Archived News

Big money coming for rural broadband

Western North Carolina’s entire legislative delegation (left to right) Mark Pless, Mike Clampitt, Kevin Corbin and Karl Gillespie - attended a broadband summit on March 21. Cory Vaillancourt photo Western North Carolina’s entire legislative delegation (left to right) Mark Pless, Mike Clampitt, Kevin Corbin and Karl Gillespie - attended a broadband summit on March 21. Cory Vaillancourt photo

More than a hundred economic development professionals, elected officials, internet service providers and interested parties from across North Carolina’s seven westernmost counties met March 21 in Franklin to acquaint themselves with the ways in which unprecedented amounts of state and federal broadband monies will be used to close the digital divide in rural Appalachia.

“We in Western North Carolina, we’re the first people to have a meeting like this. No other district like ours has had a meeting like this,” said Sen. Kevin Corbin (R-Franklin), who represents Cherokee, Clay, Graham, Jackson, Macon, Haywood and Swain counties in the General Assembly. 

It’s no coincidence that those counties have some of the worst internet connectivity and high-speed broadband availability rates in the state, and after years of work, Corbin and members of the House – Reps. Mike Clampitt, Karl Gillespie and Mark Pless joined Corbin at the meeting – are starting to make major progress. 

Corbin’s GREAT (Growing Rural Economies with Access to Technology) grants, introduced with then-representative and current Labor Commissioner Josh Dobson, have helped bring service  to some of the neediest areas in the region, $10 or $15 million at  time over the past four years. 

Now comes news that the state will inject almost $400 million into the program, $350 million of which comes from the American Rescue Plan Act, and $30 million of which comes from the state’s capital improvement fund. 

Applications by internet service providers for portions of the grant funding are due April 4, and awards are expected hopefully sometime in June. 

Related Items

Nate Denny, North Carolina’s deputy secretary for broadband and digital equity, spoke mostly on the GREAT grants but was joined by Angie Bailey, director of the broadband infrastructure office within the division of broadband and digital equity. 

“The Completing Access to Broadband program, called ‘CAB,’ is our new program, and essentially that’s a partnership between the North Carolina Department of IT and each county that wishes to participate,” Bailey said. 

The state and counties will work together mutually, Bailey said, to identify eligible areas and then create a joint RFP for providers to come in and build out infrastructure to underserved and unserved areas. There’s a required county match, but the state will provide project oversight. Right now, there’s $400 million budgeted for the CAB program. 

The problem of internet access – highspeed, or not – was lain bare during the pandemic. Some adults couldn’t work, and some children couldn’t attend remote schooling or found themselves huddled outside businesses offering free wi-fi connections. 

Graham County has the region’s highest rate of citizens with no internet access whatsoever, estimated at 36%. 

“The counties that I represent are some of the most rural counties in North Carolina, but stand to gain the most from these dollars,” said Gillespie, who represents Cherokee, Clay, Graham and Macon counties. “You start with Graham County being the most rural and the least broadband. As you move east it gets a little better, but it’s still severe in Macon County. This is going to be huge.”

Only 5.3% of Graham County residents have access to high-speed internet, defined as 100 megabits upload and 20 megabits download speed. 

Swain County is even worse; only 3% of residents have access to high-speed internet, and almost 34% have no internet access at all. 

“This is a momentous occasion, that we’re going to have the working relationship of so many different groups – between the city, the county and the providers – to be able to bring internet hopefully to everybody in Swain County,” said Clampitt, who represents Swain, Jackson and a portion of Haywood County. 

All told, the GREAT and CAB funding is only a portion of more than $1 billion appropriated; there’s another $90 million in “stopgap solutions” funding for difficult expansions, another $100 million to help internet service providers upgrade transmission poles, and another $1 million to help draw more accurate service maps. 

