Local Politics

Bill Would Unplug Wilson's Internet Effort

Posted May 31, 2007 6:24 p.m. EDT
Updated May 31, 2007 7:35 p.m. EDT

— A tug-of-war has begun over Wilson's effort to wire local neighborhoods for high-speed Internet service.

The city borrowed $18 million to install fiber-optic cables, saying they were tired of waiting to Time Warner Cable to provide the service to area residents.

"We want our businesses and our people here in Wilson to have the same tools they would have in any city in the world, and fiber-optics is the way to meet that need," said Brian Bowman, a spokesman for the city.

Most government offices are already connected, along with two of Wilson's biggest businesses, Bowman said. By January, city officials hope to offer far faster Internet, as well as phone and cable television services to local residents at prices comparable or less than Time Warner's older system, he said.

But Time Warner is fighting back.

Former House Speaker Harold Brubaker, R-Randolph, is co-sponsoring legislation that would put restrictions on governments that want to compete for communication services.

"There's a distinct advantage for a city who's not paying any taxes, compared to a private company who does pay income tax and other taxes," Brubaker said. "If the public is getting into the private sector, then they should play by the same rules."

House Bill 1587 would require local governments to put utility projects up for a referendum. Brubaker noted that various public utility projects have failed, leaving local communities in serious financial trouble.

Bowman called the bill an effort to "sandbag cities," arguing that cable companies often don't see smaller communities as a priority because they represent less profit.

"We would have loved it if they had come in years ago and put this in Wilson, but they simply didn't want to do it," he said. "We see it as a need that needs to be put in place. So, we do it ourselves. Now, there's legislation that would tells us we can't do it. That doesn't seem fair."

Wilson officials believe they have a viable business plan where customers will pay back the investment and not leave the city in a financial bind, Bowman said.