Here's the bill currently being considered:
Level Playing Field/Local Gov't Competition. AN ACT to protect jobs and investment by regulating local government competition with private business.
This bill is flawed in several ways, but first let's look at that "regulating local government" thing. For a GOP-led Legislature that rarely misses an opportunity to bash the Federal government for pushing states around, they are flexing their muscles over municipalities like there's no tomorrow. But like several other issues being debated, that irony is lost on them.
While state government is trying to patch holes in its budget by pushing more and more funding responsibilities down to local governments, they're also placing undue limitations on them at the same time (see Land Transfer Tax repeal). It's both an abdication of responsibility and an overreach of authority, and the "Don't Tread On Me" flags should be flapping vigorously. But they're not, because that's a corporate drama production.
On to the core of this resistance:
Whereas, as expressed in G.S. 66‑58, known as the Umstead Act, it is against the public policy of this State for any unit, department, or agency of the State, or any division or subdivision of a unit, department, or agency of the State to engage directly or indirectly in the sale of goods, wares, or merchandise in competition with citizens of the State
What it doesn't mention in this bill is that the very first in a long list of exemptions codified in this Law is:
The provisions of subsection (a) of this section shall not apply to:
(1) Counties and municipalities.
This law was never meant to be broadly applied, which is why there are so many exclusions. And protecting the authority of local governments was a prominent concern, as well.
Moving on to the issue of "goods, wares and merchandise": It's long past time we define communications as a critical aspect of our infrastructure and not a "product" that is bought and sold. It's the 21st Century for God's sake, and communication flow is just as important to towns and cities as blood is to the human body. Without that communication blood flow, many areas of our state will continue to suffer economic anemia.
This bill gives a slight nod to underserved areas:
A city seeking to provide communications service in an unserved area shall petition the North Carolina Utilities Commission for a determination that an area is unserved. The petition shall identify with specificity the geographic area for which the designation is sought. Any private communications service provider, or any other interested party, may, within a time established by order of the Commission, which time shall be no fewer than 30 days, file with the Commission an objection to the designation on the grounds that one or more areas designated in the petition is not an unserved area or that the city is not otherwise eligible to provide the service.
But this little act has been played out countless times across the country. Telecoms have already drawn up fancy plans and plats showing their intent to connect this or that area, and officials take a glance and say, "Okay." But the years pile up, and those connection plans remain just that: Plans.
The General Assembly needs to back off on this, and let local governments do what they feel they need to do.