hasn’t screamed, pulled out all of her hair or fled the room, tell her you’re about to take a voyage to strange lands where laws exist that make it harder for people to access the Internet.
You: Some laws were passed in faraway places like Colorado, North Carolina, Tennessee and Utah. These laws make it harder for people to get online. Plus they destroy competition, raise prices and hurt local economies.
Her: But why would elected officials pass laws that restrict our access to information?
You: Let me introduce you to a little thing called “corporate lobbying.”
If you need help explaining the weird workings of this world to your friend, try consulting The Empire Lobbies Back: How Big Cable Killed Competition in North Carolina, a new report from the Institute for Local Self-Reliance (ILSR) and Common Cause.
According to report authors Christopher Mitchell and Todd O’Boyle, instead of investing in extending their networks, these companies spent hundreds of thousands of dollars lobbying the North Carolina state legislature, arguing that communities shouldn’t be able to make broadband decisions for themselves. Despite vocal protests from state residents, the strategy worked: In May 2011, then-Gov. Bev Perdue allowed HB 129 to pass into law.
The same exact story has played out in 18 other states across the country (check out this map from the ILSR for a full list of states with anti-municipal broadband laws). And in many cases, the bills were nearly identical — because they were ghost-written by the corporate-funded American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC). ALEC is notorious for pushing — and often writing — conservative legislation on everything from gun ownership to health care to the environment.