1000 x 90

Avery Commissioners Continue Aggressive Quest to have Broadband Internet Service Throughout County as State Works to Prequalify Internet Providers for Expansion Programs

By Tim Gardner

For several years, the Avery Board of Commissioners have worked feverishly to establish Broadband Internet Service throughout the county as state officials have done the same to get it all across North Carolina.

Avery County Commission Chairwoman Martha Hicks said obtaining Broadband Internet service throughout Avery County is one of her and her fellow-commissioners’ top priorities.  In addition to Hicks, Avery’s commissioners currently consist of Vice-Chairman Tim Phillips, Wood Hall (Woodie) Young, Jr., Dennis Aldridge, and Robert Burleson.

“We would like for every citizen who wants to have affordable and reliable internet service to do so,” Hicks shared.   “It’s going to be a challenge for several more years, but our continued efforts have already produced results as a lot of our citizens already have Broadband service.  We will keep working on the issue until Broadband is available everywhere in the county.  Places that don’t invest in broadband lose people and jobs to other places that do have good Internet connections.”

The North Carolina Department of Information Technology’s (NCDIT) Division of Broadband and Digital Equity released information that it has posted a request for proposals to prequalify internet service providers to participate in multiple broadband expansion programs, beginning immediately with the $400 million Completing Access to Broadband (CAB) program. The division collected feedback on the draft request for proposals from broadband stakeholders, including unserved communities across North Carolina and internet providers during May.

“This process will help us move forward quickly with our county partners to expand high-speed internet access to their unserved areas,” said NCDIT Deputy Secretary for Broadband and Digital Equity Nate Denny. “We are working to ensure that all North Carolinians get access to broadband while maintaining strong stewardship of the nearly $1 billion dedicated to this effort.”

The CAB program, funded by the federal American Rescue Plan Act, creates a partnership between the division and individual participating counties to foster broadband expansion in North Carolina as part of Governor Roy Cooper’s plan to close the digital divide. Internet service providers awarded a state convenience contract through this process will be eligible to reply to counties’ requests for service expansion in unserved and underserved areas mutually defined by the counties and the division, as well as participate in and receive reimbursement from the upcoming $100 million Broadband Pole Replacement program.

The request for proposals and the accompanying response form are available at www.ncbroadband.gov/documents/broadband-expansion-access-rfp/open and www.ncbroadband.gov/documents/rfp-response-form-broadband-expansion-and-access/open.

Vendors may submit proposals online at the State of North Carolina Interactive Purchasing System at https://www.ips.state.nc.us/ips/ until 2:00 p.m. on July 31, 2023.

More information about the NCDIT Division of Broadband and Digital Equity, the CAB program and Governor Cooper’s plan to close the digital divide in North Carolina can be obtained online at www.ncbroadband.gov.  

Avery County is the beneficiary of a grant that Spectrum was awarded that will bring gigabit high-speed internet access to more than 230 homes and small businesses in Avery County. It’s funded by the North Carolina Growing Rural Economies with Access to Technology (GREAT) Program and is approximately $2.25 million in value. Combined with funding from the County of $250,000, that was used from the Federal American Rescue Plan (Coronavirus Pandemic Recovery) money it received, the total project investment is nearly $2.65 million.

Charter Communications, Inc., is an American telecommunications and mass media company with services branded as Spectrum. Its Fiber-Optic buildout will connect Gigabit Broadband in the county with starting speeds of 300 Megabits per second (Mbps).

The GREAT grant is one of nine already awarded to Spectrum to expand fiber-optic broadband infrastructure to areas of the state that currently lack access to high-speed connection. Spectrum is North Carolina’s largest broadband provider, serving 2.8 million customers and employing nearly 11,000 residents in the state.

Avery County Manager Phillip Barrier, Jr. recently informed the county commissioners that the county has added Broadband Internet Service to an additional 200-plus county residences and more than a dozen businesses through funds received from the GREAT Grant.

The North Carolina Broadband Infrastructure Office expects to make additional GREAT Grant awards this summer.   Once all GREAT awards have been completed including contracting, that office will be moving forward with working with counties across the state in CAB opportunities.