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A municipal ISP that was on the verge of shutting off Internet service outside its city boundaries to comply with a state law has come up with a temporary fix: it will offer broadband for free.
The free Internet service for existing customers outside Wilson, North Carolina, will be available for six months, giving users more time to switch to an alternative.
But Wilson also hopes that six months will be enough time to convince elected officials to change the state law that prohibits the municipal ISP from selling Internet service to non-residents.
As we’ve covered previously, the Federal Communications Commission voted in February 2015 to preempt laws in North Carolina and Tennessee that prevent municipal broadband providers from expanding outside their territories.
Greenlight Community Broadband in Wilson subsequently began offering service outside of Wilson.
But officials in both states sued the FCC and in August won reinstatement of their laws that protect private ISPs from municipal competitors.
In mid-September, the Wilson City Council reluctantly voted to turn off the fiber Internet service it provides to customers outside Wilson city limits.
But that decision was reversed in a City Council vote last week, The Wilson Times reported. (The news came to our attention today via DSLReports.)
A Wilson Times editorial said the following:
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.
The North Carolina state law imposes several limits on the ability of municipalities to offer communications services. However, the law defines the services as those offered “for a fee.” Offering free Internet access apparently would not violate the law.
Greenlight is not offering free cable TV service to the non-residents because of how expensive that would be.
But for phone and Internet service, Greenlight’s wholesale providers agreed to waive their fees during the six-month period.
“While the short-term fix is not perfect, it was the only alternative we had to disconnecting our neighbors,” Wilson Mayor Bruce Rose said. “Taking broadband service from the people of Pinetops would have been a terrible blow, especially when they are still recovering from Hurricane Matthew.”
The free service will be terminated before the six months are up if the state legislature changes the law.
Wilson can keep charging standard rates to customers within its territory.
The state law requires Wilson and others to “limit the provision of communications service to within the corporate limits of the city providing the communications service.”