Leave a comment

7 comments

  • Strange Picture to Post when talking about Internet to areas that Don't have it!! But, seems quite appropriate.. Let me guess... The guy in the center just go through saying,, "But, we are actually going to do what we Promise this time,,,, and,,, Everyone else is Laughing their Arses off at him?? Did I get it right??

    How many times did we collect money, etc,, to get it in the gorge, and how many ways did we get promised we would get Fast Internet, and it Fall through, without Logical/Reasonable Explanation..

    Yea, Yea, Yea.. Put it in writing, so, we can show you what Conspiracy Theories are made of when you print an article like this again!! I mean,,, get more specific about WHERE you are going to put it... That is what I want to see.. These announcements have meant nothing with the hords of money dedicated to this in the past.. Audit maybe??? Yea.. That would be a GREAT IDEA!!

    Sure is going to be a lot of Extra Tax dollars due to Higher EVERYTHING prices,, since the posts below seem to have political connotations to them.. Shame!!

    posted by Mark Thomas

    Friday, 03/25/2022

  • Everyone has access to the internet I was in a small remote Alaskan village with no outside phone lines or power lines. Yet they had internet via satellite. Power supplied by their own generators

    posted by Brian A

    Friday, 03/25/2022

  • Feels like the general assembly has been picking their nose over this for well over a decade. Well, it's actually been 2 decades. A cursory google search will bring up the Rural Internet Access Authority which became the e-NC Authority which eventually got swallowed up by the dept of commerce and later the buck was passed onto the state's IT department. How much money has been thrown around to what end? How many doners and ne'er-do-wells have had cushy jobs and didn't get spit done? If I took 20 years to do a project for my employer, I would have probably been fired 19 years ago. I REALLY hate to put my hopes in Elon Musk, but this is where we're at.

    posted by Angry Smurf

    Friday, 03/25/2022

  • Thank you, President Biden and your fellow Democrats in Congress for passing and signing the infrastructure bill that makes this possible.

    posted by Ben Lowe

    Friday, 03/25/2022

  • Let's not forget that, while these Republicans are now anxious to take credit for these coming improvements, every member of their party in Washington opposed the bill. Political hypocrisy at it's finest.

    posted by James BUFFINTON

    Friday, 03/25/2022

  • There already exist right of ways and infrastructure that fiber optic internet can piggyback on. Every house hold and business in Western North Carolina has a telephone pole bringing electricity to it. These poles can and should be used to string fiber on and the cost would be way less then the way they are doing it now. Duke Energy owns the right of ways and poles so an agreement can be made with them and the State of North Carolina to change the regulations that will allow this. Lets do this efficiently, quickly and more economically instead of reinventing the wheel all over again.

    posted by Larry Stenger

    Wednesday, 03/23/2022

  • There already exist right of ways and infrastructure that fiber optic internet can piggyback on. Every house hold and business in Western North Carolina has a telephone pole bringing electricity to it. These poles can and should be used to string fiber on and the cost would be way less then the way they are doing it now. Duke Energy owns the right of ways and poles so an agreement can be made with them and the State of North Carolina to change the regulations that will allow this. Lets do this efficiently, quickly and more economically instead of reinventing the wheel all over again.

    posted by Larry Stenger

    Wednesday, 03/23/2022

Smokey Mountain News Logo
SUPPORT THE SMOKY MOUNTAIN NEWS AND
INDEPENDENT, AWARD-WINNING JOURNALISM
Go to top
Payment Information

/

At our inception 20 years ago, we chose to be different. Unlike other news organizations, we made the decision to provide in-depth, regional reporting free to anyone who wanted access to it. We don’t plan to change that model. Support from our readers will help us maintain and strengthen the editorial independence that is crucial to our mission to help make Western North Carolina a better place to call home. If you are able, please support The Smoky Mountain News.

The Smoky Mountain News is a wholly private corporation. Reader contributions support the journalistic mission of SMN to remain independent. Your support of SMN does not constitute a charitable donation. If you have a question about contributing to SMN, please contact us.