In what is being described as a backwards step for North Carolina, a state law commonly known as H129 (S.L. 2011-84), now will have the effect of turning off 21st century Gigabit Internet service to a small, rural town called Pinetops. Last night, members of the Wilson City Council expressed their deep regrets as they voted to approve the city attorney’s recommendation to disconnect Wilson Greenlight services in Pinetops. Wilson was able to bring fiber-to-the-home Gigabit service to this tiny, rural town in April 2016, after the FCC preempted H129 on the basis that it was anti-competitive and created barriers to the deployment of advanced telecommunications capacity in the state. The state of North Carolina challenged that ruling in May of 2015 in the Sixth Circuit and won a reversal in August.
“We’re not taking this lying down,” said Town Commissioner Suzanne Coker-Craig, whose small tee-shirt business depends on Wilson Greenlight’s hyper-fast upload speeds. “Our Mayor has already met with Governor McCrory’s staff, and handed him a letter asking for repeal of H129 (S.L. 2011-84) along with our resolution detailing the devastating economic impact this will have on our community. H129 is now only hurting North Carolina’s rural communities. Our urban areas are getting their Gigabit from the likes of Google.”
Ms. Coker-Craig reported that she is starting a Facebook page that will direct residents on how to call their legislators and even candidates who are running against them. “We are holding the Governor and our state legislature responsible for keeping this law in place, by challenging the FCC and knowing this would be the effect of a win. This law is not about protecting taxpayers, it’s about preventing competitive choice, and now it’s only hurting our rural areas where those monopoly companies could care less about bringing us 21st century Internet.”
The letter from Mayor Steve Burress to Governor McCrory describes Pinetops as a community where 31% of the residents are “below the poverty line.” As a Gigabit City, the Town Commissioners had begun planning a new economic development strategy based on attracting knowledge workers from nearby Greenville and Rocky Mount. “We just can’t go back in time,” said Coker-Craig. “That does not represent sound social or economic policy,” the Mayor’s letter states.