Wilson Greenlight Stretches its Gigabit to its Rural Neighbors

Barn photo

For a small, seemingly overlooked, rural farming town in eastern North Carolina, there is now a Gigabit of hope to be part of the global knowledge economy. Last week the city council of Wilson, NC signed off on an interlocal agreement to bring its Gigabit service to the Town of Pinetops, a community located a short 20 miles away, but worlds away in terms of gaining access to modern fiber broadband infrastructure.

“If you want to have economic development in a town like this, you’ve got to have fiber,” Pinetops’ now retired town manager told the New York Times in an article last year. That article featured the Town as a casualty of the state’s broadband law. With a long history of working together based in part on Wilson’s more than thirty year history of providing electricity to Pinetops, the Town began discussions with Wilson in 2010 to gain access to Greenlight’s  fiber-to-the-home service. The Town had concluded that the community’s largest internet service provider was unwilling to upgrade its local network capacity to the level needed to spur economic development. But Wilson and Pinetops’ negotiations were cut short in 2011 when the state legislature passed H129. The law drew an artificial line in the sand and limited Wilson’s broadband service area to its Wilson county line. Pinetops is located in neighboring Edgecombe County.

Thanks to the FCC’s February decision, that barrier has been removed, and the two communities are ready to work together, exercising their local internet choice, to improve the region’s economic future. According to Wilson’s City Manager, Grant Goings, reaching to Pinetops is an easy stretch: “The Wilson community has never been defined as only the corporate limits of Wilson. In developing our infrastructure, we have always considered the greater need of the community and how our investments in self-reliance would benefit the region. Wilson provides water, electricity, natural gas and wastewater treatment services to neighboring communities. Broadband is the next piece of critical infrastructure that will improve the health of our regional economy.”

Will Aycock, Greenlight’s General Manager, also views this partnership as sharing the benefits of modern infrastructure: “Our commitment to improving the delivery of City services through our smart grid initiatives has made broadband service to Pinetops possible, as the same fiber that supports the smart grid system will be leveraged to deliver next generation broadband.” Greenlight’s gigabit service should be operational in Pinetops by April 2016.

For Pinetops, a community with a population of 1,358 people, this move represents a milestone. “Current providers haven’t made significant upgrades to our broadband service through the years,” said Brenda Harrell, Pinetops Interim Town Manager. “They haven’t found us worth the investment. Through this partnership with Greenlight and our neighbors in Wilson, we are able to meet a critical need for our residents.”

Exercising local internet choice to further community economic self reliance, CLIC sees that as the perfect stretch into the global knowledge economy.