Tag Archives: Wilson

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

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