Since the early 2000s, town leaders in Wilson, N.C., less than an hour east of the Raleigh-Durham area, have sought to create a broadband network that brings its residents and businesses into the high-speed, digital age. Nationwide, about 19 million Americans don’t have access to fast Internet — which can drive jobs, support education initiatives, connect hospitals and more. Once a leader in broadband, the U.S. ranks “no better than middling” among industrialized nations, according to a 2010 study by the Berkman Center for Internet & Society at Harvard University.
Broadband speeds in the U.S. average just under 7 Mbps (about half the average in South Korea; the Federal Communications Commission defines broadband as a minimum of 4 megabytes per second upload speeds — far less than what’s needed to stream movies, offer interactive online-education courses, sharing climate data and many other tasks).
North Carolina ranks 27th among American states and territory, lower than Guam (17th), according to the FCC’s National Broadband Map.
But big telecom companies fight public initiatives to improve the numbers. Wilson’s “battle started before the city started selling high-speed, fiber-optic Internet, cable and phone service through [its] Greenlight [system] in the summer of 2008. Cable industry leaders contend government owned and operated systems undercut private competition because the city doesn’t pay taxes and has the ability to secure bonds to build the system,” the Wilson Daily Times reported a few years ago.
In recent years, a series of bills posed by North Carolina legislators — and strongly supported by major telecom companies such as Time-Warner, one of the major private providers in the state — aimed to limit municipalities’ ability to create or subsidize such systems. But Wilson’s early start and perseverance kept its initiative largely exempt. There are just two other municipal, high-speed networks in the state (Salisbury and Morganton), according to an April 10, 2013, report at fiercetelecom.com. The report also notes that state laws prohibit Wilson from expanding its service to nearby cities and towns:
Lit in 2009, the city’s network is a bright spot in a state that otherwise ranks ‘dead last’ in average broadband speeds, according to an ILSR (Institute for Local Self-Reliance) report. …
Wilson’s investment is paying off in a number of ways—but perhaps most significantly, it has forced the nearest cable franchise, Time Warner Cable, to lower its rates and up its broadband speeds in order to compete with the city’s services. A study estimated that the municipal broadband network has saved residents nearly $1 million per year due to the effects of that price competition.
In Western North Carolina, it’s estimated that about 48,000 residents lack access to broadband.
With that in mind, here’s the latest news from Wilson:
CITY OF WILSON TO OFFER GIGABIT INTERNET SERVICE TO CUSTOMERS BY JULY
City to become first community in North Carolina for ultra-high speed service
Wilson, N.C. – Greenlight, the broadband provider owned and operated by the City of Wilson, today announced that it will begin offering gigabit Internet connectivity services to its customers no later than July 2013.
“In January, the Federal Communications Commission issued a challenge to communities to provide gigabit service by 2015, and we’re proud to answer that challenge now. We are excited to launch our gigabit service and allow our customers to be the first in the state to experience such high speed Internet access,” said Will Aycock, general manager of Greenlight. “Ultra-high speed Internet will help position Wilson for the future and will provide our businesses and residents with the tools they need to succeed.”
In January, the Federal Communications Commission Chairman issued the “Gigabit City Challenge” which challenged providers to offer gigabit service in at least one community in each state by 2015. Gigabit services are approximately 100 times faster than average high-speed Internet connections.
Greenlight was formed in 2008 to provide an independent, locally-owned and operated option for television, telephone and Internet broadband connectivity for Wilson residents. Since then, Greenlight has grown to provide its services to more than 6,000 residential customers and businesses and the Wilson County School System. In addition, Greenlight provides free wireless Internet access throughout the downtown Wilson area.
“Since its inception, Greenlight has worked to provide reliable, affordable products that our customers need and to anticipate changes needed to keep our community at the forefront of technological advances. We were the first in the state to offer Fiber to the Home for reliability and are pleased to continue expanding our network,” Aycock said.
Greenlight services are provided through its Fiber to the Home (FTTH) system which ensures the availability of reliable and advanced services for homes and businesses. Greenlight’s FTTH is comprised of 100 percent fiber optics.
The gigabit service will be added to Greenlight’s existing suite of services and will be offered as an optional service to Greenlight customers.
Formed in 2008, Greenlight is the community network operated by the city of Wilson, N.C. and offers the fastest Internet speeds in North Carolina – from 10 Mbps to 100 Mbps. Greenlight’s service offerings include high speed Internet, television, HD television and a phone plan that includes unlimited long distance to the US and Canada.