After North Carolina Republicans banned cities selling internet, a town decided to give it away instead

North Carolina is one of many states in which telcoms lobbyists have gotten the state house to ban towns and cities from selling high-speed internet to the public — even in places where the cable/phone duopoly refuses to supply broadband.

FCC Chairman and decidedly non-dingo babysitter Tom Wheeler pushed through FCC rules invalidating these state laws, only to have Republican lawmakers and telcoms lobbyists use the courts to win back the right to force people to buy internet service from cable or phone companies, or do without if neither wish to supply internet to them.

The town of Wilson, North Carolina was one of the places whose municipal fiber ISP was threatened by the court decision, but after a close read of the rule, they've decided that since they're only banned from selling broadband, they can safely give it away for free. Wilson is offering free broadband to people outside the town limits, whose rural homes are not adequately served by Big Telco, and who were hammered hard by Hurricane Matthew.

The plan is to offer the service for free for six months and hope that during that time the state legislature — the same one that passed the awful, nonsensical "bathroom bill" — will come to its senses and strike down the ban on municipal internet service. Lotsa luck.

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.

City ISP makes broadband free because state law prohibits selling access
[Jon Brodkin/Ars Technica]

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