ASHEVILLE — An ongoing, multifaceted effort to bring faster internet access to more people in western North Carolina is paying off from at least one funding angle in Buncombe, though some are still concerned about the costs of ‘Internet.
WNC’s most populous county will receive $3.3 million in funding from the state of North Carolina to extend internet connectivity to nearly 1,000 people who have no service or need a better service.
The money will go to service provider Frontier Communications and will benefit many people in the North Buncombe area around Weaverville. Frontier’s application for this project included over 1,000 addresses where the company could install high-speed Internet.
This list is available with the online version of this article.
Projects receiving this type of state funding are typically two years from the start date of the grant agreement, according to the North Carolina Department of Information Technology.
“I am proud that our Buncombe Commissioners have prioritized fiber optic broadband,” Commissioner Terri Wells said in a statement.
Wells has been a strong advocate for the expansion of the Internet, especially in rural areas. At the end of 2021, this advocacy paid off with the expansion of the internet in his home region of Leicester, which previously had little to no internet access.
The $3.3 million for Buncombe is just part of a $206 million total announced by Governor Roy Cooper on August 31, money from the ongoing Growing Rural Economies grant program. with access to technology, which caps the amount of annual Internet expansion funding at $4 million. , according to WNC Broadband, an organization dedicated to improving internet accessibility in the mountains.
Cooper said the new round of grants will affect nearly 85,000 households and more than 2,400 businesses in 69 of NC’s 100 counties.
“With this NC GREAT grant announcement, we continue to connect our residents to this 21st century resource,” Wells said. “I am thrilled for the many residents of North Buncombe who will soon benefit from Frontier’s high-speed fiber optic internet, and hope that we will hear of an additional project this fall benefiting residents in other parts of the county. We are committed to connecting Buncombe, and we will continue to work with our state partners to mobilize funding.
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Other counties surrounding Buncombe that will receive BIG grants from this latest round of funding include Henderson, Rutherford, Haywood, McDowell and Yancey.
Transylvania and Madison counties have also received money to expand internet services, in another round of $30 million GREAT grants announced Aug. 1.
“Thanks to this important GREAT grant, many more North Carolina families and small business owners will have the tools they need to succeed in today’s digital world,” Cooper said in a press release. announcing the latest round of grants.
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Affordability is a big deal
But while expanding high-speed Internet access in terms of infrastructure may be part of the solution, some say it’s not all.
Local businesses and community leaders spoke about the continued need for high-speed internet at the WNC Broadband Leadership Summit in April.
These leaders included Nathan Ramsey, director of the Land of Sky Regional Council, and Russ Harris, executive director of the South West Commission of Sara Nichols, regional planner.
“Early on, the Land of Sky Regional Council identified that Western North Carolina had two distinct issues in terms of digital inclusion; infrastructure and affordability,” said a summary of the conference by Ramsey, Nichols and Harris on the WNC Broadband website.
“On a per capita basis, affordability affected more people’s ability to connect to their services than rural issues,” Nichols said at the summit.
Some WNC entities approach this problem in different ways
Local and state governments have responded to affordability accordingly. Buncombe noted in a press release on the $3.3 million that any company participating in the GREAT grant program must participate in the Federal Communications Commission’s Affordable Connectivity Program, which provides eligible low-income households with a $30 discount. $ per month on high-speed Internet service or provides access to a comparable program at low cost.
At its April summit, Land of Sky set out three main goals for the future:
- Work to connect unserved areas.
- Build regional capacity by working together and cooperating with local governments, municipalities, ISPs, colleges and universities, and countless other interest groups.
- Bridging the digital divide by continuing to promote digital inclusion and literacy for underserved communities.
Dogwood Health Trust recently donated $2 million to the NC State Institute for Emerging Technologies to oversee the creation of digital inclusion plans in many WNC counties.
Additionally, Buncombe County is directing American Rescue Plan Act money to expand the local Internet to reach even more homes.
Details on this effort are forthcoming.
Any WNC residents having difficulty accessing broadband can report issues at ncbroadband.gov/north-carolina-broadband-survey.
Andrew Jones is an investigative reporter for the Asheville Citizen Times, part of the USA TODAY Network. Reach him at @arjonesreports on Facebook and Twitter, 828-226-6203 or email@example.com. Please help support this kind of journalism with asubscription at the Citizen Times.
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