Remembering Why: Broadband Leadership for the 21st Century Economy

Some things are worth repeating. Recognizing that North Carolina was at the vanguard of technology deployment in the 1990s, CLIC’s North Carolina chapter, NC Broadband Matters, engaged a keynote speaker in April who received a standing ovation after he spoke about how North Carolina can be a technology leader again. The speaker, four-term Governor James B. Hunt (1977-1985, 1993-2001) drew praise and laughter from his audience, as he advised a large crowd at the North Carolina Rural Center that the key to broadband leadership for the 21st century economy is for them to engage in their own future and not believe “those who tells you your dream is not possible.”

Governor  Hunt parlayed his lessons from growing up on a farm in rural, eastern North Carolina to speak to the importance of establishing access today to modern Internet infrastructure for everyone in the state. He talked about how North Carolina residents stepped in and organized to preserve the things they knew they needed to survive, and to ensure “a good life” for their communities.  He talked about how the farmers organized when they worried that the lifeblood of their livelihood—their soil—was blowing away, and how they relied on themselves to improve their community. He spoke of the peaks in technology changes imprinted in his memories, such as the day his grandmother first obtained electricity and the election of state officials who changed dirt roads to paved roads.

As he put it: “Why did I say all this? To tell you there have been many times throughout our history when we have seen the needs of people and we have thought about it, and we planned about it, and we decided to do some real things, some big things, some important things to improve our lives.  And we have done it.  Don’t you sit here today and think that what folks have talked about here is impossible.”[1]

 “We got electricity put in by working hard understanding what it could mean to your life, to your family, and your community, and people worked hard to get electricity

Hunt reminded the audience that North Carolina was the first state to deploy fiber across the state in 1994. He and his colleagues called it an “information highway” and he remembered how no one knew what that meant and instead suggested it was impossible. “Now, it was difficult to explain it to people. When you’re going to do big things in the public, you have to talk to people about your ideas. First of all, they have to be based on people’s needs, and then you have to talk to them about the idea you have, and they have, and develop an approach to it. I remember how difficult it was to explain this to a lot of the legislators. And everybody else, really. And we were asking to put funding into it. ‘What do you mean you want $7 million for an information highway…? ‘” [2]

 “We have built this country. We have built our communities. We saw what we needed to have, to have a good life for our families, our children, our communities, and we have gone out there and historically done something about it.

Throughout his message, Hunt noted the importance of public-private partnerships and bipartisan support. “We all came together and talked about this new technology; What it was and how it worked and we talked about how we could have it. Well, we developed a public private partnership; and it took alot of educating. It took alot of thinking, it took alot of educating people, and deciding to do things. And figuring out how to do them. Which is what you are working on now. We got our first appropriation of $4 million, and Governor Cooper of Nashville and Representative Charles Preston from Catawba County led that for us, always approaching this in a bi-partisan kind of way. And we got that approved and started got it moving forward in the General Assembly.[3]

And then, slowly, Hunt read, one by one, a list of 32 counties in the state that still do not have access to 25Mbps/3Mbps internet access (the FCC’s definition of the minimum level of broadband needed to fully participate in modern life). He spurred the audience on: “I am glad you had a background that has made you aware of the need for all of this. And the potential for it, and a sense that it can be done.  Don’t you let people tell you this can’t be done. I know the financing challenges are big. You have some people here with some money. All that tobacco money does not have to go to Wilson County,” he said, to laughter. “There’s a lot of different ways to do it, you know.” [4]

 “I think it’s time we make a big decision that we’re going to do it in a big way. We are going to help all of our people. Give everybody who lives in North Carolina, every child and family, the chance to be all they can be.

Governor Hunt closed by challenging the audience to believe in themselves and in their long history.  And not to be satisfied with low expectations. He said “we’re talking about opportunity, we are talking about equal opportunity, we are talking about full opportunity. To become all that you can be and ought to be.  You folks can make that happen. This work can help make that happen. Don’t tell me it can’t be done. We’ve done things bigger than this before. This country has won wars. North Carolina has built a great economy. Think about where we are here today.”

