Wilson Largely Exempted, but NC Takes a Big Step Backward

NC Legislative BuildingAfter four years of heavy lobbying, the cable company is probably getting what it wants. New municipal broadband NC probably won’t be developed if H129 clears the final hurdle at the Governor’s office. She has the option to veto, but no one knows what will happen.

More on that in a second, but there is a bit of important news for people in Wilson. Greenlight has been largely exempted from the bill’s effects. If you’re one of our 5,700+ members or you live in Wilson County, you don’t have to worry about service. Greenlight is here to stay.

If you live outside Wilson, the news isn’t so good. We have the fastest broadband in the Raleigh/Durham region, but we’ll have to keep it in Wilson. The bill dictates that people outside Wilson County can never hook up to our fiber. We’ve had requests to extend to Raleigh, but this bill ensured that our friends there will be stuck with you-know-who.

For those of you outside of Wilson, let me tell you what you’re missing.

  • Greenlight’s minimum residential broadband speeds are 10Mbps up and down
  • Our all fiber network is maintained by local crews 24/7
  • Our Police are using the network for security cameras in public places
  • Our Firefighters are using the fiber network for remote training
  • Input from our members has helped determine our video channel lineup
  • The costs are reasonable, and have forced even Time Warner Cable to lower its rates to its Wilson customers.

We’re glad to see Wilson exempted, but our state has allowed an outside company to place limits on it. Representative Bill Faison (D-Chatham) said it best in an interview with WUNC News:

“This bill should be retitled the Time Warner cable anti-competitive bill, it’s a New York company bill, it’s not even folks from around here’s bill, to keep our municipalities from providing services to their citizens. ”

One more thing: thank you to all of you who have helped our state in this fight. We were surprised and encouraged by how many of you called a lawmaker or spoke up on NC’s behalf. Thank you so much.


Greenlight Members Get 100 Mbps Access; First in NC

As the NC General Assembly debates whether municipal broadband should exist, two Wilson families have become the first in North Carolina to get 100 Mbps broadband access at home.

They recently signed up through Greenlight, the City of Wilson’s community-owned broadband network.

Some lawmakers want to ban municipal broadband; if they succeed we should all get used to slow broadband until the cable company improves its network.

Here’s a news release we’re posting to our website later today:

Greenlight Members Get NC’s First 100M Access at Home
“When the price came down, we jumped on it,” say homeowners.

WILSON – North Carolina’s first homeowners with 100 Megabit-per-second symmetrical Internet access are right here in Wilson. Both are members of Greenlight, Wilson’s community-owned fiber optic network.

“The broadband service is the reason we moved to Wilson,” said Linda Worthington. She and her husband, Vince subscribed to the Greenlight’s 100 Megabits per second (Mbps) service a few days ago.

The family previously lived in Johnston County where the fastest available service was only 7Mbps. The Worthingtons moved to Wilson after realizing they could buy 40 Mbps from Greenlight for less than they were paying for a fraction of the speed from their private service provider

Greenlight recently reduced the price of its fastest Internet access.

Greenlight members can now sign up for 100 Mbps symmetrical service, meaning upload and download speeds are the same, for as low as $149.95 per month as part of a package. They also can get 60Mbps service for as low as $99.95 a month.

The Worthingtons signed up immediately for 100Mbps after the price drop. Both access the Internet extensively for their jobs, plus they enjoy online gaming.

“We always wanted the 100mps service,” she said. “When the price came down, we jumped on it.”

Greenlight’s 100mps service “blows everyone one else away,” says Lance Gilman, who recently got the service at his Saddle Run Road home.

The upgraded service allows the Gilmans to stream high-definition films from Netflix on three or four devices at the same time, he said.

For more information on Greenlight services, visit GreenlightNC.com or call 296-3374.

Aren’t Broadband Providers the Same?

If you’ve signed up for cable or broadband service in recent years, you know that every provider claims to have “high speed” or “blazing fast” service. Those terms don’t mean much anymore.

Fiber Optic Cable

Fiber Optic Cable - Wikimedia Commons

Wilson’s community-owned Greenlight network is all fiber optic; It’s the fastest way to provide broadband service and the only fiber optic network in Wilson.

One of the cable giants claimed to have a fiber optic network until a few weeks ago when the Better Business Bureau told it to stop.

Verizon, which challenged Time Warner Cable about its fiber claims said in the article, “”It’s unfortunate that some companies resort to making false, misleading statements about competitors. When that happens, it leaves consumers confused.”

Our community has an infrastructure asset that we built ourselves for our residents. The proceeds go back into our community. Instead of improving its network, the cable company wants NC Lawmakers to stop us from providing a better option.

