Wednesday, 31 March 2021 15:56

Moss files bill to give Utilities Commission broadband oversight

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RALEIGH — Richmond County’s state representative has introduced a bill to help residents in rural North Carolina gain better access to broadband internet service.


Rep. Ben Moss, R-Richmond, on Wednesday introduced the North Carolina Broadband Consumer Protection Act.

According to the “legislative findings” section of the bill: 

"The General Assembly finds that access to high-speed broadband service is a necessity and is essential to participation in the economy, education, and civic life. Closing gaps in broadband availability is a matter of deployment, affordability, and ensuring networks are resilient and of high quality and that they facilitate public safety. The North Carolina Public Utilities Commission is provided the authority and a clear mandate to establish and enforce appropriate oversight of broadband in order to meet the State's goals of high-quality and affordable access to broadband.”

The bill would repeal a subsection of General Statute 62-2 and would amend Article 17 of Chapter 62 of the General Statutes to define “broadband” and “broadband service provider,” as well as give the Public Utilities Commission oversight of statewide broadband services.

(See a copy of the bill attached below this story.)

Other primary sponsors are Rep. Wayne Sasser, R-Stanly; Rep. Raymond Smith Jr., D-Wayne; and Rep. Howard Penny Jr., R-Harnett. Seven other representatives have signed on as co-sponsors.

“During the COVID-19 pandemic, broadband has taken on an unparalleled importance in the lives of all North Carolinians,” Moss said in a statement. “From allowing children to participate in their online schoolwork to enabling families to communicate face-to-face, access to high-speed internet unlocks an unlimited amount of information and resources.”

Many doctors switched to making telehealth appointments during the pandemic as well.

“Despite this, there are a significant number of people in rural North Carolina that lack broadband access,” Moss continued. “This bill is an important step in bridging the rural digital divide that exists in our state.”

Last month, the Carolina Journal reported that 5% of the 40,000 state residents who responded to the North Carolina Broadband Survey said they had no internet access at home.

The survey also reportedly found that 39% of respondents said they have adequate broadband speeds, and 18% said they pay more than $125 per month for service, though that could include bundled services.

In January, Attorney General Josh Stein wrote a letter urging legislators to use $13.4 from a settlement with Dish Network to help North Carolina students gain access.

Some companies stepped up to provide hot spots so students could engage in remote learning.

Patrick Woodie, president of the N.C. Rural Center, called for expansion of broadband service in an April 2020 op-ed.

“Expanding broadband access and affordability will require a significant, increased fiscal allocation, public-private partnerships that leverage existing assets, and a commitment from every sector to not stop advocating until every household is connected, down to the last mile,” Woodie said. 

“Our rural communities know all too well that broadband is a necessity, not a luxury — for education, healthcare, and economic development,” Woodie continued. “Broadband is an infrastructure no less important for a community’s economic future than the electricity that runs to their homes.”

 

Last modified on Wednesday, 31 March 2021 17:28