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Letter to the Editor: Legislators should help promote rural internet access

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Sunday, April 16, 2017

Legislators should incentivize, not disconnect, modern rural internet access

Every one of the 600 homes in rural Pinetops – in economically struggling Edgecombe County – has access to symmetrical, fiber-to-the-home, gigabit internet service. Not even Raleigh has that. 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. Legislature to pass a law limiting the city of Wilson’s internet service area to Wilson County, even though Wilson is a long-time utility provider to Pinetops and other small towns in neighboring counties. The Federal Communication Commission ruled in 2015 to preempt this law, which allowed Pinetops to invite Wilson to bring its fiber internet service (“Greenlight”) 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. Our overworked regional technician serves from Fayetteville to north of Greenville. Greenlight by comparison provides us fiber-to-the-home symmetrical gigabit internet if we want it. Their customer service is hyper-responsive and was even in town the day after Hurricane Matthew, hooking up and servicing lines for emergency responders. The other providers were nowhere to be seen in hard-hit Pinetops.

Access to modern internet is vital our town’s future. Legislators need to 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

Pinetops town commissioner

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