New Broadband Bill Appears in Legislature for 2011

NC Legislative BuildingThe cable and phone companies have been hard at work. For the fourth time in four years, the NC Legislature is considering a bill that would protect broadband monopolies by preventing cities from providing communication choices. This year’s version is House Bill 129. They even kept the “Level Playing Field” name from the three previous bills.

Since the City of Wilson created Greenlight, more than 5,300 households and businesses have become members. Those members chose Greenlight over the cable and phone companies because of faster speeds, local customer service and the fact that their subscription fees stay here in Wilson.

The City of Salisbury is also doing well with its new Fibrant network. People are choosing services there for the same reasons.

This bill seeks to take away that choice for the people of NC.

The Legislature has a difficult job on its hands this year because of a $2.4 Billion deficit.

Municipal Broadband Untouched. Session is Over. Thank you!

NC House Chamber

NC House Chamber- Courtesy NC General Assembly

Thanks to you and your participation in the process, lawmakers saw that protecting decades-old monopolies isn’t the slam dunk the cable company had made it out to be. The NC General Assembly wrapped up the year early Sunday morning without taking action on municipal broadband. This year was the biggest battle friends of community broadband had faced. Bottom line, municipal broadband, including Wilson’s Greenlight, will continue to improve NC broadband speeds and provide critical infrastructure for our citizens. Thank you!

Here’s a note from Catharine Rice of SEATOA who stayed up all night Saturday to watch S1209 wrap up. This may sound like a lot of government-speak, but roughly transalated, there was a lot of zigging and zagging on broadband right up until the end.

From Catharine:

Saturday morning, July 11, at 5 a.m., the NC House of Representatives killed Senator Hoyle’s (D-Gaston) attempt  to force a moratorium on municipalities seeking to provide their communities broadband service. This was the industry’s 3rd (actually 4th) attempt to stop municipalities from providing superior bbnd infrastructure to the communities.

The bill died on Saturday after a one-two punch. First, the House Ways & Means Committee had refused to hear S1209 since June 8, under the hands of Committee Chair-Rep. Faison (D-Orange, Caswell), when it crossed from the Senate to the House. Then late Friday evening, the House itself added an amendment to its Study Authorization Bill (SB900) permitting, but not requiring, the Revenue Laws Study Committee to study the laws and circumstances surrounding municipalities providing broadband service to their communities, but dropping all other terms of S1209, mainly  the moratorium. The Senate concurred with House bill 900 unanimously later in the evening (9:49pm) and it was enrolled for review and signature by the Governor. (See Sections 7.5 (a) and (b) here)

Ten minutes later, Sen. Clodfelter introduced H455, a bill whose effect would have changed the approach of the House’s version of the municipal bbnd study. With H455, Senator Clodfelter gutted a House kidney awareness bill, and poured into it the “study” portion of S1209 (Hoyle’s Anti-Muni broadband bill), changing the House version by setting a date certain when the study (and recommended legislation) would have to be completed (March 2011), and increasing the number of seats on the subcommittee from 12 to 14, adding assigned seats for telephone coops and the NC County. The House version did not mandate a study, but made it optional, did not specifically authorize the committee to recommend legislation, and set the seats for the subcommittee at 12, naming 8 with an additional four unassigned seats. Clodfelter’s H455 contained two other sections, one addressing a fluke in sales tax refunds for MI-Connection, the Mooresville-Davidson muni bbnd system.

Around 2:45 Saturday morning, on Rep. Paul Luebke’s (D-Durham) motion, the House denied concurrence with the Senate on H455 (96 to deny, 1 to allow). At 3:45 a.m., the House approved a Senate/House conference committee report for the purpose of keeping only one section of H455, (effectively deleting H455’s changes to the House study version of S1209). H455 (here) now provides a state sales tax refund status for Davidson and Mooresville’s MI-CONNECTION system, status the two towns would have if individually providing cable service, but from which they were disqualified by having  joined together to provide broadband cable  service.  On a vote of 91 to 6, the House approved the Senate/House conference report. At 4:55 a.m. the Senate concurred with that report and it was enrolled for the Governor’s attention.

Dismal speeds from most providers still the norm in the US

Yahoo! News has a good story today about Internet access speeds, and the news is no surprise. In spite of millions of dollars of slick advertising and cartoon characters, we’re still slow in this country. This line sums it up best. “When it comes to Internet performance, in the aggregate, none of us are exactly living it up. The fastest throughput in America clocks in, on average, at a measly 1.22Mbps.”

These figures include the cable giants who are charging you big bucks for “blazing” speeds and such.

