By Ivey Schofield
North Carolina is awarding millions of dollars to internet companies to expand broadband access to thousands of homes in Bladen, Columbus, Robeson and Scotland counties.
The money, announced recently by N.C. Gov. Roy Cooper, is part of a $206 million investment through Growing Rural Economies with Access to Technology. Sixty-nine counties are set to benefit from the funds, which Cooper said will provide high-speed internet access to nearly 85,000 households and more than 2,400 businesses in the state.
Here’s what it all means for North Carolina’s Border Belt region.
Focus Broadband, formerly known as ATMC, received $2.9 million for Bladen County.
More than 700 homes along Chicken Foot Road in Tar Heel and along U.S. 701 between Clarkton and Elizabethtown will gain access to broadband service.
The project’s estimated cost is almost $3.5 million. In a press release, Focus Broadband promised to contribute $308,000, and the county pledged a local match of $216,000.
Focus Broadband received $4 million for expansion in Columbus County.
The company wants to bring broadband access to more than 1,500 homes in the Evergreen, Acme-Delco and Prosper communities.
The project is expected to cost $5.6 million. Focus Broadband and the county guaranteed contributions of $821,000 each. The state gave $4 million.
Focus Broadband was also awarded $4 million in Robeson County.
More than 1,800 homes in Parkton and the Lumber Bridge community will gain broadband access.
The project is expected to cost almost $4.9 million. Focus Broadband pledged to contribute $536,000, and the county promised $350,000.
Spectrum Southeast received more than $1.5 million to provide high-speed access to more than 200 homes and businesses in Scotland County.
Scott Pryzwansky, spokesperson for Spectrum, did not specify where the homes and businesses are located.
The project is expected to cost $5.7 million. Spectrum will spend $246,000, and the county has promised to contribute $25,000, Pryzwansky said.
When will access be available?
Focus Broadband representatives estimate that laying the fiber optic will likely take at least two years. Due to supply-chain issues caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, however, it may take longer.
In addition, companies like Focus Broadband are working on other grant-funded projects.
Robeson County received a GREAT grant in 2020 to expand broadband in areas such as Proctorville, Orrum and Fairmont. That work is expected to be finished next year.
What is the cost?
The monthly cost of internet access typically varies by speed. Focus Broadband customers pay up to $78 per month.
The federal Affordable Connectivity Program offers some residents discounts to make broadband more accessible for everyone. Qualifying individuals include those who earn incomes at or below 200% of the federal poverty line or those who participate in programs such as food assistance, WIC, Medicaid and public housing. It’s also available for families with school-age children who qualify for free or reduced-price lunch.
Residents could get a $100 discount for a laptop or tablet bought through a participating provider, up to $75 per month for internet on tribal lands and up to $30 per month everywhere else.
Since Focus Broadband offers a 30 Mbps internet package for $30 per month, some customers can get high-speed internet at no cost.
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