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GREAT grants awarded to companies in WNC to improve broadband access for thousands

Governor Roy Cooper announced this week that nearly 85,000 households and more than 2,400 businesses in 69 counties across North Carolina are set to receive access to high-speed internet thanks to more than $206 million of Growing Rural Economies with Access to Technology (GREAT) grants. This is the state’s largest round of GREAT grant awards to date. With this announcement, over $260 million in GREAT grants have been awarded to providers since July 2022. Additional grants are expected to be announced this fall. 

“The Broadband money is being distributed to providers currently and more money is available but the providers need to apply,” said Senator Kevin Corbin. “Contact your provider and ask for an update and remind them to apply. You may call the North Carolina Broadband Office to obtain specific information on which providers have applied and where they are located. Money is being provided to all Western North Carolina counties.”

The N.C. Department of Information Technology’s (NCDIT) Broadband Infrastructure Office, part of the Division of Broadband and Digital Equity,  awarded GREAT grants to expand broadband infrastructure to the following internet service providers in WNC:

Buncombe County: Frontier Communications of The Carolinas (Frontier)

Cherokee County: Blue Ridge Mountain EMC (Blue Ridge Mountain EMC)

Graham County: Zitel LLC

Haywood County: Spectrum Southeast, LLC (Charter Communications dba Spectrum)

Henderson County: Cebridge Acquisition, LP (Optimum)

Jackson County: Spectrum Southeast, LLC (Charter Communications dba Spectrum)

Macon County: Frontier Communications of The Carolinas (Frontier)

Swain County: Zito West Holding, LLC (Zito Media)

“High-speed internet access is critical for people to work, learn, access telehealth and connect with one another,” said Governor Cooper. “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.”

As part of the application process, Senator Kevin Corbin and Rep. Karl Gillespie, and other leaders in WNC provided letters of recommendation in support of specific projects to improve internet for rural areas of the state.  

“I wrote a letter of recommendation for Zito West Holding to be granted this $3.9 million with a required $702,000 match,” said Senator Corbin. “All the counties in my district are set to receive grants with applications in and being processed.” Clay County was awarded a GREAT grant as part of the application process last month. 

Senator Corbin said that the influx of applications for providers in Western North Carolina as well as the allocation of funds distributed to this end of the state is a direct result of a regional meeting held earlier this year in Macon County that brought together service providers, state department heads, and elected officials. Senator Corbin, along with House Representative Karl Gillespie hosted the public meeting to explain the GREAT grant process and encourage providers to apply. 

For Swain County, the $3.9 million GREAT grant will connect 1,619 households and businesses. In Macon County, the $3.7 million grant to Frontier Communications will connect 2,700 households and businesses and will require a $665,000 match. Jackson County service provider Spectrum Southeast was awarded a $3.8 million grant to connect 1,156 households and requires a $674,000 match. 

“We are excited to be awarding this unprecedented amount of funding to bring high-speed internet access to such a large number of residents and businesses across the state,” said NCDIT Secretary and State Chief Information Officer Jim Weaver. “These funds will go a long way in closing the digital divide by bringing equitable access to both rural and urban communities.” 

The GREAT grant program provides matching grants to internet service providers and electric membership cooperatives that may partner with individual counties to compete for funding to expand high-speed internet service to unserved and underserved areas of the state. The GREAT grant awards are in addition to the $23.4 million awarded on July 18 and the $30.8 million awarded on August 1 of the $350 million total funding for this round.

As part of the GREAT grant eligibility requirements, all internet service provider applicants must be participating in the Affordable Connectivity Program (ACP), which provides eligible low-income households a $30 per month discount on high-speed internet service or provide access to a comparable low-cost program.

NCDIT received 305 applications for this round of GREAT grants, and internet service providers proposed to serve more than 487,000 North Carolina homes and businesses. Applications were scored based on the number of households and businesses they propose to serve, the average cost to serve those locations, and the speeds offered. Applicants must agree to provide high-speed service, defined as a minimum of 100 Megabits per second (Mbps) download and 20 Mbps upload, scalable to 100 Mbps download and 100 Mbps upload on or before December 31, 2026. All awards are contingent on final executed grant agreements with broadband provider partners.

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