WILSON — Soon, people in the Triangle will have access to ultra-fast broadband via Google and other providers. In Wilson, NC, they’ve had it for seven years.
In Wilson you can get 82 channels of basic cable, 40mbs Internet service and home phone plus with 11 calling features for $102.95 a month via its Greenlight city broadband network. Higher priced options provide additional cable TV offerings.
Not only that, the Internet speeds are 40mbs for both uploads and downloads. Upload speeds that fast are almost unheard of from cable and other commercial providers. More typical upload speeds are 1mbs to 3mb.
That upload speed alone helped attract a small Hollywood video editing firm to the city. It’s also important to professionals such as doctors and radiologists who need to share high bandwidth imagery.
Municipal broadband networks have been a controversial issue nationally and in North Carolina, where the GOP-led legislature passed a bill limiting further municipal broadband development in the state, but the City of Wilson in Eastern, NC, has made a success of its network since introducing it in 2008. It introduced gigabit service in 2013. That NC bill also prevented Wilson from expanding its network until the Federal Communications Commission invalidated that provision recently.
Network has done well
The city initially talked to commercial providers in an attempt to create partnerships that would give it the high speed broadband network it wanted to help offset the economic declined of traditional Eastern NC economic linchpins. When those talks faltered, the city decided to build its own $35 million network.
That might sound like a lot of money for a city to spend, but it’s comparable to other infrastructure projects such as a water reservoir, says Will Aycock, Wilson CIO. “As we’ve gone forward, we’ve seen a snowball effect in the community as it realized how important having the broadband infrastructure is.”
So far the network has done well. “Our revenues exceeded expenditures every year since 2011,” Aycock says, “and that’s projected to continue. We’re on track with our debt service and earlier this year Moody’s upheld our bond rating and Standard and Poor’s upgraded it.”
Aycock points out that the network is not just broadband for residents and businesses. “We use it for automated meter reading, public safety cameras, and wireless at the Gillette Athletic Complex (GAC) So the way we leverage this infrastructure is an important part of our story here as well.”
Helps recruit sports tournaments
The fast wireless at the GAC helps recruit tournaments, another economic impact, he adds. Recently, those included the Soccer Explosion Cup, which involved 68 teams and 7,000 people over two days and the Top Gun Winter World Series of baseball for ages 9 and under. It brought 17 teams and 1,170 people to the city for two and half days.
The city’s symmetrical upload and download speeds enable people to share data as easily as they consume it, “A big deal to creative work,” Aycock says. That helped attract ExodusFX, a boutique visual effects company founded in LA to the city. The firm has worked on video effects for films such as “Black Swan,” “Captain America,” “Moonrise Kingdom,” and multiple episodes of HBO’s “Boardwalk Empire.” (See sidebar).
The city has a population of about 50,000, and has connected 7,500 of the potential 21,000 homes it could reach. Along with Chattanooga, TN, Wilson successfully petitioned the Federal Communications Commission to allow it to expand – which state law previously restricted.
“We believe we should be able to bring our service to anyone we want to,” Aycock says, in particular to anywhere its electric pole lines go – and they stretch in to surrounding counties. And now they can.