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Gov. Cooper and Legislature announce deal for rural broadband funding

North Carolina leaders and Gov. Roy Cooper reached a deal to ensure $30 million is allocated as promised to the GREAT rural broadband program.

 “I am grateful for the work put in by legislators and legislative staff who have worked with Gov. Cooper and his team to reach this agreement,” Senator-elect Kevin Corbin said. “Expanding access to rural broadband across North Carolina, especially in the Western District has remained one of my top priority and this funding will go a long way in addressing that.”

In September, the legislature passed, and Gov. Cooper signed, legislation to allocate $30 million in federal CARES Act relief funding to North Carolina’s GREAT program, which provides grants to expand rural broadband access.

 U.S. Treasury guidance jeopardized the eligibility of the funding because of questions about whether the CARES Act-funded rural broadband projects must be complete before a Dec. 30 deadline.

“Rural broadband remains a top priority of this General Assembly and our state is fortunate to have continued revenue availability to meet this need and make flexible budget adjustments as federal rules may require,” House Speaker Tim Moore (R-Cleveland) said. 

 To avoid potential issues associated with the risk of ineligibility, the legislative and executive branch successfully negotiated a solution. The executive branch will use the flexibility afforded by state law to redirect the $30 million previously allocated to the GREAT program to other eligible expenses for which state General Fund dollars would have been used.

“This pandemic has emphasized the importance of high-speed internet for people across our state and it is critical that we continue increasing access in rural communities,” Gov. Roy Cooper said. “My administration is committed to following the law and getting maximum benefit from federal Covid relief funding, and I appreciate legislative leaders and my budget staff ensuring that funds can be used to expand internet access in North Carolina.”

The legislature will then vote on a bill early next year to appropriate the newly freed up $30 million from the General Fund to the GREAT program.

Until the legislature formally appropriates the $30 million early next year, the Office of State Budget and Management will proceed with the administrative process of reviewing grant applications from providers and preparing contracts. That process generally takes several weeks anyway, so the time delay in awarding broadband grant under this new plan will be negligible

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