Fast, affordable Internet access for all.
Content tagged with "pinetops"
Newcomers to Cullen Hoback’s recent HBO blockbuster documentary on the QAnon conspiracy are in for a treat. Four years ago, the filmmaker released a documentary on broadband access in North Carolina, and how huge ISPs have employed lobbyists to ghostwrite state laws to protect their monopoly territory and extract community wealth at the expense of fast, affordable Internet access delivered via publicly owned and operated networks.
Free for the first time on Vimeo, Do Not Pass Go: The Battle for Broadband charts the consequences of this phenomenon - present in 17 states across the country - for one small town called Pinetops (pop. 1,300), situated 50 miles east of Raleigh.
Hoback’s film shows the consequences of North Carolina’s 2011 state law (HB 129). HB 129 has successfully stymied the formation and expansion of municipally owned broadband networks over the state for the last decade, leaving hundreds of thousands of families stuck living with just one option (and oftentimes a poor one) for their home Internet access.
This was exactly the reality for Pinetops, until the nearby town of Wilson’s municipal network, Greenlight, brought affordable and future-proof service to the town. That is, before the cable lobby pounced and forced Wilson to stop sell its assets and stop offering service in that community. While Greenlight continues to provide fast, affordable service where it is able, but residents in other North Carolina communities aren't so lucky.
Built in 2008 with an eye toward the future and operated with local priorities in mind, Greenlight has a long track record of putting people first. In a new case study, the Institute for Local Self-Reliance explores the wide-ranging community benefits of Greenlight, the city-owned Fiber-to-the-Home network in Wilson, North Carolina.
The case study details how it has been able to quickly adapt and expand service during the pandemic, as well as the host of advantages and overall value brought to the city over the last decade in education, equity, and economic development. For example:
Access for All
- In 2016, Greenlight began a partnership with the Wilson Housing Authority (WHA) to connect hundreds of public housing residents to $10/month low-cost fast Internet access.
- The network targets barriers to service adoption that go beyond cost, including a flexpay system which allows users to prepay for Internet access instead of requiring large deposits or a credit check. It also allows users to load funds into their account for individual days of network access.
- Greenlight has been named as a key factor in Wilson’s economic revitalization.
- Wilson’s fiber infrastructure has helped local businesses succeed and is a factor in the relocation of new companies to the area. In 2019, Wilson was ranked the 10th best small city in the country to start a business.
- In 2016, Greenlight began co-sponsoring the GigEast Exchange Conference. The GigEast Exchange serves as a technology hub, incubator, and networking space for everyone in the community.
In an evening filled with art and broadband policy, folks gathered in Washington D.C. to attend a screening of the film Do Not Pass Go, a documentary that examines the efforts of Wilson, North Carolina, to expand high-quality connectivity to rural neighbor Pinetops, and how big monopoly providers and the state legislature blocked their attempts.
Next Century Cities, the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, the Coalition for Local Internet Choice, the National Association of Regional Councils, and the National League of Cities hosted the event, which included a panel discussion on relevant state laws, the value of local authority, and possible solutions at the federal and local levels to bring everyone high-quality Internet access. In addition to our own Christopher Mitchell, Terry Huval, Former Director of Lafayette Utilities System and Suzanne Coker Craig, Managing Director of CuriosiTees in Pinetops LLC and former Pinetops Commissioner spoke on the panel moderated by Deb Socia, Executive Director of Next Century Cities.
Attorney Jim Baller, President of Baller Stokes & Lide and President and Co-founder of the Coalition for Local Internet Choice also took some time to discuss specific state barriers that interfere with local authority for Internet network investment.
After the panel discussion, attendees and panelists mingled and enjoyed music supplied by Terry Huval and his fiddle:
It’s just like I’ve always said, broadband policy and Cajun fiddle music are a match made in heaven. Thank you to Terry - former manager of Lafayette, LA’s utilities system - for sharing your talents! #LocalChoice pic.twitter.com/AZZd0wNtoU— Cat Blake (@cat_hannah_b) March 26, 2019
Host A Screening in Your Community
Winter has not been kind this year. In addition to interrupting our kids’ learning with numerous snow days, stranding the Minnesota office in our homes due to dangerously cold weather, and interrupting our typically prolific workflow with day after day of shoveling, minor ice related traffic accidents, and sick kids, there’s one other unforgivable offense that rests square on the shoulders of Mother Nature: the cancellation of the D.C. screening of Do Not Pass Go. An impending winter storm forced the cancellation of the event, which was scheduled for February 20th. The organizers are ready to try again, however, and the new event date is March 26th, 2019, 5 - 7 p.m. The venue will be the same — the offices of the National League of Cities/National Association of Counties at 660 North Capitol Street NW.
