Local Politics

Google Weighs in on Municipal Telecom Debate

Posted June 21, 2007 6:34 p.m. EDT
Updated June 21, 2007 6:57 p.m. EDT

— Search-engine giant Google is backing efforts by small North Carolina communities to offer Internet and other telecommunications services to their residents.

Communities has been locked in a legislative battle with telecom providers for the past two months over House Bill 1587, which would place restrictions on municipal communication services. Under the bill, cities or counties would have to charge taxes for such services so their rate structure is comparable to that of a private service and wouldn't be allowed to pull employees from other departments to work for the cable or Internet service.

"The legislation is important to create a level playing field because local government has the ability to tax, has the ability to take money from one enterprise and send it to another," said Randy Fraser, a lobbyist for Time Warner Cable.

Wilson City Manager Grant Goings said the legislation "would be devastating" to the city's $30 million effort to wire the city for high-speed Internet, cable and phone service by January. Local officials said they were tired of waiting for Time Warner to upgrade service to the town, which isn't seen as a major profit center because of its size.

The bill, pending in the House Finance Committee, has attracted the attention of Google and other technology companies, which recently sent letters to the General Assembly in opposition to the legislation. Google described itself as a strong supporter of public-private partnerships and said the bill "threatens to undermine prosperity."

"The other side of this issue has tried to phrase this as a public versus private sector issue, so certainly the support from these private companies helps clear the air that that is not the case," Goings said.

Fraser said he doesn't mind Google or other companies weighing in on the issue. But he said that doesn't change the debate.

"Every voice ought to be heard, but I think in the end, the reasons and the need for the legislation will be understood by the General Assembly," he said.