The fate of Greenlight broadband service in Pinetops could be decided at the Wilson City Council meeting today.
Officials said the city attorney is expected to discuss the city’s options with council members following an August ruling by the 6th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals that barred the city from expanding high-speed internet service beyond the county borders. The Federal Communications Commission supported the expansion of Greenlight Community Broadband into Pinetops, but the court determined the commission didn’t have the authority to supersede a state law limiting municipal services areas.
“...Broadband is not just infrastructure — it’s a platform for opportunity,” said FCC Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel said in a statement. “It’s clear that without it, no community has a fair shot in the digital age.”
Sixteen days after the Aug. 10 court ruling, the FCC announced it would not pursue further review of the decision, stating it would be a poor use of the commission’s resources. Wilson City Manager Grant Goings said there are few options left to keep Pinetops connected.
“Unfortunately, there is a very real possibility that we will have to disconnect any customer outside our count. That is the cold, hard truth,” Goings said. “Without getting into the legal options that our city attorney will discuss with the council, I’ll summarize it like this: we have not identified a solution where Greenlight can serve customers outside of our county.
“While we are very passionate about reaching underserved areas and we think the laws are atrocious to prevent people from having service, we’re not going to jeopardize our ability to serve Wilson residents.”
Regardless of what happens with regard to Pinetops-based Greenlight customers, the fiber optic system in the Edgecombe County town will not go to waste as Wilson Energy uses the same system.
“The system will continue to serve a purpose, but it is extremely difficult to contemplate fiber optics attached to someone’s home, yet they aren’t allowed to use it to connect online,” Goings said. “That is like building a new highway and telling people they can’t drive on it.”
The pending disconnection could have serious ramifications for facilities like the new packing plant at Vick Family Farms that runs off the ultrafast internet as well as residents employed through telework with major companies because of the Greenlight service. Pinetops officials tried for many years to court a private company to connect the town to the information superhighway, but were unsuccessful. When Greenlight got the go-ahead to connect the town, residents jumped at the opportunity.
“This is bigger than Wilson. This is about the rural areas, particularly in eastern North Carolina, because the majority of the area does not present enough profitability to attract the private-sector investment,” Goings said. “As a community, a state and frankly as a nation, we need to find ways to connect these rural communities, and our city council believes strongly that our state officials should focus on being part of the solution instead of constructing barriers to prevent communities from being served.”
The discussion about the fate of Greenlight services outside the county will take place during the city council’s 5:45 and 7 p.m. meetings. The agenda also includes a public hearing regarding the redevelopment plan for Freeman Place, a purchase of nearly 5,500 large blue recycling bins and several proclamations and presentations.
Officials also will consider spending $177,000 from the council’s discretionary fund and allocating the money to several community organizations such as Preservation of Wilson and Wilson 20/20 Community Vision.