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North Carolina town works around state law, gives free internet service to its neighbor

A small town figured out a way to help neighbors despite state law. The state of North Carolina told the town of Wilson they couldn’t sell high-speed internet service to nearby towns, so the town is providing access for free while appealing to the state General Assembly, according to Ars Technica.

Wilson, North Carolina, has a municipal fiber optic broadband internet service called Greenlight. In compliance with state law, they did not offer it outside the town. In 2015, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) said the North Carolina law and a similar law in Tennessee preventing municipal providers from selling service to other towns was wrong and preempted it.

Greenlight then started selling fast internet to a few customers outside town lines in this rural area that is underserved by major providers. The state then sued the FCC and regained protection for major internet providers, regardless of where they did or didn’t provide service. That action made it illegal for Greenlight to provide service to neighbors in Nash and Edgecombe counties.

Related: Broadband providers now need consent to share your data, thanks to the FCC

The Wilson City Council reluctantly agreed to comply. The Council voted to turn off service to their customers across town lines, even though it would mean that a large wholesale produce farm and about 200 residential customers would no longer have broadband internet service. Now they have a temporary workaround.

As quoted by Ars Technica from the Wilson Times, “City leaders are walking a tightrope as they balance their desire to keep Vick Family Farms in rural Nash County and 200 customers in the Edgecombe County town of Pinetops connected to Greenlight with their obligation to obey a federal court ruling that blocks the municipal broadband service from branching out beyond county lines. The council agreed Thursday night to provide six months of free internet access and phone service to Greenlight customers outside Wilson County while Wilson lobbies the General Assembly for permission to keep the town connected on a permanent basis.”

Previously Greenlight had provided cable TV service as well, but television won’t be included in the free service while the town waits for permission to resume selling the service. Internet access and internet-based phone service will be free. The state law doesn’t say they can’t give it away, Wilson just can’t charge out-of-towners for internet service. So they’re not.

That’s country neighborly.