The e-NC Authority is teaming up with communications provider Embarq to close some of the biggest remaining broadband gaps in North Carolina.

E-NC, which is chartered to help bring high-speed Internet access from Manteo to Murphy, awarded Embarq a contract to expand its high-speed network in Warren and three other counties. They were the only counties left where less than half the population could access the Net at high speed.

Embarq won the deal through a competitive bid process. As part of the deal, Embarq agreed to match state funding of $1.21 million that the North Carolina General Assembly made available to e-NC.

“It’s a big deal for us,” said Jane Patterson, e-NC’s executive director. “For Warren County, it’s incredible. This contract means they will be going from 99th in the state’s 100 counties in terms of access to 29th.”

Patterson also noted that the deal with Embarq will reduce the number of households across the state that don’t have broadband access to “about 13 percent.” Last September, e-NC reported 17 percent of households couldn’t get broadband.

Getting all counties above the 50 percent threshold was the latest goal e-NC has set since its launch as the Rural Internet Access Authority in 2000.

In 2001, 20 counties failed to reach the 50 percent mark. E-NC has poured more than $30 million into the project, encouraging Internet providers and telephone companies to expand networks in hard-to-reach and sparsely populated areas.

The state funds for Embarq were the first that e-NC had received. Its original funding came from MCNC, which had contributed a portion of profits from the sale of a subsidiary to help get the e-NC project started..

When Embarq completes the agreed-upon expansion, broadband accessibility will increase as follows:

  • Warren, 46.9 percent to 86 percent
  • Jones (lowest in the state), 45.1 percent to 71 percent
  • Greene, 49 percent to 77 percent
  • Gates, 48 percent to 71 percent

“Telecommunications service providers rarely extend high-speed service to areas that where they cannot justify a business case for it, but this is a perfect example of a public-private partnership for the benefit of our citizens and we applaud the General Assembly for recognizing the economic necessity of high-speed Internet,” Patterson, a former science adviser to four-term Gov. Jim Hunt.

Steve Parrott, Embarq’s top executive in the Carolinas and Virginia, said the network upgrades “will have both immediate and long-term economic development benefits.”