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Western counties receive ‘GREAT’ news on broadband

A map of broadband adoption in North Carolina shows most Western North Carolina counties, with the exception of Buncombe, still struggle to attract broadband providers. A map of broadband adoption in North Carolina shows most Western North Carolina counties, with the exception of Buncombe, still struggle to attract broadband providers. NConemap photo

The latest round of state grants for broadband infrastructure have landed, and represent a big win for six Western North Carolina counties that have been left on the wrong side of the digital divide.

“The broadband money is being distributed to providers currently and more money is available,” said Sen. Kevin Corbin (R-Franklin).

Several years ago, Corbin spearheaded the GREAT (Growing Rural Economies with Access to Technology) grants program with then-House rep and current Republican Labor Commissioner Josh Dobson.

Since then, the program has dumped tens of millions of dollars into providing high-speed internet service in WNC for customers who often have no other options.

All told, this round of grants totals almost $19 million across Cherokee, Graham, Haywood, Jackson, Macon and Swain counties. After the $4.25 million in required matching funds from county governments, the total investment in broadband expansion comes to around $23 million.

Those funds will help build out service to nearly 8,400 locations at an average cost of $2,750 per location.

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According to letters issued by the North Carolina Office of Digital Infrastructure’s Division of Broadband and Digital Equity on Aug. 30, each of the six counties will see varying amounts granted to private service providers that were awarded the funds after a competitive bidding process in which the providers who proposed serving the most people for the least amount of money were selected.

In Cherokee County, Blue Ridge Mountain EMC of Young Harris, Georgia, will receive $3.7 million from the state and $1.6 million from the county to establish service at approximately 1,778 locations.

Zitel LLC, of Moneta, Virginia will serve approximately 897 locations upon receipt of $2.7 million from the state and $470,000 from Graham County government.

Haywood County will contribute around $150,000 on top of a state grant of $870,000, which will provide service to approximately 182 locations through Charlotte-based Spectrum Southeast.

Spectrum Southeast will also receive more than $3.8 million in state funding, along with a local match of $670,000, to enable service at 1,196 Jackson County locations.

Norwalk, Connecticut-based Frontier Communications was selected as the provider for Macon County, and will receive $3.8 million in state funding as well as $670,000 from county government to provide service to approximately 2,700 locations.

Swain County’s $700,000 match of the state’s $3.9 million grant will go to Zito West Holding LLC of Coudersport, Pennsylvania, to bring broadband to 1,619 currently unserved locations.

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) defines broadband as having a transmission speed of at least 25 megabits down and 3 megabits up. The FCC says only 59% of North Carolinians subscribe to a service with those speeds.

According to a 2019 report, broadband access is anything but universal in the mountains and due to topography many homes and businesses can’t get it, even from satellite feeds.

All six counties receiving funding from this round of GREAT grants report more than 20% of residents as having no access to the internet at all. Graham County (36%) and Swain County (34%) top the list of least-connected WNC counties.

Nate Denny, deputy secretary of broadband and digital equity in the N.C. Office of Digital Infrastructure, said that once the final grant agreements are signed in about a month, contractors will have two years to deliver the projects.

“We know that high-speed internet — affordable and reliable high-speed internet — is absolutely central to modern life,” Denny said. “It allows people access to education and telemedicine, to look for a job and to recruit businesses locally. You have to have that connection. We’re excited because this is just the first of multiple rounds of funding to connect every North Carolinian.”

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12 comments

  • Two "tips" about Frontier.

    1st: The guys in the trucks, on the ground, hate Frontier as much
    as we do. So don't take your hate out on them.

    2nd: Frontier "Internet" fall under the N.C. State Attorney Generals Office,
    not Public Utility Commission. File a complaint with the Attorney Generals Office
    and you get results !!!

