Since August 2016, the small community of Pinetops has been on the verge of losing their best connection to the 21st century - high quality Internet access. The North Carolina Legislature has a chance to change all that this session with legislation that will carve out an exception to restrictive state laws that prevent a local municipal provider from serving this rural town.
The State Blocks Service
When the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit reversed the FCC’s preemption of state law restricting geographical reach of broadband from municipal electric utilities, Pinetops was in a pickle. Nearby Wilson had extended its Greenlight high capacity Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) service to the tiny community where residents and businesses were still slumping on DSL, dialing up, or not connected at all. The court’s reversal required the city of Wilson to risk losing their ability to serve their own community if they continued to do business as a provider for Pinetops.
The only way Pinetops and another customer outside Wilson County - Vick Family Farms - could continue with Greenlight was when the City Council voted to continue temporary service at no charge. Elected officials made the decision based on the expectation that legislators would introduce proposals to carve out exceptions for both Pinetops and the Vick Family Farm, commercial potato farm also located outside of Wilson County. Last week, they made good on that promise.
Reps Step In To Help
Representatives Susan Martin (R) and Jean Farmer-Butterfield (D), both from Wilson, introduced HB 396, which allows Wilson to expand Greenlight to Pinetops and the area in Nash County where Vick Family Farms is located. The legislation would allow the Nash County business to continue with the service it needs for daily operations. Pinetops is located in Edgecombe County. North Carolina’s restrictions prevent municipal networks like Greenlight from serving subscribers beyond county lines.
When the FCC preempted that restriction, Wilson answered requests from Pinetops and Vick Family Farms to come to their neck of the woods. Pinetops has steadily lost population and jobs due to its poor connectivity. Vick Family Farms wanted to invest in a new processing facility and open up its business to an online customer base. Both have experienced turn arounds since obtaining access to FTTH connectivity and don’t want to go back to their prior situation.
Hurricane Matthew hit Pinetops in September 2016 and the community is still recovering. Community leaders in Wilson don’t want to compound Pintetops' difficulties by taking away the Internet access they’ve come to depend on.
Bipartisan And Local
Because HB 396 is local and impacts 15 or fewer counties, it doesn’t require the Governor’s signature to take affect. If both the House and Senate pass the bill, it will immediately become law. In addition to the two main sponsors - one from each party - several other legislators have signed on to HB 396.