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Tuesday, July 15, 2003


Judge sides with city in BellSouth suit

"Judge sides with city in BellSouth suit"

By Julia Wood
Laurinburg Exchange
A Superior Court Judge ruled in favor of the city of Laurinburg Friday in a
lawsuit filed by BellSouth claiming that the city’s agreement to provide
fiber optic access to local agencies was illegal.

The lawsuit, filed in August 2001, claimed that the city did not have the
authority to allow its fiber optic network to be shared by Scotland County
government, the county schools, St. Andrews Presbyterian College and
Scotland Memorial Hospital.

The city constructed its fiber optic network in the mid-1990s, initially to
improve communications between city hall and the public works department.
Since the city does not need the network’s full capacity, Laurinburg has
leased that capacity to outside agencies. The city offered to lease space to
BellSouth, but the company declined.

The lawsuit specifically challenged the agreement between Laurinburg and
Schoollink in August 2001 which allowed Schoollink to connect to the fiber
optic network and thereby provide Internet service to the city, county,
schools, hospital and college. In its complaint, BellSouth asserted that
municipalities in North Carolina do not have the authority to allow others
to use a communications link such as the fiber optic cable without specific
authorization from the General Assembly.

In his Friday ruling, Superior Court Judge B. Craig Ellis found that not
only is the city authorized to construct and maintain a fiber optic cable
network, but that it acted within its authority when it allowed others to
use the network and entered into the agreement with Schoollink.

Edward Finley, Jr., attorney for BellSouth, said BellSouth would probably
appeal the decision to the North Carolina Court of Appeals. “The chances are
very good that BellSouth will appeal,” he said. “(Ellis) found that North
Carolina law authorizes the project the town has undertaken; we feel
relatively strongly that it doesn’t, and we hope the Court of Appeals would
agree with us.”

Ellis’ judgment also said that even if state law were to prohibit Laurinburg
from providing telecommunications services, that law would be invalidated by
the federal Telecommunications Act of 1996, which says that states may not
prevent local governments from offering telecommunications services.

But Finley said a case making that claim has been accepted by the U.S.
Supreme Court to be heard in its next term. “A number of cases have held to
the contrary,” Finley said. “It will be interesting to see what the U.S.
Supreme Court does with that decision. It may have an affect on this case.”

In its statement, the city said, “Laurinburg hopes that BellSouth will
reconsider its position and will decide that its resources should be devoted
to improving its service, particularly in rural areas such as Laurinburg and
Scotland County, rather than suing local governments and generating
unnecessary expense to taxpayers. If BellSouth believes that Schoollink’s
connection to the Laurinburg fiber optic network gives Schoollink a
competitive advantage in getting schools and hospitals to use its Internet
services, Laurinburg repeats yet again its willingness to allow BellSouth to
connect to the fiber optic network on the same terms. The fiber optic
network has proven to be a valuable asset to the city, demonstrating its
intent to keep Laurinburg prosperous and competitive in the electronic age.”

Posted with permission from the Laurinburg Exchange (they'll remove the article from their own site in a few hours)


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