Efficient Gov: A Tale of 2 Fiber Cities: Wilson, North Carolina & San Antonio, Texas

Date Published:
May 25, 2018 by Andrea Fox 

Small and large cities, rural and metro, can take the fiber journey and become gigabit cities.

In this tale of two fiber cities, EfficientGov explores two very different paths to becoming a gigabit city.

The Rural Fiber Model

Large-scale manufacturing companies were once the economic bedrock of rural America, and today, rural communities coast to coast struggle to find ways to attract developers and grow industries that usher jobs and prosperity. Broadband just may be today’s great equalizer, as officials in Wilson, North Carolina, the state’s first gigabit city, might attest to.

One only has to look at what’s happening in Wilson to understand that fiber is an important component these days for economic vitality. But fiber alone is not a guarantee for economic success. It takes a community-wide effort like the one in Wilson to take advantage of what fiber offers. Wilson still has a way to go, but you can feel the excitement in the community — and that is what makes any city a place where people want to live,” wrote Doug Dawson after attending Wilson’s Gig East forum late last year.

Wilson suffered with the decline of the tobacco industry, but municipal leaders say their publicly owned fiber network Greenlight is a catalyst for economic change, according to Dawson’s blog.

Before deploying fiber in 2008, CenturyLink and AT&T declined to upgrade their networks. At that time only 13 percent of Wilson subscribed to a connection that is at least 4 Megabits per second (Mbps) downstream and 1 Mbps upstream, according to a 2012 report authored and published by the Institute for Local Self Reliance.

Today, residents can get a 50 Mbps Internet package for $34.95, and prices go up from there. Schools, public safety services and other municipal services are all connected.

According to a 2012 snapshot of Greenlight service in Broadband Properties Magazine, the adoption rate in the city of 50,000 was 28 percent. In 2013 Wilson became a gig city, providing residents speeds up to 1 Gbps. Greenlight has since averaged 8 percent annual growth with the highest level of growth expected this year.

At one time, Greenlight provided fiber service to a neighboring community, but had to stop after a federal court ruled in favor of the states of North Carolina and Tennessee, upholding state laws that prevent municipal broadband providers from expanding outside their territories, according to ArsTechnica. In 2016, Greenlight also began providing 40 Mbps for $10 per month to public housing residents, according to the Institute for Local Self Reliance (ILSR).

The Coalition for Local Internet Choice recently awarded Greenlight Community Broadband General Manager Will Aycock with its 2018 Local Internet Choice Local Champion Award, calling him a visionary, according to the Wilson Times. Aycock and Greenlight staff have provided support to officials in Raleigh, Chapel Hill, Goldsboro and other North Carolina municipalities to advise them “on the way forward” to local broadband.

A look at the Greenlight Facebook page and the city is awash with economic development announcements — the city has recently been awarded grants for smart city apps and an innovation hub and has been ranked as a best city to start a business. According to Dawson, companies are refurbishing old downtown buildings and a former tobacco processing plant.

Those with home offices can take advantage of Greenlight’s commercial speeds and find remote work opportunities.

The 30 square mile city contracted with Quanta Services to deploy fiber using boring techniques, and the project took 18 months to complete.

Read the full article here.