    Guess who told me this? One of their guys in the trucks!!
    And it worked!! Within 2 days of the complaint I had service.

    posted by thom

    Friday, 09/09/2022

  • Rachel,

    That's because satellite internet is the biggest rip-off known to man. I was forced to use it for almost 2 years when we moved into our new home. Had I known that 10 years ago I never would've made the purchase when we did it. Luckily, we had someone from Frontier that didn't know the cut-off point and helped us out in setting up a line in our area. I'll be glad when Spectrum moves out towards my area because I do alot of movie streaming at home. Also, with the company I work for we will be able to WFH if something comes up involving being sick so that's a added bonus.

    posted by Eric

    Tuesday, 09/06/2022

  • How in the f- I mean - world does Frontier get public money for this? The company that originally bought Verizon assets (and customers) with the stipulation that they would expand the service and service area, then declined to do so? Didn't they get sued by the state or the FCC for that?
    My heart goes out to Macon County, honestly. That's the shortest straw out of all these companies.

    We've been using Verizon hotspots but the signal has deteriorated the past 2 years and the 15GB data cap for a family of gamers and streamers.

    I've been on Starlink's waiting list since February 2020 with "service expected" timeline punted 3 times. I'm so burned out from frustrated from all this. The lobbyists from these tel-coms can go jump in the rockiest part of the Tuck.

    posted by Filmore Streamers

    Monday, 09/05/2022

  • Will Cove Creek Road, Sylva, NC be able to have more satellite internet service?

    posted by Grace

    Monday, 09/05/2022

  • I will believe it when I get it(working).
    Frontier has a LONG, LONG history of taking
    gov. money and doing NOTHING!!(for the public)
    And YES...Hughesnet is a RIP-OFF!!

    posted by thom

    Monday, 09/05/2022

  • I will believe it when I get it(working).
    Frontier has a LONG, LONG history of taking
    gov. money and doing NOTHING!!(for the public)
    And YES...Hughesnet is a RIP-OFF!!

    posted by thom

    Monday, 09/05/2022

  • Y’all need to reach out to Telemetrics. We had the same service issues with HughesNet and switched. I have nothing but good to say about Sam and his company.

    posted by Anonymous

    Monday, 09/05/2022

  • Lies, I have Hughesnet who claims to have 25mbs but never delivers. After my pathetic 10gb cap is up, I spend the next 28 days with ZERO MBS, YES, ZERO. And I have recorded proof of this and a Hughesnets saying they won’t do anything and just pay them more. I pay $180 for this. The internet problem is MUCH worse in WNC than this describes.

    posted by Rachel B

    Sunday, 09/04/2022

  • The FCC needs to up their game. I have Hughesnet and it advertises as 25up but it’s never there fast. And with a 10GB cap, I get ZERO MBS SPEEDS for 28 days a month. I have multiple Hughesnet employees saying I have that speed and won’t do anything about it. Unless of course I pay more…I pay $180 as is… the internet problem in WNC is worst than what’s being told

    posted by Rachel B

    Sunday, 09/04/2022

  • WHEN? When? when? We can we expect Broadband in Swain County . . . or, is it something that my grandchildren will have? 2030? 40? I'll believe it when I see it. lol.

    P.S. hey Scott Alderson . . . the only thing worse than HughesNet is Frontier. We don't really have much of a choice in WNC. I guess that's why Frontier gets by with such lousy, on-again-off-again service. I'm at the library right now, because my service is down for the FOURTH time in two months - 10 days for a tech to show up... I feel YOUR PAIN. lol

    posted by robert wilson

    Sunday, 09/04/2022

  • The article doesn't reveal when Broadband services are expected to be available, specifically in Swain County. I pay $126.00 per month for Frontier and it's down more than up. So tell us, give us something to live for . . . when, when when will Broadband be available? In my lifetime? or is it something for my grandchildren to look forward to?

    posted by robert wilson

    Sunday, 09/04/2022

  • So, how will I know that my particular address and location will be connected? I have no DSL or cable or fiber - only really really bad Hughes Net satellite. Thanks. Side note: Ironically, I cant even send this comment message because the “Captcha’ robot thing says it cant connect to the server LOL!

    posted by Scott Alderson

    Sunday, 09/04/2022

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