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Infrastructure bill could help ease WNC's most nagging problem - internet access

Matt Bush
Asheville mayor Esther Manheimer (left) speaks at a press conference December 9th outside of the West Asheville library about the infrastructure bill passed by Congress and signed by President Biden

A bipartisan group of Western North Carolina leaders hailed the recently passed federal infrastructure bill as a way to make significant progress on one of the region’s most pressing problems – internet access.

Many of the 4% of North Carolinians that live in an area without any broadband infrastructure do so in the mountains says Asheville mayor Esther Manheimer.  “While that may sound like a great place to go vacation, it’s not very functional if you’re trying to get an education or work for a living,” the mayor said during a press conference Thursday afternoon outside of the West Asheville library.

The pandemic only made the lack of connection more glaring.  Dr. William Sederburg retired to the mountains after serving as president of three different colleges and universities, as well as 12 years as a Republican state senator in Michigan.  He’s now the chair of the WNC Broadband Project, and details one such way they had to go to great lengths to get students internet access for remote learning.

“ We did a survey, and found that 13% of the students in Western North Carolina had no internet service at home," Sederburg said.  "So we and other organizations worked together to provide hot spots to these students.  You can walk into the library and check out a hot spot that you can take home and have internet connectivity through your cell phone.”

Under the infrastructure bill, North Carolina will receive at least $100 million to help with broadband.  That includes money eligible residents will be able to apply for to pay for internet access through what is called the Affordability Connectivity Benefit.

Matt Bush joined Blue Ridge Public Radio as news director in August 2016. Excited at the opportunity the build up the news service for both stations as well as help launch BPR News, Matt made the jump to Western North Carolina from Washington D.C. For the 8 years prior to coming to Asheville, he worked at the NPR member station in the nation's capital as a reporter and anchor. Matt primarily covered the state of Maryland, including 6 years of covering the statehouse in Annapolis. Prior to that, he worked at WMAL in Washington and Metro Networks in Pittsburgh, the city he was born and raised in.