Cutting-edge high-speed internet is on its way to some of North Carolina’s rural counties, Republican Senator Thom Tillis announced last month.
“This critical investment will help bridge the digital divide for North Carolina’s rural communities and deploy the resources that families need and deserve,” remarked Sen. Tillis in a recent press release.
The plan, part of the federal Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, includes $24.9 million from the U.S. Department of Agriculture to increase broadband internet access, modernizing the infrastructure of Bladen, Columbus, and Sampson Counties. This new award comes in addition to the $1.53 billion already committed to North Carolina in June as part of the Broadband Equity, Access, and Deployment (BEAD) program, the most significant expansion of high-speed internet in the nation’s history.
The newly expanded network will provide 2,674 citizens, 84 businesses, 117 farms, and four educational facilities in Bladen, Columbus, and Sampson Counties with the same technological opportunities offered to many of North Carolina’s urban areas. These renewed efforts to lessen disparate internet outcomes could not be more timely, especially considering that 54.9% of North Carolinians still lack access to these vital fiber-optic services. Even with the added $24.9 million, about 70% of North Carolina residents stillcannot purchase wired low-priced broadband internet, marking a possible need for continued future investment.
This legislation represents a continued commitment to North Carolina’s technological future for Senator Tillis. In February 2022, the Senator announced a similar plan, which included $29 million in federal funding for high-speed internet expansion in Lenoir County, benefiting 15,256 households throughout the area. As with the more recent $24.9 million pledge, last year’s investment was made possible through a bipartisan infrastructure package, illustrating the near-universal recognition of broadband’s necessity.
Additionally, North Carolina’s state government, spearheaded by Governor Cooper, has replicated many of Senator Tillis’s efforts by investing in rural counties through high-speed internet grants. Programs such as the Growing Rural Economies with Access to Technology (GREAT) grants have brought nearly $80 million to North Carolina’s rural counties, bringing digital opportunities to over 25 thousand underserved households. These state broadband subsidies seek to accomplish two goals–expanding internet access and lowering the cost of broadband through federal initiatives like the Affordable Connectivity Program (ACP).
Even with a concerted effort to extinguish the digital divide, North Carolinians still face many problems stemming from insufficient internet access. For the 1.1 million North Carolina households still lacking high-speed internet, broadband expansions like Senator Tillis’s may serve as a vital stepping stone into an increasingly competitive digital ecosystem.