“… let’s don’t be satisfied with low expectations and leaving people out and not becoming what we can be. I am proud of you all. Everyone of you is here for a purpose. You’ve got a job to do in this. You sense what’s possible.  I can tell it in your faces… So I commend you. I am proud of you.  Let’s make North Carolina all that it can be.

All that it should be.

All that it must be.” [5]

See more on twitter at  #NCBroadbandMattersNOW

[1] Governor Hunt Speaks: Part 1: 13:22

[2] Governor Hunt Speaks Part 2 at :54.

[3] Governor Hunt Speaks Part 2 at 2:27

[4] Governor Hunt Speaks Part 4: at 0:17

[5] Governor Hunt Speaks Part 6 at 5:08

Why CLIC-NC? Because NC Hearts Gigabit

There was a buzz at the Broadband Communities’ recent Atlanta conference earlier this month, and part of that circled around a new grassroots group whose founders were present and speaking about their new educational project, NC Hearts Gigabit.  Formed as a project of CLIC-NC, the North Carolina chapter of CLIC, NC Hearts Gigabit will serve as a story-telling platform about North Carolina’s need for everyone in the state, from rural and urban communities, to have access to 21st century, high capacity broadband.  And yet the project goes beyond that. It seeks to uncover how North Carolina communities are rebuilding their local economies by utilizing this critical infrastructure so they can stay competitive in the global economy; how they are growing inclusive small businesses and re-skilling their workforce.  The ultimate objective of the group is to reinvigorate North Carolina’s long history as a technology leader and re-establish its vanguard role  in this space.

Enjoy this podcast interview by Chris Mitchell, the Director of the Community Broadband Networks Initiative with the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, of three of the project’s founders: Christa Wagner Vinson, Deborah Watts and Alan Fitzpatrick while they were all in Atlanta. For more about NC Hearts Gigabit CLIC-NC here.

From CLIC-NC: Mozilla Brings Together Gigabit Lovers in Charlotte, NC

by Christa Wagner Vinson and Alan Fitzpatrick

Mozilla, probably best known for its adorable vulpine mascot from the Firefox web browser, came to Charlotte last month to talk about the virtues of high-speed gigabit Internet connectivity and what can be done with it. Mozilla’s foundation has recently been connecting tech enthusiasts, digital literacy advocates, and other leaders through its Hive Learning Networks and gigabit city-based programs in Chattanooga, Tenn.; Austin, Texas; Lafayette, La.; Eugene, Ore. and Kansas City, Mo.

The Hive’s neighborly outreach, plus the recent arrival of gigabit broadband Internet service to Charlotte, is what brought Mozilla our way. Google Fiber Charlotte and NC Hearts Gigabit, (a project of CLIC-NC and an outgrowth of Charlotte Hearts Gigabit) , were pleased to host a small gathering for the half-day workshop.

Kicking things off in the Google Fiber event space in uptown, the workshop got an appropriately techie start by first defining gigabit. So, what is that, exactly? Well, giga is derived from the Greek word for giant, and, yes, it’s pretty big.  A gigabit is a thousand megabits, which is a thousand kilobits, which is a thousand bits. 1,000 x 1,000 x 1,000 equals a gigabit, one billion bits per second. (Bit, by the way, is a basic unit of information that generally refers to speed of upload or download.  Byte, meanwhile, generally refers to storage capacity – the quantity of data.)

Mozilla’s facilitators helped the group visualize the possibilities of a world at Gigabit speed. They asked the group to rate their awareness of various gigabit-related topics like 4K video and the Internet of Things. They dazzled by showcasing gigabit-enabled success stories from Chattanooga and Kansas City, where next-generation applications being built there are making possible everything from scientific research to artistic collaboration. The conversation then turned pragmatic: sorting out what is working in the Charlotte region when it comes to using technology to meet community needs – and what isn’t. The event participants, ranging from digital inclusion and workforce developments advocates to smart city wonks and civic techies, each had a stake in the conversation.

Yet the workshop also offered a welcome opportunity to challenge pre-conceived expectations.  Namely, that while the digital revolution has long promised straightforwardly positive advancements in economic development– new jobs created from technological innovation, the decentralization of work to anywhere with an Internet connection – the reality is, it’s been a bit more complicated in the execution.  The upshot, fortunately, is that there are ways to get there – at least when Mozilla is your tour guide.

