The Daily Tar Heel

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Saturday June 25th

Despite legal concerns, Gig.U initiative approved to provide Internet

The Chapel Hill Town Council moved forward Monday with an initiative to provide Internet to communities, despite concerns about its legality.

The Gig.U initiative is a nationwide effort to provide high-speed Internet access to universities and their surrounding communities that has been successful in states like Florida and Maine.

North Carolina began its own initiative under the North Carolina Next Generation Network group — made up of six municipalities, including Chapel Hill and Carrboro, and universities like UNC and Duke.

The group hopes to release a request for proposal Feb. 1. This allows potential network service providers to submit proposals for the job.

In November, Cynthia Pols, a telecommunications attorney, contacted the group about major problems with its request.

One of the problems is the legality of some of the objectives — specifically one that would require low-cost Internet in low-income neighborhoods.

Under state and federal laws, North Carolina municipalities can neither franchise nor regulate broadband systems, Pols said.

“North Carolina is a unique beast in terms of the restraints in municipalities,” she said. “The North Carolina legislature has essentially prohibited municipal involvement in the broadband arena.”

Because municipalities do not have these powers in North Carolina, the network group cannot enforce the contract with the service provider.

Despite raising these concerns, Pols said the group has done little to address the issues.

“We tried to alert them to some of these issues a while back,” Pols said. “There doesn’t seem to be any willingness to address these things.”

But Terri Buckner, project manager at UNC for information technology, said she believes that the group has made accommodations for these concerns.

Carrboro Mayor Mark Chilton expressed concerns about the initiative at the town council meeting.

He said if members spent more time on it, the group could better address the enforcement issues.

“There is no requirement that we act by (Feb. 1),” Chilton said.

Despite the possible legal and enforcement issues, many supported the initiative at the meeting.

Marc Hoit, vice chancellor for information technology at N.C. State University — which is also a part of the network group — said he supported the initiative.

“It’s fiber and bandwidth. That’s the new future. If cities don’t have that they will not be able to move forward,” he said.

The Carrboro Board of Aldermen will discuss Gig.U at 7:30 p.m. today.

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