Bern’s new mayor signed letter urging lawmakers to tackle internet woes
The city of New Bern has taken further action to address what authorities have described as poor local broadband service and issues with ISP Suddenlink.
A letter addressing the issue that was signed by New Bern Mayor Dana Outlaw and eight other mayors was sent to 14 lawmakers in eastern North Carolina last week, including Senator Norm Sanderson and Representative Steve Tyson.
The letter urges lawmakers to take “aggressive steps to bring better broadband service to our state area,” including passing Senate Bill 547-FIBER NC Act. The bill authorizes counties and cities to build broadband service facilities or equipment for rental purposes.
Under SB 547, county commissioners can use ad valorem tax levies, grants or “any other unrestricted fund” to finance broadband infrastructure. It also forces counties and cities to conduct a feasibility study to determine the needs and available resources.
While SB 547 would not allow cities to operate retail Internet service, it would allow them to lease fiber from an Internet service company.
“North Carolina is falling behind. We are doing this because the federal US bailout gives us all a unique opportunity to solve infrastructure problems like broadband. Yet this state’s laws will unnecessarily limit local government broadband efforts, even as we stand ready to have more resources than ever before to bridge the digital divide, ”the letter said.
The letter notes that the COVID-1 9 pandemic has highlighted inadequacies in broadband service in eastern North Carolina.
“Basically, these problems are created by companies like Suddenlink which operate as de facto monopolies in many areas of our towns and cities, with consumers unable to exert market pressures that would lead to service improvements and at better prices, ”the letter states.
The letter offers two options for solving the problem: more competition or regulation of Internet service providers, much like the state does private utility Duke Energy, which is overseen by the NC Utilities Commission.
“There is no excuse for not taking action. We cannot let our region be left behind economically, educationally and professionally as the opportunities for our residents are blocked by the lack of this critical infrastructure, ”the letter states.
Last month, the city of New Bern took unilateral action to address the local broadband situation. The New Bern City Council of Aldermen has approved a request for the city to negotiate and execute a deal with Metro Fibernet to provide an alternative to Suddenlink, Craven County’s main internet service provider.
According to city attorney Mark Stephens, the deal is still in the planning stages and has not been finalized. Stephens said once the deal is in place, he expects work to install the infrastructure to begin next fall.
The services offered by Metro Fibernet include video service of up to 240 channels, a fiber telephone with up to 17 different calling features, fiber Internet and a wireless telephone network. Stephens said he expected services to be offered in surrounding areas such as River Bend, Trent Woods and James City as well.
Under state law, the City would have no authority to regulate or control Metro Fibernet’s services. The deal would allow both sides to resolve permit issues, easement plans and questions about what Metro Fibernet is willing to offer in the region.
“Essentially, this agreement defines our responsibilities. There is nothing legally binding about the agreement per se, ”Stephens said. “They want to be able to submit big plans that can be implemented all at once, like maybe 500 lots in a subdivision, so they can go on and make this system work without having to do it piece by piece.”
Alderman Jeffrey Odham said he believed competitive internet service in the New Bern area would help address the problem of rising costs, while Mayor Dana Outlaw said bringing a Competitive internet service in the region would offer educational and business advantages.
“For the future of our city, as we try to get back after COVID, internet connections for educational purposes, for business purposes, to bring industry and business to our city – it’s so win-win for our citizens, ”said Hors la loi.
Concern over Suddenlink’s service has led local and state officials to denounce what they describe as the high-priced, low-quality service provided by the company. The matter received enough attention that Congressman Greg Murphy held a roundtable discussion in New Bern in February with local officials, including Craven County Commissioners Dennis Bucher and Jason Jones.
In addition to last week’s letter, Outlaw also joined with the mayors of Washington and Tarboro in asking state officials, including Attorney General Josh Stein, to investigate the matter.
The City of New Bern also established an email account to document complaints from Suddenlink customers, which were forwarded to Stein and state legislatures Norman Sanderson, Steve Tyson and Representative John Bell.