As Charlotte powers forward with its own gigabit networks, we hope the region will continue to work hard to find solutions for the complexities the Internet Age throws at us. This will mean helping people get jobs wherever they are, and with the skills they already have, using digital platforms; innovating the new financial products that can support broadband expansion, as well as mobile financial services that meet the needs of underserved groups; helping small business deploy technology strategies that make them more productive and competitive; and helping our region win the race for the jobs produced by Industry 4.0 so that we’re talking about up-skilling rather than job killing.

In the end, for community and economic developers and those we serve, the real opportunity is discovering what we actually want out of technology — after all, it is merely a tool — and how to get it. From application development to community development, and everything in between, we have a lot of work to do.

And, hey, if you’re reading this blog, you are an agent in that change. Charlotte Hearts Gigabit, and NC Hearts Gigabit look forward to continuing the buzz around the enormous opportunity of the gigabit.  You can follow us on twitter at @NCHeartsGb

Who knows, we got the Hornets back, maybe we can be a Mozilla Hive City one day, too.

Wilson Greenlight to Continue Gigabit Fiber Service in Rural Pinetops and Vick Family Farms — with conditions

Late last night, the North Carolina General Assembly passed legislation, HB 396, allowing Wilson’s Greenlight to continue providing broadband service to Pinetops and Vick Family Farms. The bill sets additional conditions and also authorizes Greenlight to resume charging those customers for service.

This action somewhat resolves a series of legislative and regulatory decisions that required Greenlight to cease charging for service in these recently expanded areas, beginning last October. Under the new law, Pinetops customers and Vick Family Farms can continue to receive Greenlight service until another provider builds a similar fiber to the home network in the area. At that time, Greenlight would have 30 days to cease service, with customers transitioning to the new provider. In that event, Pinetops would be in the unique position of having two fiber to the home systems to serve a small, rural community. (Pinetops has about 600 households, and a per capita income of $15,763. About 20% of the population live below the poverty line, with about 60% of the residents being African American and 40% Caucasian).

“We appreciate our delegation’s efforts, led by Representative Martin, to eliminate restrictions on Greenlight’s ability to serve customers who requested and desperately need our service,” said Wilson Mayor Bruce Rose. “While this is not the bill we had hoped for, it is a step in the right direction. We hope that in the future our General Assembly will be allowed to focus on expanding rural broadband instead of restricting it.”

House Bill 396: Municipal Broadband Service Area was introduced first in the House, by Representative Susan Martin (R-Wilson) and Representative Jean Farmer-Butterfield (D-Wilson). It was presented on the Senate floor last night by Senator Harry Brown (R-Onslow, Jones), Senate Majority Leader, who represents many rural communities in his district.

Pinetops residents were left with much uncertainty in the past few months about future access to broadband service. Suzanne Coker-Craig and Brent Wooten, both Pinetops Town Commissioners, have worked diligently toward a solution to preserve reliable broadband in the community.

“Although not the solution we expected, we are pleased this bill allows us to continue to leverage Greenlight’s next generation infrastructure as we focus on growing our community,” said Coker-Craig. “Hopefully, no other provider will exercise the option to build redundant infrastructure that our community neither wants nor needs. Pinetops has made it clear that we want the quality and speed of service that only Greenlight can provide.”

Greenlight currently serves more than 200 residential and commercial customers in Pinetops, as well as providing broadband access to community and anchor institutions.

“We are pleased to learn that we will be allowed to continue serving Pinetops and Vick Farms with the best broadband service in our State,” said Greenlight General Manager Will Aycock. “Our focus moving forward is to determine how best to serve these areas under the new legislation.”

The legislation will become effective once Governor Cooper signs it into law, expected early next week.


Under legislation adopted the North Carolina General Assembly’s 2011 session, municipalities like Wilson are barred from offering broadband services except in very limited circumstances. Wilson’s Greenlight system was already built and serving customers when the legislation passed, after years of unsuccessful attempts to partner with a telecom partner to offer broadband in the city. The legislation (heavily lobbied for by the state’s incumbent providers) limits Wilson to operate Greenlight only within Wilson County.

