Greenlight delivers video, data and voice services at the speed of light. So it may be surprising that it took many years, even decades, for the fiber optic network to become a reality. But Wilson officials began discussing the need for such a system more than 20 years ago.
The Wilson City Council issued its first cable television franchise in November 1969 to a Florida company that promised to deliver 10 channels to Wilson households for $4.90 a month.
Cable services stayed relatively modest and moderately priced until the 1980s. That’s when Congress deregulated the industry and stripped local governments of their ability to hold down cable rates.
In the late 1980s, Alert Cable, which had a monopoly in Wilson, raised its rates more than 60 percent over two years and added new fees for additional hookups, converters and other items.
In response to citizen complaints, the City Council voted unanimously in July 1989 to determine whether the City could begin its own cable service to bring needed competition to the market.
“Cable service is rapidly being priced beyond the reach of lower-income people, including families with children and the elderly, who are particularly in need of information and other services that are available solely through cable television,” stated a Council resolution passed that fall.
That fall, the N.C. Supreme Court ruled that cities should be allowed to operate cable systems as a public service. Council voted to set aside $4 million for the construction of a system. In 1991, the City paid for an initial engineering study.
The project went on the back burner for several years as the city built Buckhorn Reservoir.
Still, Council members continued to believe citizens were ill-served by the virtual monopoly that Alert Cable, later Time Warner Cable, had in Wilson. Cable officials were described as “arrogant” during franchise renewal negotiations in 1998.
Council again approved a resolution in 1998 saying the city intended to build or buy its own system. But officials realized that coaxial cable – the only option offered here by private companies – was an outdated technology.
A better option opened in 2005. The city needed to build a fiber optic network to improve communications between all city facilities, including police and fire stations, City Hall at the Mall, water treatment plants, etc. A Voice Over Internet Protocol (VoIP) telephone system dramatically cut the city’s monthly phone costs.
Wilson’s new network allowed the city to have a true, fast-as-light Internet connection. City officials began hearing from industries, schools, colleges, hospital and other agencies that were interested in tapping into this technology.
In 2006, officials began exploring the idea of expanding the fiber optic network to allow commercial and residential use, what is called a Fiber to the Home network that would run down every city street. The city asked private companies including Embarq and Time Warner Cable if they would be willing to build or partner in a FTTH network in Wilson. Ultimately, none of the private industries was willing to make that investment in Wilson.
After months of discussions and studies, the City Council unanimously voted in November 2006 to build a FTTH network in Wilson. The business plan and financing agreements were unanimously approved by the N.C. Local Government Commission’s executive commission in March 2007. Construction began soon afterward.
In May 2008, the city began signing up customers for the broadband services, now called Greenlight. Initial trials founds that 86 percent of customers preferred Greenlight to services they used previously.
Currently, Greenlight is proud to provide service to well over 6,000 members, and continues to grow, having already achieved the City Council's initial goals.
City officials had to fight off attempts from 2007 to 2010 by Time Warner Cable and other private telecommunications providers to make municipally-owned broadband services illegal or much harder to start. Based on the outcome of that legislation, unfortunately the city is only allowed to offer its services within the limits of Wilson County.