Thursday, December 8, 2022

Pender County earns state grant to expand internet service

Pender County was one of 69 counties to receive state grant funding to expand internet access. (Port City Daily/file)

PENDER COUNTY — The state announced Wednesday that more than $206 million in grants was awarded to 69 counties for access to high-speed internet, and Pender is one of them.

The Growing Rural Economies with Access to Technology (GREAT) funding has given out over $260 million to internet providers since July. The new round of funding will impact nearly 85,000 households and more than 2,400 businesses in the state.

Pender County’s ATMC, Focus Broadband, was awarded funding to expand its broadband infrastructure. Focus Broadband was one of 305 applicants, proposed to serve more than 487,000 North Carolina homes and businesses. Applications were scored on the number of households proposed to serve, the average cost to serve those locations and the speeds offered.

“High-speed internet access is critical for people to work, learn, access telehealth and connect with one another,” Gov. Roy Cooper said in a press release. “Thanks to this significant GREAT grant award funding, many more North Carolina families and small business owners will have the tools they need to succeed in today’s digital world.”

The GREAT grant program provides matching grants to internet service providers and electric membership cooperatives to expand high-speed internet to unserved and underserved communities in the state.

According to the North Carolina Department of Information Technology, over one million statewide households lack access to high-speed internet, cannot afford it or don’t have the skills needed to take advantage of the digital economy. Gov. Cooper is released a $1-billion strategy to close the digital divide by investing federal American Rescue Plan funds toward access and digital literacy.

As part of the grant program, internet service provider applicants must be participating in the Affordable Connectivity Program, which offers low-income households a $30 per month discount on their service or a comparable low-cost program.

Internet providers must also agree to provide high-speed service, defined as a minimum of 100 megabits per second (Mbps) download and 20 Mbps upload on or before Dec. 31, 2026.

Over the last two months, NCDIT awarded more than $54 million of the $350 million available in total funding, which included money for Spectrum Southeast, LLC in New Hanover County.

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