Representing Western North Carolina, Senator Kevin Corbin said the issue most commonly posed to him by constituents is the lack of affordable, reliable internet access.
“It doesn’t matter if I am in Maneto or Macon County, the main question I get asked is how can I help get internet to residents in Western North Carolina,” said Senator Kevin Corbin. “I have worked with my colleagues across the state to secure millions of dollars in funding to expand broadband, but I recognize there needed to be more done to give local governments the ability to best serve their residents. What works in Swain County may not work in Clay County and no one knows that better than county leadership, which is why I am proud to sponsor Senate Bill 689, the County Broadband Authority Act.”
SB 689 is an act intended to facilitate the expansion of broadband service in unserved areas of the state by ensuring timely and nondiscriminatory access to municipal and electric membership cooperative utility poles, ducts, and conduits at just and reasonable rates. Further, it authorizes counties to provide grants to high-speed internet access service providers and to build facilities and equipment of a broadband service and to levy taxes for those purposes.
“The County Broadband Authority Act is intended to help county governments cut through the red tape that has prevented them from offering incentives and programs to expand the broadband infrastructure in their respective areas,” said Senator Corbin. “As a former county commissioner, I experienced firsthand how difficult it was to have broadband conversations on the county level while hitting roadblock after roadblock on the state level. This will fix that.”
SB 689 defines unserved area as being an area identified by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) when at least 25 megabits per second download and at least three megabits per second upload is unavailable.
To provide incentives and entice providers to expand to specific areas, SB 689 would amend current state law to allow each county to use property taxes to provide grants to high-speed internet access service providers or to build facilities and equipment of a broadband service.
“This legislation is the perfect example of private-public partnership,” said Senator Kevin Corbin. “If we have learned anything from COVID19, it is that internet access is crucial for the success of our work lives, the education of our students, and to stay connected with our friends and family. It is more important than ever that we do everything we can to ensure the residents across North Carolina have affordable, reliable access to broadband — the same as they would other essentials such as water or electricity.”
Senator Corbin said that Senate Bill 689, paired with funding from programs like the state’s GREAT grant program, rural counties across the state can be better served.
“To me this is the third leg of the stool that can support Internet in our region,” said Corbin. “First we were able to get state money through the great grants. Second, we are fortunate to have gotten federal grants of over $45 million for the seven western counties. Now we need to allow the counties themselves to help with this critical need if they choose to do so. Of course, it’s not mandatory. Each county can decide how much to participate or if to participate at all.”