In 2015, the Federal Communications Commission ruled that a federal law encouraging the extension of broadband into underserved areas preempted North Carolina’s law.  The FCC ruling allowed Wilson to provide broadband to customers within its electric service area, a five-county region.

Wilson then extended Greenlight to Pinetops in Edgecombe County and Vick Farms, a large family farm that employs nearly 300 people just over the Wilson County line in Nash County, pursuant to the FCC ruling, in early 2016. (The critical nature of Wilson’s Greenlight’s next generation internet service to the sustainability of Vicks family farm sweet potato production was featured by the New York Times last year.)

On August 10, 2016, the United States Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the FCC had exceeded its authority in preempting the North Carolina statutes. That ruling put the 2011 NC law back in place.  The NC law required Wilson to cease selling Greenlight services to Pinetops and Vick Family Farm by October 2016 or risk having to shut down all of Greenlight.

The Wilson City Council voted in September 2016 to provide limited Greenlight service to customers outside of Wilson County at no charge for up to six months, a measure that prevented disconnection of customers in the town of Pinetops and Vick Family Farms. Without this action, these customers would have been disconnected. The Council made that decision based on a commitment by Rep. Martin and North Carolina Senator Harry Brown to draft and support legislation to change the current law in the 2017 session of the North Carolina General Assembly.

Wilson Greenlight was there for Vick Family Farms in the heart of the sweet potato harvesting season; and it continued to be there for Pinetops even during Hurricane Matthew.

NC Legislators Should Encourage, not Disconnect, Modern Rural Internet

Background: A tiny, rural town in North Carolina has gigabit internet from a community-owned fiber provider, Wilson Greenlight, and the big cable and telephone companies want it disconnected. Today a local newspaper printed an editorial from an industry front group (just like the one these monopolies used in 2010 and 2011). Titled “City-Owned  Broadband Squeezes Taxpayers” the “American Taxpayers Alliance” in essence suggested that NC legislators should disconnect gigabit internet service in rural Pinetops because “municipal broadband poses a significant threat to taxpayers.” The real story of what is happening in Pinetops is found in a local letter to the editor from a Pinetops Town Commissioner, reprinted below . While it is not true that Greenlight uses taxpayer money to run their network, it is true that Centurylink is getting more than $40 million in public funds through the federal Connect America Fund with which they are building old internet technology (10Mbps/1Mbps) to their NC rural customers. Having no internet choice and access to only old internet for your community — that sounds like the death knell for local rural economic growth — and the real “significant threat” to taxpayers.


Legislators Should Help Promote Internet Access, 

by Suzanne Coker Craig, Pinetops Town Commissioner

Every one of the 600 homes in rural Pinetops – in economically struggling Edgecombe County – has access to symmetrical, fiber-to-the-home, gigabit internet service. Not even Raleigh has that. So why are state legislators trying to disconnect us and take away the biggest economic and education advantage we have had in decades? Why are they siding with big telecom corporations rather than their rural constituents whose livelihoods are being crippled by antiquated internet service?

In 2011, the telecom industry pushed the NC Legislature to pass a law limiting the City of Wilson’s internet service area to Wilson County, even though Wilson is a long-time utility provider to Pinetops and other small towns in neighboring counties. The Federal Communication Commission ruled in 2015 to preempt this law, which allowed Pinetops to invite Wilson to bring its fiber internet service (“Greenlight”) to the town in March 2016. In May, the State challenged the FCC decision and won, which will force Greenlight to disconnect Pinetops. Rep. Susan Martin (R-Wilson), Rep. Shelley Willingham (D-Edgecombe), and Rep. Jean Farmer-Butterfield (D- Wilson), Sen. Erica Smith-Ingram (D-Martin) and Sen. Deanna Ballard (R-Watauga) introduced legislation to keep Pinetops connected, but the bills appear to be stalling because of intense lobbying by the big telecoms. Rep. Jeff Collins (R-Nash) has even introduced a bill that would force Greenlight out of Pinetops by a specific date.

