“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.
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.”