A Small Island in North Carolina Exercises Local Internet Choice

Bald Head Island visuals

The Village of Bald Head Island is exercising local internet choice with the goal to ensure that its businesses and residents can fully engage in the global economy, even while vacationing on a remote and beautiful island.

Nestled off the Atlantic shoreline in southeastern North Carolina, and only reachable by ferry, Bald Head Island swells from a community of 200 to well over 7,000 residents during the summer months due to the calming nature of the island’s diverse ocean and forest environments and its absence of cars. The Island’s natural beauty has attracted a highly educated population and high end clientele who have established second-homes, seasonal rentals and a strong appetite for the internet.

While the island’s limited physical access makes it a haven for relaxation and the kind of quiet, slower pace sought after by the creative class, Village residents, businesses and local officials have expressed concern for the community’s long term economic future due to its limited internet service. Service is described as unreliable, weather sensitive, far below the FCC standard of 25/3Mbps, and certainly not the Gigabit internet that would attract tourists, extend the rental season or homeowners’ stay, or magnetize the next generation of small businesses and millennials.

In response, over the last four years, the Village has engaged its community through surveys, interviews, public hearings and community neighborhood meetings to clearly define local needs and what responsive options were available. They learned that that the Internet can enable large and small businesses to locate anywhere—as long as there is enough bandwidth at affordable prices. They learned that nimble high tech firms that rely on reliable, high capacity speeds will go where they can flourish. They learned from rental property owners that many of their potential customers require broadband for super high definition entertainment and to stay connected to their work, and that broadband-enabled communities generally have higher property values, improved job creation and retention, and better quality of life. They learned that high capacity internet can extend their rental season, home stays, and the economic diversity of their island.

In May and August 2015, the Village issued RFPs in search of a partner(s) and whatever creative approaches might be offered to bring Gigabit fiber to the home infrastructure to the island. The results of that outreach were quite positive and just recently the Village gained approval from the North Carolina’s Local Government Commission to issue a $10 million bond to build this critical infrastructure.

Now it is the community’s decision. On November 3, the voters will decide if they want to approve that bond to build to all island homes and the island’s capacity to facilitate life, work and play in the global economy while snuggling their feet in the sand.

And that is local internet choice at work.