WNC Officials Seek Rural Broadband Solutions

Jan 23, 2017

Representatives cite adequate broadband as essential to economic development

As technology advances, Basic access to broadband internet is essential to everything from economic development to education. Yet access is lacking in many areas throughout Western North Carolina, and officials like state Representative Kevin Corbin want to better connect the region.

“I think it’s lacking in most rural areas, and it certainly is lacking here. In Macon County, internet is certainly available, and is available in most areas, but when you talk about high speed, it’s very limited. When you get closer to downtown and closer to the major highways it tends to be there, but in the outlying areas it’s pretty sparse, as far as high-speed internet.”

According to an FCC report from last year, North Carolina ranks ninth in the nation in overall broadband deployment. But just one percent of its residents without internet access live in urban areas, while 89 percent—or roughly 640,000 people—live in rural areas like Macon County.

“From what we’ve seen, we’re probably about average as far as rural counties, if you compare to other areas of North Carolina. The issue is as you get further out, it gets tougher to get that.”

Corbin is starting his first term in the North Carolina House, where he will represent District 120—consisting of Clay, Graham, Cherokee and Macon Counties—the westernmost district in the state, which is heavily rural. The goal of expanding his district’s broadband infrastructure is nothing new to the freshman representative, nor to the region.

Prior to his new job, Corbin served as a Macon County Commissioner for six years. During that time he says the county mapped out the areas where it lacked access to high speed internet, and then communicated with local service providers to determine what could be done to better connect those areas.

“One thing I plan to do as a representative is to encourage—and I’ve already had some initial conversations with the other three counties, that being Clay County, Cherokee County and Graham County—to do the same thing; identify those areas where you have good internet service, and where you don’t. So then you have to determine ‘how do you get it to those places that don’t have it?’, and that’s where we sort of are. I think that’s what needs to happen in all of our rural counties.”

Fellow Republican and freshman representative Mike Clampitt, of neighboring District 119, echoed Corbin in an interview with WCQS’ Jeremy Loeb.

“We have a very sparse availability of broadband. Currently there are no proposals on the table. What I would like to see personally to happen is some competition with that. Currently we have single providers in WNC, so that encompasses that we don’t have any competition, so if we can have competition and other companies come in, I would probably speculate that the broadband service would get expanded at an affordable rate.”

Representative Corbin also indicated that he is looking at resources currently available for the task, such as the State Parks and Recreation Fund.