News: Quick Takes

House bill would let Wilson extend muni broadband service

Martin-sponsored lets Wilson's Greenlight serve Pinetops in Edgecombe County.

Rep. Susan Martin, R-Wilson, took a step Wednesday in clearing a path for Wilson to expand the area in which it offers broadband service.

She has lobbied for a change in the law to allow rural areas to be more competitive with traditional providers.

Martin filed one of 21 bills to close out the second legislative short session this week. The measure, House Bill 5, would clarify service areas laid out in the General Statutes and effectively allow the city to expand its Greenlight service.

As Carolina Journal has reported, a 2011 state law set geographic restrictions for the municipal broadband systems and made provisions for systems such as Wilson’s Greenlight to continue operating.

Because CenturyLink offers service in the area, the city’s service carries a competitive advantage.

After the Federal Communications Commission adopted a rule in 2015 pre-empting North Carolina’s law, Greenlight started service to nearby Pinetops in Edgecombe County and some other areas outside of Wilson County, violating the portion of the state law that prohibits towns from offering broadband service outside their corporate limits.

Earlier this year, an order by the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals struck down the FCC’s rule.

Greenlight argued it could provide the service legally outside Wilson County because the state’s law allowed it to do so if didn’t charge those consumers — and it doesn’t.

Martin’s bill specifies the county limits of Wilson County, including the 17 incorporated areas within the county, and the municipality of Pinetops.

She foreshadowed the move in a CJ story in November.

“The city has worked on a short-term solution of not charging so they are in compliance with the law,” Martin had said. “So when we get back in session we’ll try to do something that just addresses those impacted areas.”