Cooper: $206M grants will expand internet access in 69 counties in NC

Rural Moore County residents are forced to move or wait for high-speed internet service, and their frustration is growing while their access is not.

This widespread challenge affects citizens across America, and as the social and demographic trends of rural areas change, so do the statistics and problems. Adults in rural areas have reported high-speed internet access as a major problem in a 2018 Pew Research Center survey.

With pandemic restrictions, this major problem becomes more of a socioeconomic issue because people are more dependent on the internet.

Welfare offers discount internet services, but their specific services may not be accessible in rural areas. While welfare assistance is available for low-income persons, the struggle to attain high-speed internet can exhaust the finances of the middle-class down to lower-income citizens.

Without high-speed internet, access to emergency notices, educational data and new laws is a struggle, leaving rural residents disadvantaged.

After submitting a casework request, Moore County resident Drew Bishop who lives five miles from Carthage city limits was advised by Senator Richard Burr’s staff to complete the same request again.

“We have exhausted all of our options for internet providers that can meet our needs or fall within a realistic budget for our family,” Bishop said. “I know that we are not the only family facing this issue in the area, especially with everything going on right now due to COVID-19 and the remote return to the upcoming school year.

“My wife works for the IT department for FirstHealth, and I work remotely as an estimator for a construction company. I also run a small side business from our house. Our current jobs and business require regular access to the internet. We have inquired about services to the few internet providers available at our address. CenturyLink is the only non-satellite provider available and only offers 3 MBPS services which are not fast enough for our needs. We have also contacted several satellite providers which did not have much better options. The options available to us also came with overage charges in the event that we went over our data cap on top of a hefty monthly bill.”

North Carolina HB1105 grants CARES Act funds to upgrade broadband access, but for Bishop, who was forced to rent office space in Sanford to access high-speed internet, said the funds are too little too late and out of his community’s district.

Bishop said in correspondence with CenturyLink’s engineering department in July 2020, the representative “was not optimistic” about a proposal under CARES Act funding to update his rural area’s internet service in Carthage.

Other residents are growing frustrated as well. 

“I’m in the same boat with no other providers,” Mobile Computer Doctors owner Russ Snyder, the “computer guru” said. “I get five megabytes and can watch Netflix, but it’s grainy.”

Snyder lives in Carthage and says that better internet service is expensive.

“HughesNet is very expensive,” Snyder said, “My only hope is to wait for fast internet with Starlink. Elon Musk is installing a bunch of low Earth satellites for 50 megabytes. But I don’t know the cost. It is supposed to be up at the end of 2021.”

The North Carolina Department of Information Technology’s Broadband Infrastructure Office and the Friday Institute for Educational Innovation at North Carolina State University created a survey to facilitate funding for better broadband speeds.

The survey provides data through the state’s Growing Rural Economies with access to a technology grant program to inform research and policy recommendations.

The North Carolina Broadband Survey is fast and easy to complete.

Feature photo: A rural Moore County resident gazes outside with his dog at his side.

~Article and photo by Sandhills Sentinel Reporter Stephanie M. Sellers.

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