Tag: "wilson"

Posted March 26, 2020 by Katie Kienbaum

Early last month, before the spread of the novel coronavirus turned staying home from a quiet night in into a moral imperative, Christopher traveled to North Carolina to attend the Institute for Emerging Issues Forum at North Carolina State University. While there, he interviewed Leslie Boney, Director of the Institute for Emerging Issues. He also spoke with Darren Smith from Wilson's Gig East Exchange and Ron Townley from the Upper Coastal Plain Council of Governments.

We wanted to share their conversation as a special episode of the "Why NC Broadband Matters" podcast series we've been working on with NC Broadband Matters. The nonprofit organization works to connect communities across North Carolina, bringing high-quality broadband access to residents and businesses.

logo-nc-hearts-gigabit.png Christopher and Leslie discuss the Institute for Emerging Issues, and Leslie describes how they developed the theme of the forum, ReCONNECT. They talk about the importance of not only expanding broadband infrstructure but making sure people and businesses can take advantage of technology. Leslie explains why rural and urban communities rely on eachother and both deserve investment in digital inclusion.

After Leslie leaves, Darren and Ron share what's happening in Wilson and eastern North Carolina. They reflect on their experience at the forum. Darren talks about Wilson's new innovation hub, the Gig East Exchange, and how the city is...

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Posted March 25, 2020 by Katie Kienbaum

In a recent article, “Tell The Story We Know: Broadband Competition is Too Limited,” Jonathan Sallet laid out the case for robust broadband competition as a necessary step in expanding high-quality connectivity nationwide. “Academic research tells us that more broadband competition matters: pushing rivals to up their game, saving money for consumers, increasing the quality of service,” explained Sallet, a current Benton Institute Senior Fellow and former General Counsel at the Federal Communications Commission.

The article, co-published by the Benton Institute for Broadband & Society and the Coalition for Local Internet Choice, identified greater broadband competition as one of the four “building blocks” needed to reach the goal of connecting all Americans to modern Internet access by 2030. Sallet has expanded on this goal in the report, Broadband for America’s Future: A Vision for the 2020s, which we covered last year. In addition to creating more Internet choice, the report cited the need for continued efforts to deploy broadband infrastructure, increase affordability and adoption, and connect community anchor institutions.

Benton 2020 ReportCommunities Crave Competition

It’s not a secret that greater broadband competition lowers prices and improves service quality. For example, the municipal fiber networks in Wilson, North Carolina, and Chattanooga, Tennessee, have kept incumbent providers’ rates low even as speeds increased. “By the FCC’s calculation, new competition saved Wilson’s approximately 50,000 residents more than $1 million per year,” Sallet noted in the article.

However, as he pointed out, other communities are much more likely to live under a broadband monopoly or duopoly — and to pay dearly for it. “We can expect people with only one choice to pay monopoly prices,” he wrote, “and people with only two choices to pay the higher...

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Posted March 20, 2020 by Katie Kienbaum

“While most of us take a high-speed Internet connection for granted, many living in rural areas feel disconnected,” states North Carolina television station WRAL’s new documentary, “Disconnected,” which first aired on March 19.

The documentary features local officials, healthcare professionals, small business owners, and families from across the state discussing the importance of high-quality broadband access and the struggle to connect rural areas. Though “Disconnected” was recorded before the Covid-19 outbreak forced schools and businesses to close nationally, the ongoing crisis further emphasizes the necessity of getting all North Carolinians connected to affordable, reliable Internet access.

“Disconnected” was created with help from the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, the North Carolina League of Municipalities, and Google Fiber. Watch the documentary below or on the WRAL website.

A Tale of Two Cities

To illustrate the importance of connectivity for everything from education to healthcare, “Disconnected” takes viewers to two small North Carolina towns — one with high-speed Internet access and one without.

Enfield NC

In Enfield, home to 2,300 people, businesses and residents alike struggle to get connected, and town officials face difficulties attracting new employers to the area. Enfield Middle S.T.E.A.M. Academy reports that about 60 percent of students don’t have Internet access at home. WRAL interviews one student’s family, which only has unreliable satellite connectivity. “It’s a lot of running around,” says Lashawnda Silver, the student’s mother. “If I don’t provide it for her, she’s going to lose out.”

Similarly, an Enfield health clinic says that most patients aren’t able to connect at home and even 40 percent of staff lack home broadband access. “It’s a barrier for their healthcare,” explains Mary Downey, Family Nurse Practitioner.

The city of Wilson is less than an hour south of Enfield, but it’s a world apart in terms of connectivity. Wilson's 49,000 residents have access to gigabit speeds over the city's reliable fiber network, Greenlight. We’ve...

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Posted December 20, 2019 by lgonzalez

One of the great things about innovation in the technology space is that entrepreneurs and their new ideas typically don’t require a large number of people to get a new venture off the ground. Small teams can make big impacts. What they DO require, however, often includes opportunity and support — enter RIoT. Now, the network of technologists, engineers, business leaders, academics, policy makers, and entrepreneurs, who have an interest in the Internet of Things industry will be coming to Wilson, North Carolina.

