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Broadband in WNC gets a $16 million boost

Ridgeline of the Blue Ridge Mountains
James St. John/Wikimedia Commons
Internet dead zones are common in WNC, especially in the mountainous parts of the state.

Residents of eight Western North Carolina counties could see improved internet access in the next three years because of federal grant funding.

The GREAT (Growing Rural Economies with Access to Technology) grant program will provide more than $16 million to boost broadband infrastructure in Western North Carolina. The latest round of federal funding aims to expand affordable, high-speed internet in underserved areas.

In total, the GREAT program – funded by American Rescue Plan Act – is in the process of distributing $350 million to counties throughout North Carolina, according to a press release from Governor Roy Cooper.

Internet service providers in Buncombe, Cherokee, Clay, Graham, Jackson, Macon, Swain, and Transylvania counties will receive a lump sum to install high-speed broadband in regions of the state that have historically lacked quality access.

 Cherokee, Graham, and Swain counties have some of the lowest broadband availability in the state.
BPR News/ NC One Map
Cherokee, Graham, and Swain counties have some of the lowest broadband availability in the state.

In Swain County, nearly 9% of households don’t have internet that reaches a 25 Mbps download speed — the minimum to qualify as high-speed. Nearly half of the households in Swain County lack any broadband subscription. A $1.6 million boost will aid an estimated 457 residents and 91 businesses.

Transylvania County will receive the largest amount of funding in the round, with $4 million to bring better broadband access to nearly 650 households and about 50 businesses.

In total, the GREAT funding will support proposed high-speed internet for 5,291 households and 426 businesses across the region.

The eight WNC counties receiving GREAT funding.
N.C. Department of Information Technology
The eight WNC counties receiving GREAT funding.

To qualify for a grant, providers must offer eligible low-income households up to $30 in discounts per month on high-speed internet service or provide access to a comparable low-cost program. On qualifying Tribal lands, the service discount increases to $75 per month. Additionally, residents can receive up to a $100 discount on qualifying devices with internet access.

Discounts are based on household income, which must be 200% or less than the Federal Poverty Guideline. Households that participate in government assistance programs like SNAP, Medicaid, WIC, and other programs are also eligible. To apply, visit here.

Out of 104 eligible applications in 58 counties, the state’s Broadband Infrastructure Office selected providers for 33 counties. Applications were ranked by the number of households and businesses they propose to serve, the average cost to serve those locations, and the speeds offered.

Laura Hackett joined Blue Ridge Public Radio in June 2023. Originally from Florida, she moved to Asheville more than six years ago and in that time has worked as a writer, journalist, and content creator for organizations like AVLtoday, Mountain Xpress, and the Asheville Area Chamber of Commerce. She has a degree in creative writing from Florida Southern College, and in 2023, she completed the Craig Newmark Graduate School of Journalism at CUNY's Product Immersion for Small Newsrooms program. In her free time, she loves exploring the city by bike, testing out new restaurants, and hanging out with her dog Iroh at French Broad River Park.