By Nathan Ham
The Avery County Chamber of Commerce announced that they have received a grant in the amount of $100,000 to help cover part of the costs of expanding broadband internet services in the county.
The grant came from the Appalachian Regional Commission (ARC) with the purpose of reaching households and businesses in Avery County that have no access to broadband internet or are very limited in what broadband internet access they do have. The ARC was established in 1965 by Congress and consists of the governors of 13 Appalachian states and a federal co-chair who work to innovate, strengthen and support economic growth in Appalachia.
According to statistics provided by the North Carolina Broadband Infrastructure, 77 percent of Avery County residents have access to internet with speeds of 25 megabits per second (mbps). While that number has certainly climbed over the past few years, it is still behind the numbers of other surrounding mountain counties. In Watauga County, 97 percent of residents have internet access of at least 25 mbps while Yancey County is at 98.7 percent, Caldwell County is at 96.9 percent, Wilkes County is at 99 percent and Ashe County is at 90.8 percent.
This broadband expansion will benefit both residents and businesses in the area that have been hoping for better internet access.
“As we grow as a county, we will need to be able to serve our county with better broadband infrastructure,” said Melynda Pepple, the director of the Avery County Chamber of Commerce. “This can increase the number of businesses coming to the area, or just help the businesses we already have. It will also help our residents. It’s really for everybody.”
The state as a whole has been trying to improve the internet access for residents from the mountains to the sea. North Carolina has secured federal funding grants in excess of $120 million since 2010 to improve internet speeds and infrastructure across the state.
To complete this goal of expanding internet access in Avery County, the chamber of commerce needs to find a company to design, build, operate and maintain a network to provide the services as well as provide a minimum of $100,000 to match the ARC grant funds.
Proposals will be accepted until March 30 with the project start date being June 1. The expected completion date for the project is May 31, 2019.