Register for the free screening and the discussion.
The Coalition for Local Internet Choice (CLIC), Next Century Cities, the Institute for Local Self-Reliance (ILSR), and the National League of Cities (NLC), will lead the discussion about the film and the policies that influence the events of the film and the people living in Pinetops, North Carolina.
Do Not Pass Go, a documentary by Cullen Hoback, tells the story of Pinetops, where the community finally obtained high-quality Internet access when their neighbor, Wilson, connected Pinetops to Greenlight. The Greenlight community fiber optic network later had to disconnect Pinetops, however, when the state chose to protect incumbents from competition. Hoback’s film tells the Pinetops story and examines how lack of competition has negatively impacted rural communities.
After the screening, the group will discuss regulatory and legislative barriers, and actions that local and federal government can adopt to help communities that consider municipal networks an option.
The panel will include:
The story of tiny Pinetops, North Carolina, and how large corporations blocked their ability to obtain high-quality Internet access from a nearby municipal network comes to life in Do Not Pass Go, a documentary by Cullen Hoback. On February 20th, you can attend a screening of the film and stay for the discussion after. The event will be in Washington, D.C., at the office of the National League of Cities/National Association of Counties from 5 - 7 p.m.
Join the Coalition for Local Internet Choice (CLIC), Next Century Cities, the Institute for Local Self-Reliance (ILSR), and the National League of Cities (NLC), who will be guiding the discussion about the film and the policies that come into play. The group will discuss regulatory and legislative barriers, and actions that local and federal government can adopt to help communities that consider municipal networks an option.
After the screening, a panel discussion will include:
- Christopher Mitchell from ILSR
- Terry Huval: Former Director, Lafayette Utilities System, Lafayette, LA
- Joanne Hovis: Co-Founder and CEO, Coalition for Local Internet Choice; President, CTC Technology & Energy
- Dr. Christopher Ali: Assistant Professor, Department of Media Studies, University of Virginia; Faculty Fellow, Benton Foundation; Fellow, World Economic Forum
- Suzanne Coker Craig:Managing Director, CuriosiTees of Pinetops LLC; former Commissioner, Pinetops, NC
Following the panel discussion, the Networking Reception will allow participants to continue the conversation and share their individual experiences.
Register online for the free D.C. screening.
Pinetops, Wilson, and Greenlight
In North Carolina, no other rural community embodies the rural struggle for high-quality Internet access as well as Pinetops. At a recent hearing in D.C., one of the leading voices in Pinetops, Suzanne Coker Craig, testified before a legislative committee assembled to delve into the issue. During her short five minutes at the Communications and Technology Subcommittee of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, Coker Craig described her town's rescue by the local municipal network and subsequent betrayal by their state legislature.
Coker Craig is the owner of the small business CuriosiTees and former Town Commissioner of Pinetops; she has the ability to examine the community's situation as a resident, a business owner, and an elected official. In her testimony, she tells the story of how the once-fading Pinetops was revitalized when its neighbor, Wilson, did the neighborly thing and provided Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) to the small town.
In 2016, Pinetops worked with a nearby municipal provider, Greenlight, to bring high-speed Internet services to its 1,300 residents, giving local businesses like CuriosiTees the connectivity they need to thrive in the modern economy. The expansion was only made possible after the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) preempted a restrictive state law that benefited large telecom companies. However, the State of North Carolina appealed the FCC preemption and the court reversed the ruling within the year.
Suddenlink's Bad Behavior in Pinetops May Indicate A Troubled Future: Legislature Sides With Big Cable
Rural Pinetop residents are getting a glimpse of the treatment they are going to receive from Suddenlink, even before the ISP has started offering service in the small North Carolina community. According to locals, Suddenlink subcontractors are busting water mains, connecting fiber without homeowner permission, and spreading lies about the Town’s favored community-broadband provider, Wilson's municipal network, Greenlight Community Broadband.
A Bright Economic Future For A While
Back in 2015, this tiny, low income, town felt grateful to receive Fiber-to-the-home (FTTH), symmetrical gigabit Internet service from their electric provider, the municipal electric utility from neighboring Wilson. Suddenlink had turned their back on local residents for years, and before Greenlight began serving the community, a good day of Internet service from incumbent CenturyLink brought them 2 Mbps upload speed.