We hear that the big telecoms are telling legislators that they  are “upgrading” our little town with modern, even fiber based internet. Our residents (their customers) tell a different story. Their “high speed” internet (sometimes 10Mbps/1Mpbs) buffers and crashes regularly and customer service is a joke. Our overworked regional technician serves from Fayetteville to north of Greenville. Greenlight by comparison provides us fiber-to-the-home symmetrical gigabit internet if we want it. Their customer service is hyper-responsive and was even in town the day after Hurricane Matthew, hooking up and servicing lines for emergency responders. The other providers were nowhere to be seen in hard-hit Pinetops.

Access to modern internet is vital our town’s future. Legislators need to give us the freedom to choose internet partners we can depend on to improve our economy, educational opportunities and quality of life. Pinetops should be able to keep Greenlight and legislators should be encouraging, not disconnecting, modern internet access for our rural communities.

NC Anti-Competitive Broadband Law to Disconnect Rural Pinetops from its Gigabit Internet by Halloween

Listen to this great interview by the Institute for Local Self Reliance of one of Pinetops’ Town Commissioners, Suzanne Coker-Craig, who is forced to watch her rural Gigabit town be disconnected from Wilson Greenlight internet service because of North Carolina’s anti-competitive state law (commonly known as H129).

Said Coker-Craig: “This is a situation where Pinetops and other rural areas of North Carolina are not being served by private providers with high speed good quality internet service. So we see this very similarly to how power was provided back in the 30s and 40s when rural areas could not get power, local governments stepped in. And this is the same thing for us. We consider that high speed quality internet service in today’s economy is a utility. And when you can’t have private providers willing to do this, why not let progressive municipal governments like Wilson help us out with this?And so we think this law is really a significant hindrance. Our areas are already struggling economically, and we are losing population. This is only going to further that.  It is not going to allow us to help ourselves grow, to help ourselves, pick ourselves up out the economic slump we are already in.”

Her audio interview is found here.

Like her Facebook page: “NC Small Towns Need Internet Access”.

For Rural Pinetops, Being a Gigabit City is More than A CuriosiTees

Curiositees in Pinetops image

CuriosiTees is a screen printing and custom t-shirt store in a tiny rural town called Pinetops, NC (population ~1300). But it’s more than that. It’s a testament to the economic impact of finally getting access to fiber to the home speeds and internet choice in North Carolina’s rural homelands. It’s evidence that community-run fiber networks can bring modern infrastructure and economic hope.

Suzanne Coker Craig owns CuriosiTees. She is practically giggly when talking about her super fast internet connection from Greenlight, a community-owned fiber network owned by neighboring Wilson. Wilson extended Gigabit internet service to Pinetops four months ago after the FCC preempted a 2011 North Carolina state law (H129) that had effectively prohibited Wilson from providing internet service where it already provided electricity outside of Wilson County. The alleged reason for the law was to “level the playing field,” but in reality it has left large portions of the state, including its rural areas, with a single service provider. In that monopoly environment, there were no incentives to modernize service, especially in rural areas.

Suzanne used to be a subscriber to Centurylink DSL service at her Pinetops home, but years ago she just turned it off . “We weren’t using it because it used to take forever; it just wasn’t viable.” She now has Greenlight’s 40 Mbps upstream and downstream service. “It’s just so very fast,” she said.

Greenlight’s upload speeds are particularly critical for Suzanne’s custom screen printing business where everything is hyper time sensitive. “We wow our customers with our ability to turn their orders around quickly, even when they order them late. Reliable internet is at the heart of that. We exist on ‘on-time inventory.’ We work with a Charlotte company for our apparel. If we get our order in by 5 p.m. from here, the next day it will be delivered. That’s really important for business.” Before Greenlight, Suzanne described how “We had been sweating it out.”  Suzanne’s tee-shirt store only had access to 800 Kbps DSL upload speed. She would talk to the modem. “Please upload by 5 p.m. Please upload.” Now she can just go home and put her order in at the last minute. “We are comfortable it will upload immediately….It’s just so much faster. Super fast.” Suzanne’s business also requires a fair shake of administrative work, sales tax reports, document exchanges, uploading artwork that represent dense data file transmissions. To save time, she does her administrative work from home. “Having Greenlight has just been very beneficial for our business.”

