NC court favors muni broadband

The North Carolina Court of Appeals came down in favor of allowing the city of Laurinburg to use government-owned facilities to offer broadband services to its agencies as well as other governmental and institutional users.

North Carolina is not one of those growing number of states that expressly forbids municipalities from acting as businesses to offer broadband services. But telecom provider Bellsouth, which had earlier been the city's service provider to most government and institutional users, filed suit contending long-standing state law governing the actions of municipalities effectively does just that.

The claim surrounded Laurinburg's construction of a fiber-optic link between the city hall and public works building in 1996, which it then upgraded several years later to create what the court described as a 19-mile loop.

It contracted with School Link Inc. in 2001 for that company to use the facilities to provide services to Laurinburg government, and county government agencies, schools, universities and hospitals, which Bellsouth had provided services to most of those facilities.

Bellsouth contended that state law prevented Laurinburg from acting as a public enterprise in offering services to others outside of the city, which the city claimed it had to do to make its operation cost-effective.

While acknowledging that the state government probably did not have the city's fiber optic technology in mind when it wrote the 1971 statute, the court said Laurinburg was clearly authorized under the law to offer bundled network services "as additional and supplementary powers that are reasonably necessary or expedient," and in fact couldn't operate in today's market without being able to do so.

Robinson is a freelance journalist based in Portland, Ore. He can be reached at hullite@mindspring.com.

About the Author

Brian Robinson is a freelance writer based in Portland, Ore.

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