Pulling the Plug on Pinetops

It is official. Small town America is starting to feel the aftermath of the Sixth Circuit Supreme Court ruling on municipal broadband in Tennessee and North Carolina. The ruling, which barred municipal broadband providers from extending their service outside of their city limits and reaching underserved communities, is hitting communities like Pinetops, North Carolina hard and leaving them with more questions than answers.

The court ruling has forced the hand of Wilson, North Carolina’s City Council to disconnect Wilson Greenlight Services from the rural town of Pinetops, North Carolina– population 1,300. By Halloween of this year, Pinetops will lose its access and connection to Wilson’s fiber network.

The gigabit service that Wilson Greenlight Services provided to the community of Pinetops allowed the small town to compete with more urban areas of North Carolina that receive service from larger telecom companies like Google Fiber, AT&T, and Frontier. The gigabit internet had allowed the town to develop economic development plans to attract workers and begin to create revenue, but the sudden disconnection will completely thwart forward progress for the community.

What has been most infuriating to some of the residents of both Pinetops and Wilson is that the connections are already in place, “The town of Wilson has been providing electric power to Pinetops for the past 40 years, and had already deployed fiber through the town in order to bolster its smart grid initiative. As a result, roughly 700 homes had immediate access to Greenlight service.” The ruling did not halt a build out, but rather is cutting a fiber network that had been laid and completed in the area in the past few months.

The mayor of Pinetops expressed the dilemma simply, “We can’t just go back in time. That does not represent sound social economic policy.” However, for now it seems the town is being left with no other option. These large telecommunications companies are not just preventing competition, they are affecting people’s every day lives.

Wilson and Pinetops are only the first to feel the wrath of the ruling, as Mr. Grant Goings, Wilson City Manager expressed:

“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. 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 question should not be “who will be next?” but rather “what are we going to do about this?”

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