Local Politics

Cities in eastern NC push for city-run fiber internet networks after Suddenlink complaints

Posted May 5, 2021 8:02 p.m. EDT
Updated May 6, 2021 10:22 a.m. EDT

— A group of mayors in eastern North Carolina is pushing the state to let them build their own city-run fiber internet systems.

For cities like Wilson that have had fiber networks for years, the switch to the new systems couldn’t come soon enough.

“It’s extremely fast,” said Eyes on Main Street director Jerome De Perlighi. “I’ve never seen this before.”

Life moves at a different speed in Wilson, but not the way you might think – this rural North Carolina city may be small, but when it comes to broadband, it’s light years ahead.

“Wilson has had broadband fiber since 2008,” Wilson Economic Development Council executive director Jennifer Lantz said.

Around 13 years ago, Wilson installed its own fiber internet system called Greenlight city-wide, and the move has been so successful that it’s now being expanded to the entire county.

So why aren’t other communities doing the same?

Because in 2011, the North Carolina legislature passed House Bill 129, commonly called the Time Warner bill.

“Which really forbade any kind of municipality from establishing broadband as one of their utilities,” Rocky Mount mayor Sandy Roberson said.

Roberson said internet service in Nash and Edgecombe counties had been a problem for years.

There have been so many complaints against the area’s major provider, Suddenlink, since the COVID-19 pandemic began that the mayor of Tarboro called for the state Attorney General to investigate the company in January.

Months later, area leaders have started to take matters into their own hands, with the mayors of nine cities across Eastern North Carolina petitioning the state legislature to allow them to set up their own fiber networks.

“Broadband is just like water now,” Roberson said. “You just need it to be able to engage in the world around us.”

In a statement, a spokesperson for Suddenlink told WRAL News the company has increased support for the Rocky Mount area in recent months, and has been working closely with the mayor to address connection problems.

While Roberson confirmed that, he also felt a city-run network would serve Rocky Mount better.

“I think really what I’m being a proponent of here is less about what a company has done or not done, but more importantly how do we create an environment where our resident population can be more successful?” Roberson said.

Wilson leaders told WRAL News their fiber network should be expanded to every home in the county by 2024.

The FIBER NC act is a bill that has been making its way through the North Carolina senate for the past month. If passed, it would let cities and counties set up broadband as a utility.

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