That's A RAP in Wilson

The Regional Internet of Things Accelerator Program (RAP) started working with North Carolina innovation startups in 2018. The first cohort of IoT companies included entities focused on a variety of innovations that integrate the IoT space. 

RIoT worked with startups in the Triangle region, but now they're bringing the RAP east to Wilson, where it will take up residence in the Gig East Exchange, Wilson's incubator and startup resource facility. The 2020 RAP program will be in Wilson through the spring.

According to RIoT Executive Director Ton Snyder, "Experience has shown that many smart entrepreneurs are not able to relocate to Raleigh or Charlotte, so RIoT is making an effort to get closer to them.”

In addition to Wilson's fiber optic network, Greenlight Community Broadband, the town's Gig East Exchange impressed the RIoT leadership. Snyder described the community's leaders as "visionary and forward acting" and clearly invested in economic development. RIoT has been working with North Carolina companies since 2014; their efforts have helped create more than 400 jobs in the state. 

They work with teams in person for a three-month program period and describe the program as "a mix of on-site workshop programming and mentorship [with] dedicated time to work on your company." You can learn more about the program here, including FAQs, that discuss what types of projects and teams are most suited to the program.

Check out this video on Wilson's Gig East Exchange:

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Posted December 12, 2019 by lgonzalez

With an incredible resource such as the Greenlight Community Broadband Network in town, leaders in Willson, North Carolina, have the ability to pursue any number of innovations. This past November, Greenlight, Wilson Community College, and the Gig East Exchange held their first Fiber Boot Camp, a training program to certify people interested in working as fiber optic technicians.

Accessibility for Students

The boot camp was borne from a prior course that lasted 10 weeks. The longer course filled up quickly and, recognizing the need for the training, Manager of Outside Plant Gene Scott and his team realized that a more intensive, but shorter course could benefit people from other communities.

“The class filled to capacity right quick. People came from as far away as Salisbury to attend, a two-hour drive each way once a week, for 10 weeks.”

He added, “Affordability was a big factor in our approach. Most fiber certification classes run a few thousand dollars. We want this untapped workforce to have a chance at this training. Our 10-week course was $140.”

The course received an outpouring of positive feedback.

When they realized the high demand for the training and that people all over the state were interested in the course, they knew that making the course a fit for people from other areas of the state would pay off.

“What if we had a fiber boot camp. Something where folks did not have to drive back and forth, but could stay here and get 10 weeks of training in five days?”

...

“To our amazement,” Scott said, “we had representatives from as far away as Asheville sign up.”

Scott discussed the longer course and the plans for the boot camp in our conversation with him for episode two of our special NC Broadband Matters Series. Check it out:

...

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Posted November 28, 2019 by lgonzalez

As late November arrives, so does the the holiday season for many of our readers. People reading up on local efforts to improve Internet access will be counting their blessings today, which inspires us to do the same. There are many things we have to be thankful this year.

As access to affordable broadband becomes increasingly critical in today's world, however, and as rates from the large Internet access companies continue to rise, getting online is more challenging than ever for folks with limited incomes. We want to express our appreciation for local communities who adopt policies to make high-quality Internet access available to lower income households through their municipal networks.

A Growing Awareness

Wilson, North Carolina, decided that as part of the community network's mission, they would offer fast, reliable fiber Internet access available to those living in public housing residences. Since then, we've seen other communities take creative approaches to ensure that everyone can use the network, not only those who are already better off. Municipalities that see the value of publicly owned fiber optic infrastructure understand the value of eliminating cherry picking as a way to tap into their undiscovered human capital.

Unlike large corporate Internet access providers, publicly owned networks don't need to maximize profit from every subscriber in order to please shareholders. They consider themselves in place for the public good. Munis can dedicate themselves toward digital inclusion efforts, which are in line with their mission.

During Digital Inclusion Week in October, we detailed some of the innovative approaches that local decision makers are adopting to ensure the least fortunate in their communities have access to the community's new fiber tools. Here are just a few:

In Hillsboro, Oregon, one of the first neighborhoods to receive gigabit connectivity through HiLight will be one of the areas of town where many folks don't have access to, or can't afford broadband Internet access. People there who qualify for SNAP, free and reduced lunches, or other income-based assistance...

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Posted November 7, 2019 by lgonzalez

Last week, we unveiled the new podcast project we're working on with the nonprofit NC Broadband Matters, whose focus is on bringing ubiquitous broadband coverage to local communities for residents and businesses in North Carolina. The ten episode podcast series, titled "Why NC Broadband Matters," explores broadband and related issues in North Carolina.

In episode two, “Fiber Rich Wilson, Why and What's Next?”, Christopher talks with Gene Scott, General Manager for Outside Plant for Greenlight, a division of the city of Wilson, North Carolina. If you've heard many of our podcasts, you know all about Wilson and their municipal Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) network. We've followed the development of the network for years and have reported on many of their innovations.

logo-nc-hearts-gig.png Gene gives us an inside perspective. He shares a brief history of the network's development and why the community chose to use an architecture that is fiber rich. Gene helps us to understand some terminology that most of us aren't familiar with unless we're in the field, and he gets into the many benefits of fiber over copper.

