AT&T, CenturyLink face 1 Gbps challenge from Wilson, N.C.-based Greenlight

Greenlight, a municipally-owned service provider in Wilson, N.C., will make its service even more competitive with three area service providers--AT&T (NYSE: T), CenturyLink (NYSE: CTL) and Time Warner Cable (NYSE: TWC)--when it debuts its 1 Gbps service this July.

The municipal provider's move to offer a 1 Gbps service is also a response to the FCC's Gigabit challenge, an initiative spearheaded by the regulator's outgoing chairman Julius Genachowski. In January, Genachowski asked that at least one community in all 50 states provide gigabit service by 2015.

New and existing customers will be able to access 1 Gbps, which will be offered as an optional service. While it has not revealed pricing for the 1 Gigabit service, its current Internet-only service offerings start at $40 for 10 Mbps with additional speed tiers up to 100 Mbps for $155.

Like many community-based networks, Greenlight is the product of the city of Wilson and its decision to build its own broadband network after CenturyLink and Time Warner Cable refused to partner with the city to build a fiber network. Greenlight provides a mix of TV, telephone and broadband services to 6,000 residential customers, businesses and the Wilson County School system.

Of course, the state's incumbent providers have worked hard to hinder Greenlight and others like Salisbury, N.C.-based Fibrant from growing. In 2011, a bill backed by Time Warner Cable and CenturyLink, was passed that places restrictions on any city or town in North Carolina, except for Wilson, that wants to build a broadband network.

Although Wilson is exempted from much of the state's new anti-muni broadband laws, since it began building its network in the early 2000s, it can't expand outside its current boundaries. This means that residents of surrounding towns in the Raleigh-Durham area can't get access to their service.

Despite its limitations, Greenlight will retain the upper hand in terms of speed in Wilson.

Today, AT&T provides 3-6 Mbps downstream, while CenturyLink currently provides up to 10-25 Mbps over its existing DSL network. CenturyLink also imposes data caps of 150 GB per month for speeds of 1.5 Mbps or lower, and 250 GB for its higher speed tiers. Likewise, AT&T places usage caps on its lower-speed DSL customers. 

Time Warner Cable offers 50-100 Mbps on its existing DOCSIS 3.0-based network. Earlier this month, the cable MSO submitted a bid to build a regional high-speed Internet service in North Carolina that would offer 1 Gbps as part of the North Carolina Next Generation Network (NCNGN) project.

Municipal providers such as Greenlight may never have the broader nationwide reach or deep pockets of their incumbent neighbors, but in areas like Wilson, it has forced the hand of larger players like Time Warner Cable to lower rates and increase speeds.

For more:
- see the release

Special report: The Contenders: Municipal fiber providers meeting or beating the incumbent competition

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