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Local leaders discuss rural broadband funding heading to WNC

Cory Vaillancourt
Sen. Kevin Corbin (R-Franklin) speaks at a broadband summit in Franklin on March 21.

Unprecedented amounts of federal infrastructure dollars are pouring into states. In North Carolina, that money’s been set aside for one of rural Appalachia’s biggest problems – a disconnect from the internet.

More than a hundred local leaders attended a broadband summit this week in Franklin called by Sen. Kevin Corbin to discuss what that money will mean for their communities.

“This is a momentous occasion, that we’re going to have the working relationship of so many different groups – between the city, the county and the providers – to be able to bring internet hopefully to everybody in Swain County at some point,” said Rep. Mike Clampitt.

Clampitt currently represents part of Haywood, all of Jackson and all of Swain County, which is one of the worst counties for connectivity in the west. Just 3 percent of Swain County has access to high-speed internet – defined in this case as 100 megs up, 20 megs down – and 34 percent have no access to internet at all.

But that’s going to change slowly over the next five years, following the approval of $350 million in grant funding from the American Rescue Plan, and an additional $400 million from the Investing in Infrastructure and Jobs Act. Along with other state and federal funds, investment totals nearly a billion dollars for rural connectivity, statewide.

That’s great news, especially in Cherokee, Clay and Graham counties, represented by

Karl Gillespie in the state House.

“The counties I represent are some of the most rural in North Carolina that stand to gain the most from these dollars,” Gillespie said.

The grant funding will be used to incentivize internet service providers to build out infrastructure in areas they’ve previously deemed too unprofitable to serve in the past due to geography, low population or remote locations.

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