Rural broadband access in Western North Carolina has seen funding and supportive legislation in recent months.
BPR spoke to those who have been working on the issue for years about what these strides could mean.
Attendees at this week’s Otto Community Development meeting are tired of talking about how bad their internet is. Suzanne Mandler moved to Otto from Florida. She says her family put off their move until they were sure there was internet access in Macon County.
“So we put off coming to town until that happened and when we got here we realized - it sucks. Can I say that? It is terrible,”says Mandler.
Governor Roy Cooper announced almost $10 million in grants last month for 19 rural counties. In Western North Carolina, four companies in Clay, Swain, Jackson and Macon counties will receive funds.
Sarah Thompson, who runs the Southwestern Commission, says this funding won’t completely solve the rural internet problem. Last year, the organization did a survey and found that most people in rural Western North Carolina are not happy with their access. This summer, the organization will map out assets such as cell phone towers to find what can be used to increase wireless internet access.
“Rural internet access in the region is going to be achieved one community at a time. If there was just one regional solution at this time then we would have found it,” says Thompson.
Thompson hopes this funding will create greater competition to make service better.
“So we need some providers to come in who will try to do a better job and once they start taking customers from incumbent providers maybe they will start to improve their service,” she explains.
A group at the Otto Community Development Organization have been working to improve internet access for about the last 4 years. The organization has grown into nonprofit Little T Broadband.
Retiree Tony Deakins is the CEO.
“We don’t have to do a lot of educating, with people asking, ‘Why are you doing this?’ Now we don’t have to justify it we just have to answer: ‘How are you going to do it ?’”
Deakins plans to lease fiber from another company to improve access in the Tessentee region of Otto first. He thinks that it will take about $3 million dollars to build up the area but he is confident that increased speeds will be happening by next year. The group just released a request for service provider proposals.