Broadband Access

You may have heard about GREAT grants for Broadband Expansion. Current legislators want to take credit for grants being awarded to WNC, but let's give credit where credit is due.


"GREAT" stands for "Growing Rural Economies with Access to Technology" and is part of the NC Dept of Informational Technology's Broadband Infrastructure Office. They've been awarding grants for years, but the surge is because of increased funding provided by the FEDERAL AMERICAN RESCUE PLAN ACT. Thank you, Biden Administration and US Congressional Democrats. Thank you, everyone who completed last year's broadband survey. Thank you, media outlets, Chambers of Commerce, and other entities who promoted this survey. Together, WE are making life better for the people of WNC and beyond.


FYI-Though state legislatures are celebrating a victory they did nothing to earn, let's remember that applying for grants and being awarded grants are not the same. Keep reading to find out what's keeping WNC from full access.

Broadband Hindrances & Solutions

Hindrances

Even though a lot of money has been invested/allocated for broadband expansion, especially recently, legislative hindrances are keeping that money from accomplishing its purpose in WNC.


1-County governments cannot establish their own broadband service. Our far west county commissioners know many Internet providers would rather invest elsewhere, but they don't have the freedom to find their own providers.


2-Charter has exclusive rights to certain areas because they won the bids to be THE Internet provider for those regions. It was meant as an incentive to go into less lucrative areas because the lack of competition would make it profitable. However, within these areas, they only provide Internet to the most populated, easily accessible areas. Because they are not fulfilling their part of the agreement, they could lose their exclusivity rights and be fined, but the fine is minimal. They already have the established customer base they desire, and what's left is not very enticing for other providers.


3-The way the grants work is not conducive for WNC to be awarded the grants. Yes, MANY grant applications for WNC have been submitted to GREAT. However, they are not yet approved (which is usually as far as WNC broadband grant requests go). GREAT uses a reverse bid which is based on providing the most service for the money (rather than who can provide service to the people for the least amount of money). Because of WNC's terrain and low population density, providing Internet service here has a higher per capita cost. Thus, we lose the bids.


Solutions


1) Remove the handcuffs from the counties.

2) Hold Charter accountable and allow for competition.

3) Change the bidding system. Determine we ARE going to have reliable high-speed Internet in WNC.