It’s been a long road for Pinetops, North Carolina, as they’ve sought better connectivity in their rural community. After dramatic ups and downs, the community seems to have finally found a tepid resolution. Greenlight can, for now, continue to serve Pinetops.
On June 28th, the General Assembly passed HB 396, which allows Wilson’s municipal network, Greenlight, to continue to provide gigabit connectivity to the town and to Vick Family Farms but establishes conditions. If or when another provider brings Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) service to Pinetops, Wilson has 30 days to end service as customers transition to the new provider. Until a different provider comes to Pinetops, Greenlight will continue to offer its gigabit connectivity to the approximately 600 households and premises in the community of about 1,300 people.
In addition to premises in the town of Pinetops, Greenlight is serving Vick Family Farm, a local potato manufacturer. When the business obtained access to high-quality Internet access, they were able to expand their business internationally; they invested in a high tech distribution facility. The facility requires the kind of capacity they can only get from Greenlight.
Community leaders in Pinetops are relieved they don’t have to give up fiber connectivity, but they’re happy with the service they get with Greenlight and would rather stick with the muni.
“Although not the solution we expected, we are pleased this bill allows us to continue to leverage Greenlight’s next generation infrastructure as we focus on growing our community,” said [Town Commissioner Suzanne] Coker-Craig. “Hopefully, no other provider will exercise the option to build redundant infrastructure that our community neither wants nor needs. Pinetops has made it clear that we want the quality and speed of service that only Greenlight can provide.”
What A Long, Strange Trip It’s Been
In 2015, when the FCC preempted North Carolina’s law that discourages municipal network investment, the city of Wilson expanded Greenlight to Pinetops and the Vick Family Farm. The small town and the potato business had requested service long before it was allowed under the law because neither could get the high-quality Internet access they needed from the incumbent.
North Carolina’s administration challenged the preemption and the Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit reversed the FCC’s ruling in 2016. Rather than just shutting off service to their new customers in Pinetops and the Vick Family Farm, Wilson kept them temporarily connected without charging customers. They planned to work with the legislature to obtain an exemption from North Carolina’s restrictive law.
HB 396, introduced by Wilson's Reps. Susan Martin and Jean Farmer-Butterfield, was amended to include the condition that prevents more than one fiber provider from offering service in Pinetops or to the Vick Family Farm. Mayor Bruce Rose said:
“We appreciate our delegation’s efforts, led by Representative Martin, to eliminate restrictions on Greenlight’s ability to serve customers who requested and desperately need our service. While this is not the bill we had hoped for, it is a step in the right direction. We hope that in the future our General Assembly will be allowed to focus on expanding rural broadband instead of restricting it.”
The result is bittersweet. For the people of Pinetops and the Vick Family Farm, high-speed connectivity continues for the time being. If the State of North Carolina was willing to put the interests of its citizens ahead of protecting incumbent monopolies, however, all the state’s rural areas would have the local authority to invest in high-quality Internet infrastructure.