Legislators should incentivize rural broadband, not disconnect it

Thank you for being one of our most loyal readers. Please consider supporting community journalism by subscribing to The Wilson Times.

Every one of the 600 homes in rural Pinetops has access to symmetrical, fiber-to-the-home, gigabit internet service. So why are state legislators trying to disconnect us and take away the biggest economic and education advantage we have had in decades? Why are they siding with big telecom corporations rather than their rural constituents whose livelihoods are being crippled by antiquated internet service?

In 2011, the telecom industry pushed the N.C. General Assembly to pass a law limiting the city of Wilson’s internet service area to Wilson County, even though Wilson is a longtime utility provider to Pinetops and other small towns in neighboring counties. The Federal Communication Commission preempted this law in 2015, which allowed Pinetops to invite Wilson to bring its Greenlight fiber internet service to the town in March 2016. In May, the state challenged the FCC decision and won, which will force Greenlight to disconnect Pinetops.

Rep. Susan Martin, R-Wilson, Rep. Shelley Willingham, D-Edgecombe, and Rep. Jean Farmer-Butterfield, D- Wilson, Sen. Erica Smith-Ingram, D-Martin, and Sen. Deanna Ballard, R-Watauga, introduced legislation to keep Pinetops connected, but the bills appear to be stalling because of intense lobbying by the big telecoms. Rep. Jeff Collins, R-Nash, has even introduced a bill that would force Greenlight out of Pinetops by a specific date.

We hear that the big telecoms are telling legislators that they are “upgrading” our little town with modern, even fiber-based internet. Our residents — their customers — tell a different story. Their “high speed” internet, sometimes 10Mbps/1Mpbs, buffers and crashes regularly and customer service is a joke. By comparison, Greenlight provides fiber-to-the-home symmetrical gigabit internet if we want it and their customer service is excellent.

Access to modern internet is vital our town’s future. Legislators should give us the freedom to choose internet partners we can depend on to improve our economy, educational opportunities and quality of life. Pinetops should be able to keep Greenlight and legislators should be encouraging, not disconnecting, modern internet access for our rural communities.

Suzanne Coker Craig
Commissioner, town of Pinetops