But as a Town Commissioner, Suzanne also recognizes the long term economic benefits this infrastructure will have for her community. She sees its merit for retaining and attracting the young people in the community, and drawing in residents and businesses from just over the town limits, where Greenlight has not provided service.  “My 21 year old nephew is a  recent college graduate who is very tech savvy. I mentioned to him that we had Greenlight [Gigabit] service in Pinetops. His eyes popped open.  He was really impressed. I think this service will help us engage with young people who are shocked that a little town like ours would have Gigabit internet.”  Suzanne also described how residents who live just over the town’s municipal line “are jealous.  They keep asking me how can I get that service here?” They are frustrated they live only a few minutes away. The implications for Pinetops real estate values are obvious.

“I just see a brighter future for our town now,” she reflected. “ It’s a neat selling point. It’s difficult in small rural areas to get good technology-based companies. This now opens the door for us to recruit just those kinds of businesses…. It’s hard to imagine a business that does not need internet access” and now tiny rural Pinetops has a Gigabit of it, thanks to Wilson Greenlight.

Update: On August 10, 2016, the Sixth Circuit ruled against the FCC’s preemption of North Carolina’s broadband law based on a narrow states authority issue, noting  “Our holding today is a limited one.  We do not question the public benefits that the FCC identifies in permitting municipalities to expand Gigabit Internet coverage.” We wait on whether this means Greenlight will have to turn off its Gigabit service to tiny, rural Pinetops.

For Rural Pinetops, being a Gigabit City Means Business

Mercer Transport Company image

Many people would think that a blog about a small rural town becoming a Gigabit city would be about the miracles of speed.  But the real story is much deeper. It is about what it feels like to finally have internet choice, to have reliable internet service in an information dependent economy, to be treated with respect by customer service agents, and to finally feel hope – actual excitement — about the future economic opportunities for your rural town.

You can see this through the experiences of Brent Wooten. Brent is a sales agent and Manager for Mercer Transportation, a freight management business with an office in tiny, rural Pinetops, North Carolina. Pinetops is now served by Wilson’s community-owned, Gigabit fiber network.  Brent deals with trucks. He moves freight around the country. He deals with time — being on time. But he’s actually an information worker in a knowledge economy.  “I am in the transportation business,” said Brent. “Having reliable phone and internet are critical to running my businesses.” Being off line doesn’t just mean losing business for Brent. Being offline means losing businesses and never getting it back.

When Wilson’s Greenlight switched on its fiber service in Pinetops, Brent’s world changed. Before Greenlight came to town, Brent’s business was spending about $425 a month for a few phone lines, free long distance, an 800 number, and 10 Mbps/1.5Mbps service, all from Centurylink. He was also spending hours and even days each month trying to get his internet fixed. They were “disdainful” he said. “Every time they would tell me the problem was my equipment. It was always my fault.” But Brent had an IT expert on hire. “Never once was the problem actually my equipment.” He described long waits to reach customer agents whose heavy foreign accents made communication difficult and about the company’s unresponsive office hours. “I was told they could send someone the next afternoon, but I needed the network to work now….”

Brent compares this to his new experience with Greenlight. When Brent’s corporate office changed the location of their backup servers, Greenlight staff were helping him at 6:00 a.m. and at 10:00 p.m. at night, and were on the phone within seconds of his call. “It is a very refreshing situation for me — the consistency of service, and the responsive and respectful customer service by local workers.”

Internet Choice

When Greenlight started inundating the community, Brent’s business started to matter to Centurylink. Within hours of his business phone being ported to Greenlight, a Centurylink representative called him. “He offered to cut my current prices in half and double my internet speed, from 10 to 20 Mbps.” Brent called Greenlight. “I’m a businessman,” he said. “My Centurylink 10 Mbps speed never tested at more than 6Mbps.” Brent chose to keep his Centurylink phone service, but he kept his 25Mbps symmetrical Greenlight internet service as well. “My computer screens don’t freeze up anymore. Greenlight service is flawless. The sheer speed of fiber is amazing and they are available 24 hours a day, I am served by local workers, it is saving me money and I get better service.”

