The Wall Street Journal, March 6, 2013
Sensing a threat to their business model, telecom companies are pushing more states to curb the spread of publicly funded high-speed Internet access, arguing the networks could squash competition.
Time Warner Cable Inc., Windstream Corp., Comcast Corp. and AT&T Inc. are among the companies that have gotten involved in the push in various states. In Georgia this year, Arkansas-based Windstream is leading the charge for a bill that would outlaw new public broadband service in census tracts where a private company offers some kind of broadband.
Small-town mayors and county boards have pushed back, saying they want to build or improve networks because private companies won’t. At least 19 states have placed some sort of limit on publicly funded Internet networks. The spread of such
legislation comes as Americans are increasingly relying on high-speed Internet the same way earlier generations relied on telephone service or broadcast television.
Some 340 public networks exist in the U.S., according to the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, which favors public broadband.
In 2011, officials in Fayetteville, N.C., mulled expanding a fiber network owned by the city’s electric utility so it could provide superfast Internet access for its residents. Time Warner, one of the local broadband companies, protested and at the same time helped push a bill through the state legislature that effectively blocked city officials from pursuing the matter further, Deputy City Manager Kristoff Bauer said.
Time Warner has since expanded its Fayetteville services to previously unserved residents and offers most residents a broadband connection for $54.95 a month, with discounts for homes that subscribe to other services. The city-run connection could have offered a much faster connection a slightly lower price, Mr. Bauer said.