Greenlight’s slowest residential speed is 10Mbps upload and download. Why is Greenlight different? The network is all fiber optics, plus we serve a smaller area. Most of the cable companies, including the one with the most customers in NC, rely on old copper lines that simply can’t carry the same speeds as fiber optic networks. PC Mag recently said, “Those results are clear: fiber-to-the-home is the way to go nationwide…”

Wilson invested in its own network, and other NC cities and towns deserve the same chance. If they’re forced to wait on the outdated cable and telecom companies, the US will continue to lag behind other developed countries.

Better bandwidth is about much more than cable

GreenlightWilson is exempt from S1209, but the bill would make it much more difficult for NC cities or towns to build similar networks in the future. As we watch the bill make its way through the legislature, here are some ways that Wilson’s community owned fiber optic network is helping the people of Wilson right now.

Remote training – our firefighters can do non-physical training from their assigned stations instead of driving somewhere else. This keeps our response times among the best in NC.

Surveillance cameras – local businesses had requested cameras in public parking lots. The fiber system cut the costs of such projects by approximately 90%, making them affordable.

Smart Grid/ Smart meters – Our electric distribution system will be using the fiber for smart grid and smart meter technologies that in trials have generated substantial savings on customers electric bills.

Schools – Greenlight is currently constructing a fiber ring linking all County schools together through a network that will offer increased speeds and redundancy to eliminate down times

Hospital/Physicians offices – We are in the process of linking physicians’ offices to the hospital.  This will allow on-line transfer of medical files including large bandwidth items such as x-rays.  In the future we envision “virtual” doctor’s visits for the homebound.

Free wi-fi to our downtown district, train station, athletic complex, airport and library.

S1209 Passes NC Senate, on to the House

The bill that will slow, if not stop public broadband deployment in NC passed the Senate last night. Here’s the newest version. The City of Wilson’s Greenlight network is safe.

Here’s an update from Catharine Rice of Action Audits:

“S1209 received more than 30 minutes of discussion on its third reading. The State’s heros include Senator Joe Sam Queen (D-Haywood, Yancey), Senator Atwater (D- Chatham County), Senator Purcell (D- Scotland) and Senator Snow (D- Cherokee) who all spoke with impassioned tones on the harms that will be brought to North Carolina by placing a moratorium on our local communities which will prevent them from deploying broadband. Senator Hoyle introduced a substitute amendment to Senator Joe Sam’s amendment to strip out the moratorium, undercutting it, simply with a request to fix a technical mistake in the bill’s deadline for the moratorium – a substitute Hoyle would have submitted without Joe Sam’s amendment.  Fifteen Senators in essence voted with Senator Joe Sam by denying  Hoyle’s amendment, which rendered only 33 votes.”

“Speaking for the bill, and for the industry’s control of our broadband future, were Senator Hoyle (D-Gaston), Senator Clodfelter (D-Charlotte Mecklenberg) and Senator Josh Stein (D-Wake).  It passed 41 to 7.”

S1209 almost passes Senate, Vote goes to Monday on technicality

NC Legislature

NC Legislature - courtesy nceducation.wordpress.com

Senate Bill 1209 nearly passed the full Senate today, but it was called back on a technicality.

Long story short, the vote appeared to be overwhelmingly in support of the bill, but one senator wanted to change his vote. It will come back Monday at 7pm for a third reading and vote.

Catharine Rice of Action Audits reports that:

None of the Wake County Senators opposed the bill or asked that the moratorium be removed.

Those who did oppose and who should be thanked heartily, were
Joe Sam Queen (Haywood, Yancy,Avery, Madison, McDowell, Mitchell) Joesam.Queen@ncleg.net
Goss (Watauga County) Steve.Goss@ncleg.net
Foriest  (Alamance County) Tony.Foriest@ncleg.net
Snow (Cherokee County) John.snow@ncleg.net

These Senators are basically from rural communities who know the moratorium will stop broadband deployment for them in their tracks.

S1209 exempts Wilson; goes to the full Senate today

Sen. David Hoyle (D-Gaston)

Sen. David Hoyle (D-Gaston)

The Senate Finance Committee made some pretty big changes to Senate Bill 1209 yesterday. It is being heard in the Senate today. You can listen to the discussion here. Just click on Senate Chamber.

Wilson was fully exempt from the bill. That means the 28-million dollar investment our community made three years ago wasn’t made in vain. Our broadband network continues to sign new customers. We’re rapidly approaching 5,000 households; pretty good for less than two years of availability.

While I’m glad that Wilson was exempt, the bill still pits NC against the national trend of improving broadband service. As one lawmaker noted yesterday, the private companies simply aren’t moving fast enough, or at all in some cases, to make broadband available to rural communities.

Senator Hoyle, the sponsor of the bill, told the committee that both the cities and the cable/telecom companies dislike the bill, so it must be good.