The Story of Wilson Greenlight:
Greenlight is North Carolina’s first community-owned, symmetrical gigabit, fiber-to-the home-network in the state. It represents more than 15 years of planning and designing for a future-proof infrastructure that was the natural outflow for a community characterized by a long history of self-reliance and infrastructure focus. Throughout its development, Greenlight's guiding principles have remained 1) supporting the economic health of the community, 2) improving the delivery of city services and 3) enhancing the quality of life for the citizens of Wilson.
2001-2006: In April 2001, the City of Wilson offered to purchase the local cable network from the incumbent cable provider, who responded they would "rather go for a zero customer base versus sell any system.” Starting in 2004, the City commissioned two feasibility studies on the advantages of building a community-owned fiber network, and by 2005, had connected all municipal substations to a new municipal fiber optic backbone. In 2006, the City approached both incumbent cable and telecommunication providers and asked if they would be interested in partnering to build a modern fiber-to-the-home network. The local cable operator declined immediately. (The local phone company engaged in negotiations until new company management ended the negotiations in 2008).
2007-2010. In 2007, the City began constructing what it saw as critical public infrastructure in a global economy dependent on the internet: a fiber-to-the-home network. The community's incumbent cable provider reacted by seeking support for state legislation which would prohibit the City from building and operating its own fiber network. Wilson's Mayor Rose testified at a legislative hearing and referred to the legislative battle as "Not just David versus Goliath, but David versus Goliath and all his cousins." The legislation to outlaw Greenlight failed. (Legislation was attempted the following four years, until it passed in 2011, but Wilson's service area was grandfathered to the Wilson County line).
By June 2008, video, voice, and internet residential service was deployed under the name "Greenlight". By September, Greenlight subscriptions topped 1,000 homes. By November, network construction was complete. In late 2008, government and utility applications are added to the network, including remote training for community firefighters, saving them significant travel time and increasing productivity. By 2009, universal access to broadband services is achieved for every home and business in the corporate limits of the City of Wilson. By July of 2010, Greenlight began providing network services to Wilson County Schools.
2011-2012: By June of 2011, Greenlight revenues exceed expenditures, surpassing business case projections. Yet one month earlier, Greenlight's cable and telephone competitors succeed in legislating "H129," a new state law that will limit Wilson Greenlight's service area to the Wilson County line despite its electric service area reaching into six surrounding counties.
In 2012, Greenlight offers 1 Gbps metronet service to the community's largest employer, and completes a fiber ring linking all county schools, lowering their costs while dramatically increasing available speed and network reliability. Smart-grid and smart-meter applications are tested over the fiber network to give residents the tools to reduce their consumption of electricity. By May of 2012, Greenlight becomes a Point of Presence (POP) and a Tier 1 internet provider, creating a unique opportunity for Wilson businesses to connect globally locally at significantly lower cost.
By June 2012, Greenlight customers reach 6,000. Wifi hotspots are installed in the downtown, at the Amtrak train station, Gillette Athletic Complex, airport and library. Greenlight's story is featured in a national publication: "Wilson Gives Greenlight to Fast Internet".
2013-2014: In 2013, Greenlight responds to a national call for “gigabit cities” and upgrades its residential network to gigabit capacity, establishing Wilson as North Carolina's first Gigabit City. Greenlight begins receiving national media coverage for the economic development impact of its gigabit upload speeds, and for the city's plan to use STEAM as an economic development strategy. The City's Gigabit speeds and Whirligig Park are featured, as well as the city's unique approach to unleash opportunities for its underprivileged youth and adults by providing free 100 Mbps symmetrical speeds to after school youth programs, the local library and to every community center in its public housing developments. Greenlight begins hosting visitors as far away as New Zealand and municipalities from around the country. In July 2014, Wilson petitions the FCC with a request for authority to bring gigabit internet service to its rural neighbors, including Pinetops and Vick Family Farms, who are within its electric service area and have requested modern fiber internet service from the city. This petition is granted seven months later with an FCC preemption of North Carolina state law known as H129.
2015: By September 2015, Greenlight's customers total more than 7,700 and the network is serving the community's top 10 employers, all government institutions, Wilson County Schools, small businesses and residents. Wilson is selected as one of five state-wide participants in InnovateNC competition, with Greenlight's Gigabit fiber network playing a key role in that selection. This first-in-the-nation effort sponsored by NC State University's Institute for Emerging Issue is seen as key to sparking innovation-centric economic development. By the end of the year, Wilson's City Council approves the extension of Greenlight services to Pinetops and Vick Family Farms based on the FCC's approval of the city's petition.
2016: Wilson and Greenlight are honored by Secretary of Housing & Urban Development, Julian Castro, for the community’s digital inclusion program to provide low-cost internet service to its public housing residents, as well as for its creative pre-pay plan. Wilson lights up gigabit fiber service to rural Pinetops but faces having to turn service off by October when a Sixth Circuit decision reverses the FCC's preemption that permitted this deployment. At the same time, Hurricane Mathew hits, rendering many Pinetops residents homeless; but the Wilson City Council decides to provide Internet service at no cost to Pinetops’ residents rather than to turn service off. In October, the City of Wilson receives the "National Leadership Award" by the Coalition for Local Internet Choice. In November, Greenlight sponsors its first GigEast thought-leadership event, featuring Blair Levin, known for serving at the FCC as Executive Director of the country's first national broadband plan. He speech is titled "Make America Great -- With Great Broadband."
2017: Wilson agrees to stop-gap state legislation, H396, authorizing it to continue providing gigabit symmetrical service to Pinetops and Vick Family Farms until a new private sector provider serves these areas with fiber to the home. Greenlight incorporates into its guiding principles a five-year plan with the following objectives 1) Be Secure First, 2) Maintain 99.99% availability, 3) Connect Everyone; 4) Being a Smart City; 5) Be the Regional Technology Partner and Leader and 6) Be Future Ready. Greenlight sponsors its second annual GigEast event featuring WRAL and Harvard Law professor Susan Crawford, and the same week sponsors its first-ever "hackathon" with fellow Gigabit City Westminster, Maryland.
2018: Greenlight wins a $10,000 grant from smart cities accelerator US Ignite to enable development of a new live-streaming app to use with its public safety drone program. A new private provider constructs fiber to the home to Pinetops, triggering Greenlight's requirement to disconnect their gigabit services, but Greenlight sells its Pinetops fiber network to a private sector provider, National Lightnet, instead. Pinetops becomes a rural community rarity with access to two fiber-to-the-home networks. Greenlight's General Manager is awarded the 2018 Local Champion award by the Coalition for Local Internet Choice. Greenlight sponsors its third GigEast event, featuring world renowned Gary Bolles, who is Chair for the Future of Work for Singularity University and speaks about "The Future of Work."
2019: Greenlight subscribers hit a record 10,000 subscribers. Greenlight staff take the lead on pilot-testing a new 10-week course at Wilson Community College called “Fiber Optic Basics.” The ultimate goal is to bring advanced skills and higher incomes to the community’s youth. Wilson is one of nine rural communities among 130 applicants, to participate in the Rural Innovation Initiative by the Center on Rural Innovation, in partnership with Rural Innovation Strategies Inc. The focus of this initiative is to help rural communities create innovation-based jobs in this digital economy. Wilson is awarded the 2019 Vanguard Innovator award by the Coalition for Local Internet choice for its utilization of the community fiber network to catalyze an inclusive innovation ecosystem exemplified by its GigEast Exchange.