By Tim Gardner
Nearly 7,000 households and 374 businesses in 12 North Carolina counties–including Avery– are set to receive high-speed internet courtesy of more than $23.4 million in grants, Governor Roy Cooper has announced.
The N.C. Department of Information Technology’s (NCDIT) Broadband Infrastructure Office has awarded Growing Rural Economies with Access to Technology (GREAT) grants to expand broadband infrastructure in the following counties (with their respective Internet carriers):
Alexander: Yadkin Valley TMC (Yadtel | Zirrus)
Avery: Spectrum Southeast, LLC
Bertie: Spectrum Southeast, LLC
Chowan: ATMC (Focus Broadband)
Clay: Blue Ridge Mountain EMC
Cleveland: Spectrum Southeast, LLC
Davidson: Yadkin Valley TMC (Yadtel | Zirrus)
Gaston: Spectrum Southeast, LLC
Hyde: Connect Holding II LLC (Brightspeed)
Lincoln: Spectrum Southeast, LLC
New Hanover: Spectrum Southeast, LLC
Stanly: Windstream North Carolina, LLC
“Reliable and affordable high-speed internet is a necessity for all North Carolinians to work, learn, connect and access online health care,” Governor Cooper said. “These GREAT grants awards will help thousands more North Carolina families and businesses across the state access high-speed internet and the opportunities it brings.”
To be eligible, applicants must enroll in the Affordable Connectivity Program (ACP), which provides eligible low-income households a $30 per month discount on high-speed internet service or provide access to a comparable low-cost program.
Avery County Manager Phillip Barrier, Jr. released the following statement about the “234 homes and business are pledged to be helped with this grant. Spectrum is the company that is awarded the grant on the county’s behalf. The commissioners pledged $250,000 of the American Rescue Plan (funds) toward the grant. We are very excited about the news and hope the contracts and paperwork do not slow down the project. The Avery County Commissioners have a goal for affordable reliable internet for all households in Avery County. This will help us get closer to that goal being achieved. The county wants to thank Spectrum for their commitment to Avery County.”
The grants are part of Governor Cooper’s plan to invest nearly $2 billion in federal and state funds to close the digital divide in North Carolina. The GREAT program provides matching grants to internet service providers and electric membership cooperatives that partner with individual counties across the state to compete for funding to expand high-speed internet service to its unserved areas.
“These awards signify the state’s commitment to partnering with internet service providers and counties to ensure North Carolina homes and businesses can participate in the digital economy,” said NCDIT Secretary and State Chief Information Officer James Weaver. “We are awarding GREAT grants on a rolling basis throughout July and August to expedite the distribution of all these critical funds.”
Those interested can access further details about the ACP and how to get $30 per month reliable, high-speed internet packages offered by internet service providers by logging online to: getinternet.gov.
NCDIT received 305 applications for this $350 million round of GREAT grants, and internet service providers submitted proposals for projects that would serve more than 487,000 homes and businesses in the state.
Applications are scored based on the number of households and businesses they propose to serve, the average cost to serve those locations and the speeds offered. Applicants must agree to provide high-speed service, defined as a minimum of 100 Megabits per second (Mbps) download and 20 Mbps upload, scalable to 100 Mbps download and 100 Mbps upload on or before December 31, 2026. All awards are contingent on final executed grant agreements with these broadband provider partners.
Roughly $840 million of the state’s American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds received as part of the Federal Coronavirus (Covid-19) Pandemic Recovery money is going toward the Growing Rural Economies with Access to Technology (GREAT) grant, the Completing Access of Broadband (CAB) program and the Broadband Stop Gap Solutions (BSGS) project. Each helps local governments and internet providers to expand, update and enhance online services.
While these programs ease the burden of poor Internet connection, securing the funding is a long and often, difficult process. Applications for the GREAT funds were due to be submitted in April, but Avery County officials are elated to get the requested $250,000 in GREAT grant funding to compliment the county’s $3 million received in (ARPA) funds from the Coronavirus Pandemic Recovery money.
Barrier, Jr. said that Avery County will also apply for additional funding next through the CAB program and then other sources.
But even if Avery doesn’t get additional financial assistance, the county will continue with broadband expansion on its own using the funds it has obtained, he added.
More information about the NCDIT Division of Broadband and Digital Equity can be obtained online at: ncbroadband.gov.