New Report Spotlights Benefits of Municipal Broadband

Wilson, N.C.’s Greenlight Network Sparked Better Service, Lower Costs

While seemingly everyone else in America is complaining about their telephone, cable TV and broadband service, the residents of Wilson, N.C. and their local government have done something about it. A report released today by the Institute for Local Self-Reliance and Common Cause argues that their story has important implications for the rest of us.

“Carolina’s Connected Community: Wilson Gives Greenlight to Fast Internet” explores Wilson’s battle to create and sustain Greenlight, a fiber optic network that is setting a standard for the rest of the Tar Heel state and much of the nation.

Launched less than five years ago with a $33 million loan from Wilson, a city of 49,000 in eastern North Carolina’s tobacco and barbeque belt, Greenlight now serves more than 6,000 homes and businesses in the Wilson area, as well as all public schools in the city and Wilson County. The system delivers a 100 Mbps internet connection for less than residents in nearby localities pay for commercial connections that top out at 10 Mbps.

“Greenlight operates in the black and is on track to repay its city loan on time,” said Todd O’Boyle, director of Common Cause’s Media and Democracy Reform Initiative and a co-author – with Christopher Mitchell of the Institute for Local Self-Reliance — of the report. “It’s giving customers faster, better service and through competition with private providers is saving everyone in its service area about $1 million a year in the bargain.”

The report details how Wilson’s business and political leaders established Greenlight, largely out of frustration with the service provided by commercial telecommunications firms, including Time Warner Cable. Forced to compete with Greenlight, Time Warner has kept its rates in Wilson relatively low while increasing its charges in nearby communities, where it has no competitors.

Time Warner also has turned to friendly legislators in Raleigh, the state capital, to secure legislation that is blocking expansion of Greenlight beyond its current service area in Wilson County. And in 2011, the authors note,North Carolina became the 19thstate to create barriers that essentially revoke the authority of local governments to build networks.

“State laws should facilitate rather than frustrate the development of municipal broadband systems like Greenlight,” O’Boyle said. “Simply by providing an alternative to commercial services, municipal broadband drives rates down and leads to better, faster connections.”

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