Broadband internet coming to Beaufort County at a faster speed

Published 8:03 am Wednesday, April 10, 2024

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Access to broadband internet is reaching Beaufort County at a faster speed. More residents will have access to faster internet service in the next two years, according to County Manager Brian Alligood. 

“This is a generational opportunity for Beaufort County for not only economic development, quality of life, education – just access to what is now considered a utility just like water, sewer, electrical. You need access to broadband to be able to do what you need to do in this world,” Alligood said. 

Alligood presented an update on a broadband internet access project to county commissioners at their regular meeting on Monday, April 1. 

The Federal Communications Commissions Rural Digital Opportunity Fund (RDOF) broadband initiative provides federal dollars to communication service providers to increase access to broadband internet access in rural communities. In total, the RDOF will provide $20.4 billion over a 10-year timeline to support the construction of broadband networks in rural communities across the United States. 

The money is distributed among communication service providers like Charter Spectrum who is working to install underground fiber cables on the south side of the Pamlico River. Charter Spectrum received $1.6 million in RDOF federal grant funding and GREAT grant money – Growing Rural Economies with Access to Technology. 

Because the GREAT grant requires a two-year build out, Charter Spectrum will work quickly to add fiber internet in Beaufort County to 495 locations as opposed to their initial seven-year build out. Charter Spectrum has already built and turned over 249 locations. Their ultimate goal is to have fiber network cables installed in 1,600 locations. The county’s contract with Charter Spectrum began last September. In some areas, installation by Charter Spectrum and BrightSpeed will be complete by 2025, Alligood explained. 

RDOF and GREAT grants used by Charter Spectrum and specifically focused on the south side of the county, but have some on the north side, Alligood shared.  

The total cost of the project is $1.9 million – $1.6 million comes from GREAT grant funding, $148,000 from Beaufort County and another $148,000 from Charter Spectrum. The county will be using ARPA (American Rescue Plan Act) funds to cover its portion of the project cost. County commissioners set aside $4 million in ARPA funds specifically for projects that increase broadband internet. They set aside another $500,000 in funding from the CARES for similar projects. 

“There were not a lot of counties in the state that did that. You all were forward thinking enough to say we want to make sure that our citizens have access to broadband, and I commend you for that,” Alligood said to county commissioners. 

BrightSpeed is an additional vendor who is bringing fiber internet to 1,070 locations in Beaufort County with $4 million in GREAT grant funding. The county will contribute $500,000 and BrightSpeed will contribute another $700,000 for a total project cost of $5.2 million, he shared. 

Completing Access to Broadband is a program under the North Carolina Department of Information Technology Division of Broadband and Digital Equity. The program allows individual North Carolina counties to partner with NCDIT to fund broadband access projects to underserved communities in each county. ARPA appropriated $400 million for the program. In the CAB program, 41 broadband internet providers were pre-qualified by the department. Five showed interest in Beaufort County – Cloudwyze, BrightSpeed, Charter Spectrum, River Street and Harvest Beam.  

These providers are looking at areas in Beaufort County  currently not covered by GREAT grant and RDOF. The county has committed up to $3.85 million for providers, but the maximum amount that can be spent on a CAB project is $11 million. The county would spend approximately $3 million whereas $3.3 million would come from NCDIT and another $3.3 million could come from the provider, Alligood said. 

A federal funding source county could use to pay for broadband projects is BEAD funding. BEAD stands for Broadband Equity Access and Deployment program. The program, led by the National Telecommunications and Information Administration, provides $42.45 million to expand high-speed internet access by funding and implementation and adoption of programs across the nation. North Carolina received $1.5 billion in funding to increase broadband access throughout the state. This funding would cover any areas not covered by the aforementioned grants and programs. 

The commissioners did not take action after Alligood’s presentation.