To increase Internet access across North Carolina, Gov. Roy Cooper launched the Connecting NC Task Force in May. Through Executive Order No. 91, the task force directs state government leaders to identify and remove barriers to affordable high-speed Internet access, eliminate the homework gap that results from students not having Internet access, and facilitate private-sector deployment of last-mile infrastructure.
“In today’s schools and workplaces, high-speed Internet is not optional. Too many North Carolinians lack Internet access they need to apply for jobs, do homework or run a small business,” Gov. Cooper said at the May announcement. “We must address this digital divide to give every community in North Carolina an equal opportunity to thrive using today’s technology.”
The creation of the Connecting NC Task Force follows specific recommendations Gov. Cooper laid out in his budget proposal to expand access to high-speed Internet throughout the state.
The governor’s budget included $35 million for efforts to expand broadband services, with $30 million of it allocated for the Growing Rural Economies with Access to Technology (GREAT) program to encourage private providers to bring broadband access specifically to underserved areas.
The GREAT program was established for eligible areas located in census blocks or portions of census blocks identified as Tier 1 counties that lack access to Internet service that provides a minimum of 10 Megabits per second (Mbps) download and 1 Mbps upload speeds. The state classifies the 40 most economically-distressed counties in the state as Tier 1 counties. The GREAT program provides matching grants to ISPs and electric membership cooperatives that compete for funding to lower financial barriers that prevent high-speed Internet service expansion in those counties.
“Too many communities across the state lack broadband speeds that are critical to doing homework, applying for a job, or seeing a doctor without leaving home. Rural parts of the state are the most dramatically affected by this digital divide,” noted Eric Boyette, State CIO and NC DIT Secretary. “The GREAT grant program is one way our state is tackling this problem.”
Applicants are scored based on the number of households, businesses and agricultural operations they propose to serve, the average cost to serve those households, and the speeds offered. Applicants receive higher awards for agreeing to provide higher speed service, defined as a minimum of 25 Mbps download and 3 Mbps upload.
Nineteen counties in North Carolina received nearly $10 million in grants, Gov. Cooper also announced in May along with NC DIT and its Broadband Infrastructure Office. Twenty-one applicants in those 19 counties received a total of $9,855,026 to bring high-speed Internet access to 9,800 households, more than 590 businesses, and agricultural operations and other community institutions like libraries, schools and hospitals. Of the 14 companies receiving grant funding, 11 are North Carolina-based small businesses, telephone cooperatives, and an electric membership cooperative.
Grants went to (by county and applicant/provider):
- Bertie, Roanoke Connect Holdings
- Bladen, Star Telephone Membership Corp
- Caswell, Open Broadband, LLC
- Chowan, JCMM Ventures
- Clay, Frontier Communications
- Columbus, Atlantic Membership Telephone Corp
- Gates, Roanoke Connect Holdings
- Greene, CenturyLink/Carolina Telephone & Telegraph and NfinityLink
- Halifax, Olsen enterprises dba Cloudwyze
- Hertford, Roanoke Connect Holdings
- Jackson, Sky-Fi Inc.
- Jones, Eastern Carolina Broadband
- Lenoir, CenturyLink/Carolina Telephone & Telegraph and Eastern Carolina Broadband
- Macon, Morris Broadband/Shivers Communications Corp
- McDowell, Morris Broadband/Shivers Communications Corp
- Northampton, Roanoke Connect Holdings
- Person, North Carolina Wireless
- Swain, Sky Wave, Inc.
- Vance, Open Broadband, LLC
The governor's full Executive Order No. 91 can be read here.
Visit this website to learn more about the GREAT program.