This post was written by Kate Svitavsky, an intern for the Community Broadband Networks initiative.
Super-fast, reliable, and affordable Internet access is coming to residents living in public housing in Wilson, North Carolina. Greenlight, Wilson’s municipal network, recently began providing 40 Megabits per second (Mbps) for $10 per month to public housing residents — about a quarter of the service’s original cost. All services from Greenlight are symmetrical, so upload speeds are just as fast as download speeds.
“Because of this partnership, more students will be able to be online in their homes and more adults will be able to take advantage of online job training and application tools…In addition, the partnership connects more customers to the community network, thereby increasing the return on the community’s investment,” said Greenlight general manager Will Aycock.
Partners For Progress
A new partnership between the US Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and Wilson’s Public Housing Authority enables residents to receive discounted Greenlight services. HUD Secretary Julian Castro visited Wilson in October to discuss the importance of Internet access, indicating it is becoming a higher priority for the Department:
“We know these days that the Internet is not a luxury; access to it is really a necessity in this 21st-century global economy. And we want to make sure every single child in our nation has access to it… Our goal is that every single public housing resident have access to the Internet.”
Residents receive a router at no cost from the Housing Authority, which oversees public housing in Wilson. Greenlight, the community’s municipal fiber network offers speeds from 40-100 Megabits per second (Mbps). As a service of the City of Wilson, Greenlight emphasizes its commitment to fair pricing and providing a quality product.
“One of Greenlight’s core principles is to enhance the quality of life for all residents, making high-speed internet available for everyone… It’s an important step in bridging the digital divide,” stated City Manager Grant Goings during the initial announcement event.
Low Income Programs Not Always This Good
A few government, nonprofit, and private programs exist to provide affordable access to low-income families. The private programs, however, typically fail to adequately address low-income individuals’ Internet needs. Access from AT&T and Comcast’s Internet Essentials, which were created as FCC-mandated conditions of large mergers, provide access to qualifying families for around $10 per month. Yet these programs’ speeds are at a maximum of 10 Mbps download or slower and don’t meet the FCC definition of broadband, which is 25 Mbps or more download and 3 Mbps upload. AT&T was also recently caught exploiting an FCC loophole to deny enrollment to families, illustrative of how corporate incentive structures don’t benefit users.
In contrast, Chattanooga, Tennessee provides a low-income option similar to what Wilson’s. In Chattanooga, families with a child qualifying for free or reduced lunch can receive symmetrical 100 Mbps Internet access for a 50 percent discount, or $26.99 per month.
It’s In Their Character
Unlike large ISPs, who must appease stockholders, municipal networks can devote more attention on promoting the public good. When Wilson’s residents connect to the Internet via the high-quality connectivity of Greenlight, they’re able to submit job applications, complete homework, and find information online — activities that are essential for all families, but especially important for low-income families who want to improve their economic situation.
This article is a part of MuniNetworks. The original piece can be found here