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Avery Among Fifteen Counties to Receive State Funds to Help Complete High-Speed Internet Connection

By Tim Gardner

The North Carolina Department of Information Technology’s (NCDIT) Division of Broadband and Digital Equity announced on June 17 that $67 million in Completing Access to Broadband (CAB) program awards to connect 15,835 households and businesses to high-speed internet in fifteen counties across the state.  Avery is the only county in the North Carolina High Country to receive this funding through a program that creates a partnership with local governments to close the digital divide.

These projects will be funded by nearly $35 million from the federal American Rescue Plan awarded by NCDIT, nearly $16 million from counties, and more than $16 million from selected broadband providers.  

The CAB program’s procurement process allows counties to partner with NCDIT to identify areas that need access, solicit proposals from prequalified internet service providers, and quickly make awards. Awardees must agree to provide high-speed service that reliably meets or exceeds speeds of 100 Mbps download and 100 Mbps upload.

Mbps stands for “Megabits per second” and refers to download and upload speeds.  However, there’s another very similar acronym that means something different: MBps, which is “Megabytes per second.” A megabyte is equal to 8 bits and refers to the size of a downloaded file or the amount of data that’s been transferred to a computer over the internet. Megabits (Mbps) has a small ‘b’ in its abbreviation, while Megabytes (MBps) includes a large “B” in its abbreviation.

“Through these CAB awards, more North Carolinians will be able to access affordable and reliable high-speed internet so they can participate in our increasingly digital world,” said Governor Roy Cooper. “I appreciate the partnership among NCDIT, county leaders, and broadband providers in helping close our state’s digital divide.”

The division made the following awards to the following counties with the listed companies to perform their broadband work:

• Avery County: SkyBest Communications, Inc.

• Beaufort County: Connect Holding II, LLC (Limited Liability Company) with (Brightspeed)

• Cabarrus County: Windstream North Carolina, LLC

• Chatham County: Connect Holding II, LLC (Brightspeed)

• Chowan County: ATMC (FOCUS Broadband)

• Cleveland County: Spectrum Southeast, LLC (Charter Communications)

• Haywood County: Skyrunner, Inc.

• Jones County: Connect Holding II, LLC Brightspeed) 

• Lee County: Spectrum Southeast, LLC (Charter Communications)

• McDowell County: Skyrunner, Inc.

• Pamlico County: Connect Holding II, LLC (Brightspeed)

• Pasquotank County: Connect Holding II, LLC (Brightspeed)

• Perquimans County: ATMC (FOCUS Broadband)

• Pitt County: Connect Holding II, LLC (Brightspeed)

• Union County: Windstream North Carolina, LLC

An evaluation committee, consisting of two individuals from the county and two from the NCDIT, received and reviewed two bids in response to Avery County’s scope of work. The committee members were: Phillip Barrier, Jr., Avery County Manager; Arizona Gragg, Avery County Finance/Information Technology Specialist; Angie Bailey, Broadband Infrastructure Office Director; and Jeff Brooks, Broadband Infrastructure Office Solutions Specialist.

The committee met and selected the following bid vendor for a contract award based on the evaluation criteria set out in that scope of work:

*Description: Broadband deployment to unserved and underserved locations in Avery County

*Selected Vendor: SkyBest Communications, Inc.

*Cost: The total project cost is $9,999,410.12

*The average cost per location is $10,459.63

*Contract Term: Two (2) years to construct the network (by October 31, 2026), plus three (3) years to maintain the network and offer service to


Requirements for using Eligible Broadband Serviceable Locations (BSLs) for projects are addressed in the CAB Program Guidance, the Scope of Work, and the data template required for submission of mapping locations. If the number of Eligible Locations in the Mapping Data differs from the number of Locations Listed in the EBS Application Form, the number of locations in the mapping data supersedes the other data sources. NCDIT analyzes location data to remove ineligible locations such as served locations, locations protected by other grant awards, duplicate locations, etc.  If a project is selected for award, it will be contracted for building to the approved eligible locations only. When there is a significant difference in the number of locations submitted versus the approved eligible locations, and a project is selected for award, NCDIT may choose to negotiate with the respondent about the final project cost.  Evaluators should be aware that the average cost per location may also be impacted in these situations.

Unserved locations for the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funded programs in North Carolina are defined as locations without access to fixed terrestrial internet service, through Fiber, Cable, or non-mobile Licensed Fixed Wireless technologies, of at least 25mb/s Download and 3mb/s Upload speeds. Underserved locations are defined as locations without access to fixed terrestrial internet service of at least 100mb/s Download and 20mb/s Upload speeds, but greater than 25mb/s Download and 3mb/s Upload speeds.

The Proposed Mapping Summary for Avery County includes:

*Total Eligible Broadband Serviceable Locations Proposed-956 Locations 

*Unserved Locations Proposed-956 Locations (93.45 percent of Total Unserved in County)

*Total Underserved Locations Proposed-0 (0 percent of Total Underserved Locations in County)

*Fiber Locations Proposed-956

*Cable Locations Proposed-0

*Fixed Wireless Locations Proposed-0

*Average Download Speed Proposed-1000 Mb/s

*Average Upload Speed Proposed-1000 Mb/s

An elated Barrier, Jr. offered the following quotes to High Country Press about the County receiving the funding:  “The Avery County Board of Commissioners and myself are overly grateful with the announcement about our first CAB Broadband state grant. Affordable, reliable internet has been a goal of our current and members of our former Boards of Commissioners. Our Avery County Government plans to submit a second CAB grant to help further the goal of fiber going to every home in the county.  We look forward to working with SkyBest-SkyLine to provide the service. We would also like to thank the Department of Information and Technology staff members for their role in this successful grant.”

NCDIT Secretary and State Chief Information Officer Jim Weaver stated: “By partnering directly with county leaders, we can focus on their individual community needs and together make decisions that will benefit their constituents.  Thanks to our extensive mapping, previous prequalification process, and internet service providers’ responsiveness, we posted these counties’ scopes of work in March and April and worked with them to make awards for new broadband projects in less than three months.”  

These CAB program awards add to the more than $356 million in Growing Rural Economies with Access to Technology (GREAT) grants and previous CAB funding awarded in 2022 and 2023 that are set to connect more than 140,000 North Carolina households and businesses to high-speed internet. The GREAT grants and CAB program provide matching grants to internet service providers that may partner with individual North Carolina counties to compete for funding to expand high-speed internet service to unserved and underserved areas of the state.

In addition, NCDIT has launched three new information sections at ncbroadband.gov/dashboards that display details and progress on programs funded by the federal American Rescue Plan Act as part of Governor Cooper’s plan to completely stop the digital divide. The dashboards, which are updated monthly, will show the above CAB program awards for each county, starting in July.

More information about the NCDIT Division of Broadband and Digital Equity and Governor Cooper’s plan can be obtained by logging online to: ncbroadband.gov.