Christopher and Gene also discuss how Greenlight and the city have been working with the local community college to prepare more people to work in the growing industry. It isn't all climbing poles and hanging wires and the need for high-quality Internet access guarantees there's plenty of future opportunity in the public and private sectors.

To learn more about the story behind Wilson's Greenlight Community Network, check out our ...

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Posted October 10, 2019 by Katie Kienbaum

Which would you choose — a broadband subscription with download speeds of 15 Megabits per second (Mbps) or a much faster gigabit plan for the same price?

The choice is clear, and it’s one that low-income households in Hillsboro, Oregon, may soon make, thanks to the city’s planned municipal fiber network. Earlier this year, Hillsboro announced that its new broadband utility, HiLight, will offer gigabit connectivity for only $10 per month to qualified low-income residents. In comparison, Comcast’s Internet Essentials program provides low-income families in the city speeds of just 15 Mbps for roughly the same monthly cost.

Hillsboro isn’t the first community to leverage its publicly owned fiber network for digital inclusion efforts. Municipal networks across the country are providing low-cost connectivity, affordable devices, and digital skills trainings to their communities, bringing the educational, economic, and healthcare benefits of broadband access to more people.

Defining Digital Inclusion

Digital inclusion is the practice of ensuring digital equity, which the National Digital Inclusion Alliance defines as “a condition in which all individuals and communities have the information technology capacity needed for full participation in our society, democracy and economy.”

Broadband availability is only one of many “digital divides” that explain who is and isn’t connected. For instance, income and affordability also play a role. According to the Pew Research Center, adults with annual incomes of $75,000 or more are almost twice as likely to have broadband access at home than adults with annual incomes of less than $30,000. Among those without home broadband access, the high cost of a subscription is most commonly cited as the top reason why, Pew reports.

logo-NDIA.jpg To succeed, digital...

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Posted April 16, 2019 by lgonzalez

It’s been a little over ten years since Wilson, North Carolina, began offering Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) service to residents and businesses. After a decade of Internet access, video, and voice services, the Greenlight Community Broadband network recently celebrated adding the 10,000th subscriber. Their planned celebration at Wilson’s famous Vollis Simpson Whirligig Park was rained out, but network leaders expect to choose another date in the near future.

Check out this awesome editorial cartoon about Greenlight's milestone by Dave DiFillippo of the Wilson Times.

A Busy Decade

We told the story of Wilson in our 2012 report, Carolina's Connected Community: Wilson Gives Greenlight to Fast Internet. The community had approached ISPs serving in the area and asked for better connectivity in order to stay competitive, but those companies didn’t see a financial incentive for investing in Wilson. Rather than take no for an answer, Wilson developed Greenlight for the community of about 50,000 people.

Since then, the town has repeatedly been in the spotlight as an example of a community that has used broadband to advance economic development, help bridge the digital divide, and encourage better connectivity for neighbors. Wilson was the first North Carolina Network to offer gigabit connectivity, which assisted local businesses and attracted new employers. Tina Mooring, a local business owner, describes in episode 171 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast, how her opinion of the municipal network changed, leading to her strong support for network expansion. 

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Posted April 5, 2019 by Katie Kienbaum

Innovation today requires a high-speed Internet connection, and in rural areas, that often means a fiber optic network owned by a local government, a cooperative, or a local business. It’s no surprise then that when the Rural Innovation Initiative was looking for rural communities with good connectivity and an interest in innovation-based economic development, it turned to cities served by locally owned broadband networks. Out of the nine communities initially selected to participate in the Rural Innovation Initiative, more than half have a local Internet access provider instead of a national ISP.

Initiative Bridges Rural Opportunity Gap

The Rural Innovation Initiative is a new program created by the Center on Rural Innovation (CORI) and Rural Innovation Strategies, Inc. (RISI), with funding and support from the U.S. Economic Development Administration (EDA). Launched at the end of last year, the initiative works to “bridge the opportunity gap in rural America by helping communities build the capacity to create resilient, innovation-based jobs.”

For the first part of 2019, CORI and RISI selected nine cities and community partners to take part in what they describe as a “fast-paced technical assistance sprint,” which will help participants develop innovation hubs as an economic development strategy. The initiative will also prepare communities to apply for federal funding opportunities, such as EDA’s Regional Innovation Strategies program. More than 100 rural communities from 40 states applied for the program, which is free for participants. Selection criteria included location in a census-designated rural county, access to New Market Tax Credits and Opportunity Zones, partnerships with higher education and local nonprofits, and existing high-speed broadband networks — Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) in particular.

CORI and RISI, in partnership with EDA, will offer further technical assistance to communities through the Rural Innovation Initiative after this initial project complete. To learn more, watch a webinar about the program from December 2018.

Connectivity Sets Communities Apart...

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