Wilson: Investing in Residents for an Equitable Future

As Wilson, N.C. transitioned from “the World’s Greatest Tobacco Market” to “NC’s First Gigabit City,” local leaders worked hard to prioritize equitable access and opportunities for all residents. Greenlight, Wilson’s Fiber-to-the-Home network, now connects more than 10,000 community members and supports many digital inclusion initiatives.

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Thanks to a partnership between the city and the housing authority, public housing residents are able to connect to 50/50 Mbps in-unit service for just $10/mo. This differs from low-income programs offered by private ISPs, which, while affordable, usually don’t offer service at broadband speeds. The city provides free 100/100 Mbps service to community centers in public housing complexes, enabling residents to take advantage of online educational resources, government services, and job opportunities.

Wilson also partnered with the Kramden Institute of Durham to offer digital skills classes to residents. Wilson Housing Authority staff was later trained to teach the classes themselves in order to maintain the program after the grant from Kramden ended. 

Beyond public housing, Greenlight’s universally available prepay program has been an essential part of the strategy to make service affordable and accessible for all. Being able to pay for internet service ahead of time allows residents to avoid late fees and potential service disconnections, and eliminates the issue of a poor credit rating being a barrier to signing up for service. Will Aycock, Greenlight’s General Manager, says, “We realize it’s important to provide equitable access to everyone in the community, high speed access is essential to participating in modern society. The most valuable resource in our community is our citizens.” 

The city is continuing to innovate around digital inclusion. The Gig East Exchange technology hub has a new coworking space and education center funded by the Golden LEAF Foundation. It focuses on exposing all Wilson residents to the ideas and benefits of technology by offering educational programming about small business management and entrepreneurship. 

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