People in the North Carolina towns of Albemarle, Fuquay-Varina, and Jacksonville, are gathering together this week to discuss rural broadband. Our own Christopher Mitchell and Katie Kienbaum are meeting with residents along with representatives from the North Carolina League of Municipalities and NC Hearts Gigabit in the three towns across the state. Recently, in WRAL TechWire, reporter Chantal Allam shared an interview with Will Aycock, who heads up Wilson’s publicly owned broadband network.
Aycock described how Wilson’s Greenight Community Broadband had been developed to support the economic vitality of the community, while also providing other benefits. He also stressed that Wilson’s decision was significant for them and that each community needs to decide what’s best for their own needs.
In Wilson, he adds, the network has helped to spur a long list of economic development investments, including downtown revitalization and investment in the community’s corporate park. New jobs continue to spring up, while other nearby rural areas contend with losses. The local college has taken advantage of new technological training and programs that require gigabit connectivity. Additionally, the city’s other utility systems benefit from the advanced connectivity. “None of these accomplishments are because of Greenlight specifically, but rather Greenlight is part of a team both within the City and across the broader community that all work together to build our future,” says Aycock.
He and Allam also talk about plans that Wilson and Greenlight have to use the broadband network and fiber infrastructure to continue to advance. Smart city applications, innovative options for entrepreneurs, and more collaboration are all in the future for Wilson. Aycock described Wilson's future vision:
We see Wilson being a focal point for micropolitan smart city efforts that is not secondary to Raleigh-Durham, but rather a part of the North Carolina technology and innovation ecosystem. To make progress, we must think of each region of our state as part of a whole that works to move us all forward.
North Carolina is one of the states with some of the greatest urban and rural broadband availability disparities. Wilson is an example that others have looked to as a possible solution. Recently, state-level leaders have expressed a goal to make it the first “giga-state.” At a forum earlier this month, Jeffrey R. Saul from the North Carolina Department of Information Technology (NCDIT) said:
“When I talk to my counterparts in other states or with the federal government they seek our counsel and remark on our progress. We have a lot of work to do to make sure everyone benefits and is included, but we are on the right track and making good progress.”
As long as the state maintains its law preventing municipal broadband utilities from serving neighboring communities, however, the state will stunt its own progress. Folks in the small community of Pinetops, who were receiving service from Wilson until the state stepped in, understand the situation firsthand.
Wilson and Greelight Are So Much More
To learn more about Wilson and Greenlight, check out our extensive coverage over the years, including our 2012 report, Carolina's Connected Community: Wilson Gives Greenlight to Fast Internet. We’ve interviewed Aycock several times on the Community Broadband Bits Podcast, but most recently, in order to learn more about their efforts to shrink the digital divide. Listen to the conversation here:
Bring Your Community Together
We also encourage you to look into the possibility of setting up a screening of the short film, Do Not Pass Go, which explores the possibilities of publicly owned broadband networks and looks at the situation in Wilson and Pinetops. We've created a screening packet that can help get the conversation started on rural broadband.