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 In the News, June 8, 2010 

BROADBAND

Broadband efforts keep local officials in Raleigh. Salisbury officials made another trip to Raleigh last week to fight for the city's right to provide broadband Internet service and promote the importance for any North Carolina municipality to be able to do the same thing. Mayor Susan Kluttz, Assistant to the City Manager Doug Paris, Access 16 Manager Jason Parks and Broadband Services Director Mike Crowell made a trip Wednesday to Raleigh for a final review of Senate Bill 1209 by the Senate Finance Committee.  With some changes, the committee adopted the bill and it is now scheduled to go to the Senate for a final reading Monday. The House of Representatives will take it up after that. "For three years we've been fighting bills in Raleigh that have been run by the Cable Association," Paris said. In 2009, a proposed bill that would keep municipalities from competing with cable companies on broadband services was sent for study by Senate subcommittees.

N.C. Senate bill would temporarily freeze cities out of broadband business. North Carolina lawmakers want to study the impact of allowing cities to offer low-cost Internet service before letting more municipalities get in the business. The Senate Finance Committee approved a bill Wednesday to impose a freeze on cities and towns that want to sell cheaper, faster Internet service than companies offer while a legislative panel researches the issue. The freeze ends either when legislators adopt new rules governing municipal broadband operations or lawmakers go home next year without a decision.

Editorial: Broadband biz isn’t for cities. Cities shouldn’t be getting into the Internet and cable TV business. A proposal being pushed in the state Senate to require municipalities to get voter approval if they borrow money to pay for broadband infrastructure doesn’t seem like an unreasonable demand. A handful of municipalities across North Carolina have gotten into the broadband business, with varying degrees of success. Now a number of other cities and towns in North Carolina are considering getting into the broadband and cable TV business.

 

SWEEPSTAKES CAFES

Internet sweeptstakes cafes flourish. … Welcome to the world of Internet sweepstakes cafes, where patrons buy Internet time or phone minutes and, as a bonus, receive entries into a sweepstakes in which they can win cash. Customers at some places, like the Franklinville Business Center, can receive 100 free entries every 24 hours. Operators of the businesses say their sweepstakes promotions are the equivalent of someone buying a soft drink at a fast-foot restaurant and receiving a game ticket that may earn a prize. Guilford County Superior Court Judge John Craig ruled last year that the games do no operate like video poker machines, which are illegal in North Carolina, because the system does not create the game result. The results are predetermined. Still, some state legislators want to ban the operations, saying that the games are gambling that simply skirt North Carolina law.

 

ABC SYSTEM

Editorial: State should swear off monopolizing retail liquor sales. In 18th century North Carolina, county courts fixed the price of a dram of "spirits." You could have a good debate on the question of whether today's system of controlling alcohol sales makes much more sense. For the latest example, look to Rowland, where a customer who apparently had done some comparison shopping complained of being overcharged at the local ABC store. An investigation by the state Alcoholic Beverage Control Commission followed, revealing that 70 items had been overpriced. This, in a state-licensed, board-run liquor outlet with bad books and one employee. A 2008 investigation of the store in Pembroke found the opposite problem: A lot of liquor had simply been given away. … Let's be realistic. Almost anyone can skim the petty cash while the boss is at lunch. But how many employees can give away thousands of bottles of liquor and have it go unnoticed by the guy who paid the wholesaler for it? And would the most recent episode have occurred if the market had established the price, as opposed to having bureaucrats decide how much customers should pay for a fifth of scotch, and where they should buy it? Sooner or later, common sense or recurrent pain is going to drive government out of the retailing business.

 

COLLECTIVE BARGAINING

Opinion: An end run for unions. Even for North Carolina’s current crop of Keystone Cop politicians, who are manifestly adept at shooting themselves and our economy in the foot, the cause of public-sector unionism has never been a high priority. Oh, Democratic legislators have said nice things about unions and occasionally filed bills to lift restrictions on collective bargaining among state and local government employees. Given the role that labor donations and organizers played in the Democrats’ 2006 and 2008 electoral gains in North Carolina, party leaders have felt obligated to go through the motions of promoting the labor movement’s policy agenda, including public-sector unionization. But it’s obvious that for many of the Democratic politicians in question, their hearts are just not in it. Facing fiscal deficits now and the possibility of vote deficits in the fall, they are loathe to do anything to 1) jack up the cost of delivering current state and local services by 10 percent or more, 2) drive Democratic-leaning business donors and organizations into the waiting arms of the Republicans, and 3) create even stronger political organizations outside the direct control of Democratic politicians and party committees.