By Tim Gardner
Avery County is the beneficiary of a grant that Spectrum has been 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.
“All North Carolina communities, families and businesses need access to reliable and affordable high-speed internet,” said North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper. “This round of grants means more North Carolinians will be able to take advantage of opportunities to learn, work, access health care and connect to the world.”
Avery County officials are especially elated with the GREAT Program Grant Award.
“Avery County is rural and mountainous, and many of our families have lacked access to an internet connection for too long,” said County Commission Chairwoman Martha Hicks. “But the announcement that Charter Communications is expanding its broadband network through the Governor’s GREAT grants means that more of our community will soon have high-speed internet access and increased opportunities for success in the 21st Century. Each of our county officials and residents are most happy about this wonderful news.”
State Senator Ralph Hise of Spruce Pine, added: “Charter (Communications) has an expansive footprint in our state and, as a result, will be able to quickly deploy broadband in Avery County (through the Spectrum Grant) to those who currently lack high-speed connectivity.”
Spectrum offers Internet speeds up to 1 Gigabits per second (Gbps) for both residential customers and small business clients, starting speeds of 300 Mbps and no modem fees, data caps or contracts. Spectrum also is a participant in the Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC) Affordable Connectivity Program (ACP), which makes quality, high-speed internet service available at a low — or even at no — cost to eligible families in financial need. All Spectrum Internet plans are eligible for ACP credits.
Brian Gregory, Vice President of Government Affairs at Charter Communications commented: “Governor Cooper, his administration and the North Carolina Legislature have shown tremendous leadership in embracing public-private partnerships as a vital strategy for connecting unserved communities. We also applaud Avery County officials for contributing to this project to make a meaningful difference for residents. And we commend the Legislature and Cooper administration for their support of a $100 million utility pole replacement fund as part of the state’s broadband strategy, which is paying off with significant interest and investment. In all, Spectrum proposed 60 broadband projects across 60 counties and $190 million in investment, thanks to the positive regulatory climate and investment in pole infrastructure.”
GREAT Program grants further expand Spectrum’s rural construction initiative, the centerpiece of which is the company’s approximately $5 billion investment in unserved rural communities. It includes more than $1 billion won in the Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC) Rural Digital Opportunity Fund (RDOF) auction.
The company’s RDOF expansion will provide broadband access to approximately 1 million customer locations as estimated by the FCC across 24 states — including more than 125,000 locations in North Carolina — in the coming years. Combined, Spectrum’s GREAT Program grant and RDOF buildouts in Avery County will connect 569 homes and small businesses.
Spectrum is also awaiting review of 51 additional GREAT proposals. If those are awarded, they would bring broadband to an additional 71,000 homes and small businesses in 51 counties across rural North Carolina.