With high-quality connectivity from Wilson’s Greenlight, the town began envisioning a new economic future. They recognized the importance of high capacity upload speed as an economic development tool to attract the professional and creative class. They wanted to attract doctors, lawyers, engineers, and digital media artists from Greenville and Rocky Mount to their town where the cost of doing business was low and the quality of life was high.
Tech entrepreneurs and other businesses community leaders in Pinetops hoped to attract need high capacity upload to share data heavy files, such as x-rays, and blueprints from a home office or other place of business.
"Whose Side Are You On?"
Approximately 20 U.S. states have some form of legal restriction that creates barriers when local communities want to develop publicly owned Internet infrastructure. In North Carolina, where the state experiences a severe rural/urban digital divide, people are fed up with poor service from influential telephone and cable companies. Folks like Ned Barnett, Opinion Editor from the News & Observer, are calling on elected officials to remove the state’s restriction so local governments can do all they can for better connectivity.
Things Must Change
Barnett’s recent editorial begins out of frustration as he describes how unreliable Internet access forced him to take pen to paper. His own connection prevented him from tending to emails, doing online research, and his phone service also suffered due to momentary loss of connectivity at his office. He goes on to consider how the annoying but temporary inconvenience to him is a way of life for many in rural areas of his state.
While North Carolina has many of the same challenges as other states in getting rural folks online — lack of interest from national ISPs, challenging geography that complicates deployment — Barnett correctly zeroes in on the state’s restrictive HB 129. The law prevents communities with existing broadband infrastructure from expanding to neighboring communities and puts requirements in place that are so onerous, they make it all but impossible for communities considering similar investments to move forward.
Barnett rightly points out that the true purpose of the law was to protect national ISPs from competition, securing their position as monopolies and duopolies. He describes the problems with the state's approach and what North Carolinians have faced in the aftermath:
For one, Internet access isn't a consumer product. It's as basic as access to a phone, electricity or indoor plumbing. Secondly, there isn't any real competition involved. Rural areas often are limited to one provider offering slow access.
The Problem is Real
Take Action Screening Guide: Learn About Municipal Networks, Connect With Neighbors, Share This Film in Your Community
Generate conversation about broadband access in your community with a screening of the short film, "Do Not Pass Go." We have created a helpful guide on how to host a screening of the film in your community. Spend some time connecting with others who share your questions about local options and want to learn more.
About the Film
Documentary filmmaker Cullen Hoback traveled to Pinetops, North Carolina, to experience firsthand the battle between municipal networks and private providers.
Pinetops is a rural small town that receives high-speed Internet service from the nearby City of Wilson, North Carolina. The large ISPs have tried to put a stop to this with a state law, and all the red tape might kill the small town.
Download the Guide
Not sure how to host a screening? Get going with this guide.
- Basic information about community networks
- Logistics of hosting a screening from location to outreach
- Discussion questions about broadband in your community
The guide is 13 pages long and is available for download as a PDF. We produced the guide with Next Century Cities.
Host a Screening
There have already been three screenings across the U.S. in Marietta, Ohio; Atlanta, Georgia; and Rochester, Minnesota. The community group Broadband & Beers has a planned screening for April 17th, 2018, in Boulder, Colorado. Let us know if you show the film in your town!
Suddenlink passed up the opportunity to offer connectivity in Pinetops, North Carolina, for years until now. About a year after a bill in the General Assembly gave nearby Wilson’s municipal network the ability to serve the tiny community, Suddenlink is taking advantage of the law to enter Pinetops and push Wilson’s Greenlight Community Broadband out.
One of his constituents called Town Commissioner Brent Wooten last October to share a conversation he'd had at work in nearby Wilson. Wooten's constituent had encountered a Suddenlink employee who told him, "We're coming to see you in Pinetops." The company had sent out a notice to employees that overtime would be available because Suddenlink was planning to run fiber from Rocky Mount to Pinetops.
Wooten hadn't heard anything from Suddenlink; neither had any of the other Commissioners. All he knew was that the company had been reducing staff and cutting costs ever since being acquired by Altice in 2015.
A Little History
While events that put Pinetops (pop. 1,300) in the national spotlight began in February 2015, the story has roots that go back further. Officials in Pinetops, recognizing that better local Internet access keeps small rural communities from wasting away, approached several providers years ago requesting better Internet infrastructure. Suddenlink’s service area ends about two miles outside of Pinetops town limits. Nevertheless, Suddenlink wasn't willing to bring cable service to Pinetops. CenturyLink didn't want to make investments to upgrade the community's old DSL solution; the community had no options from national providers.