Making rural electric co-op customers help pay to expand NC broadband is unfair

·3 min read

Welcome to NC Voices, where leaders, readers and experts from across North Carolina can speak on issues affecting our communities. Send submissions of 300 words or fewer to opinion@charlotteobserver.com.

Broadband costs

Statewide broadband access is critical to the success of rural communities and our state as a whole, and I’m grateful that more than $140 million in state and federal funding has been awarded to large cable providers and others to connect unserved and underserved rural residents in our state.

As this funding creates a new market for broadband providers in rural communities, we must reject efforts by for-profit special interests that would unfairly raise costs for North Carolina’s rural consumers.

Following lobbying efforts by a Fortune 100 company that received federal funding, legislation was recently filed in the North Carolina General Assembly that would push new costs to not-for-profit electric co-ops — and their members — for updating utility poles for new broadband infrastructure.

This proposed policy is wrong.

Rural co-op members should not be expected to subsidize broadband deployment costs, especially after more than $140 million in funding was previously awarded for this very purpose.

Electric cooperatives support rural broadband. The legislation should be revised to delete language that would unfairly shift costs to rural co-op members. This will ensure unserved consumers receive broadband without driving up co-op members’ electric bills.

As not-for-profit, community-owned organizations, electric cooperatives remain focused on keeping costs as low as possible for members and supporting efforts that bring opportunity and prosperity to our communities. Deploying broadband is no exception.

We will continue to work with policymakers and those who are deploying broadband to ensure that access is expanded to our entire state, while advocating against policy changes that could burden rural consumers with unfair costs.

Nelle Hotchkiss,

Senior vice president and COO, N.C. Electric Cooperatives. Board member, N.C. Rural Center

Nelle Hotchkiss
Nelle Hotchkiss

Biden, Medicaid

The writer is a UNC Charlotte emeritus professor of health policy.

President Biden should reject both Medicare for All and his proposal to add public insurance plans to the Affordable Care Act’s subsidized health insurance marketplaces. Both respond to middle-class desires.

Instead, the federal government should assume full responsibility for Medicaid. That policy focuses new federal dollars on poor Americans, especially those in North Carolina and 11 other states refusing ACA Medicaid expansion.

Fully federalizing Medicaid, a constantly growing entitlement, also increases state budgets. Unlike one-time COVID recovery legislation, federal Medicaid takeover permanently eliminates major state expenses. Education, roads and other essential services need those Medicaid dollars.

This state budget relief is Biden’s best chance to redeem his pledge to improve the ACA and attract Republican support. Simple Congressional majorities can pass financial legislation using budget reconciliation.

Washington already pays 63% of total Medicaid costs, limiting additional federal funding. One administration instead of 51 (including DC) will generate savings.

Federalizing Medicaid advances social justice and simplifies Medicaid. Anyone lacking health coverage in households with income below 138% of poverty qualifies for comprehensive coverage. Currently, N.C’s impoverished childless adults receive no Medicaid.

Moreover, states differ greatly in benefits they provide, who receives benefits, and payment for health services. Medicaid beneficiaries’ residence or practice sites of doctors and nurses should not determine services or income received. One national standard will end this longstanding geographical injustice.

Health care is no longer local, as it was in 1965. It has become national and industrial, with giant insurers and hospital and nursing home chains. Anachronistic, fragmented Medicaid cannot resist their ever-rising prices.

Federalizing Medicaid expands it in 12 states, eliminates other geographic injustices, and focuses on the poor without coverage. It allows Biden to pay his debt to voters in Georgia and South Carolina, which refused Medicaid expansion.

William P. Brandon, Charlotte

William Brandon
William Brandon
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