At home, Greenlight brought Brent telephone and internet choice for the first time in more than a decade. “Greenlight saves me $140 a month at home,” he bragged. When Greenlight’s marketing director first arrived at Brent’s house, he learned Brent was being charged twice for his internet service. Brent had an in-law suite attached to his house where his mother used to live. “The Centurylink representative on the phone said I needed to have a second DSL account.” Not with Greenlight.

An odd way of competing

Brent described how he had been a Centurylink residential customer since 1989. “When I called to cancel my home telephone service, the woman just gave me my confirmation number and told me to have a nice day.” No attempt was made to keep Brent’s residential business.  “They did the same thing on my mom’s phone line. She had telephone service since before 1968.” When Brent called to disconnect her line because of her passing, “the person on the other end of the line did not even offer condolences.” He compared that to the human touch that originates from a service company that is community owned: “Greenlight’s installers even cared enough about my welfare to tell me they had discovered a water leak under my house when doing the installation. They told me they would have tried to fix it for me but they did not have the right tools.”

The Intangibles

How do you put a value on the intangibles?  For Brent Wooten, Greenlight fiber service has not only strengthened his ability to do business, but has given the community a whole new sense of hope because now this tiny rural town has access to world-class fiber infrastructure. “As a citizen and Town Commissioner, I am extremely excited to have the opportunity to have access to this service, and super excited about future opportunities that will make available to us. It is an example of hometown people who care about serving you,’ he said, ‘and bringing a higher quality of living to the community.” “It gives a sense of hope for Eastern North Carolina … not just lip service.”

Thanks to Wilson, Tiny Rural Pinetops is A Gigabit City

Pinetops tower

“We just love it!”  That was the response of Pinetops Acting Town Manager, Brenda Harrell, when asked what it is like for her rural residents to now have access to Gigabit internet speeds. In April, Wilson, North Carolina’s community-owned fiber network reached out, passed every home and turned on its fiber to the home service in neighboring rural Pinetops.  Pinetops is located about a 20 minute drive due east from Greenlight’s operations center, but more importantly, it is in another county entirely. Back in February 2015, the FCC preempted a North Carolina state law, known as H129, that prohibited Wilson from serving any residents outside of Wilson County. That preemption was the green light Wilson needed to reach out to its rural neighbors and complete a project that was stopped when H129 became law.

Wilson serves six neighboring counties with its municipal electric services, including Pinetops which is located in Edgecombe County. Turning on internet service in Pinetops was an easy reach for Wilson, where fiber was being deployed as part of an automated meter infrastructure project.

And for Pinetops, bringing fiber services to its residents and small businesses was like snapping it into the 21st century from the late 1980s.  Pinetops is a community with about 600 homes all located within one square mile. It is by all signs rural, surrounded by huge open fields of sweet potatoes, tobacco and soy plants. The average median income is $26,333. The census bureau characterizes the community as having 30% of its residents below the poverty line. According to local officials, prior to Greenlight, the community was desperately underserved. Their choices were unreliable DSL service or dialup. Thanks to Wilson, now Piggly Wiggly even has Greenlight’s fiber speeds.

Piggly Wiggly

The community is excited for its future. After watching a video of how quickly video homework can be uploaded on a Gigabit connection (8 seconds) versus DSL (2 hours and 59 minutes), the new Town Manager, Lorenzo Carmon, was full of ideas. Pinetops, with median homes valued around $78,000 and the option of Gigabit speeds, could offer low cost affordable housing to attract professionals now living in Greenville, a nearby university community full of doctors, students, digital artists and knowledge workers.

“If the private sector is not providing the services, the government has to step in,” said Pinetop’s new Town Manager, Lorenzo Carmon. “The internet is just like electricity. You can’t live without it.”

Greenlight staff and sign at antiques

Why Fast, Affordable, Modern Broadband is Critical for Rural NC

Access to modern broadband is essential for rural economic growth and jobs, for accessing school and college courses no matter where you live, for health care and home values.

Click on the image, download our pdf and share the news.

Why Fast Affordable Modern Broadband is Critical for Rural NC