RALEIGH — Internet service providers and electric membership cooperatives can now apply for $32 million in pandemic relief grant funding to help bring high-speed internet access to rural North Carolina.

Governor Roy Cooper signed House Bill 1105 into law, allocating more than $32 million for rural broadband expansion from the Coronavirus Relief Fund created by the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act of 2020.

The North Carolina Department of Information Technology’s (NCDIT) Broadband Infrastructure Office (BIO) will review applications and assign the funding through the Growing Rural Economies with Access to Technology (GREAT) Grant program.

“Internet is no longer optional. The pandemic has highlighted the digital divide in our state, underscoring how critical it is for all North Carolinians to have reliable high-speed internet to work, learn and connect,” Acting NCDIT Secretary and State Chief Information Officer Thomas Parrish said in a statement. “These supplemental grants will help expand access to thousands of residents and businesses in rural areas that need it most.”

Applications for this 2020 Special Supplementary Growing Rural Economies with Access to Technology (GREAT) Grant round will open today and be accepted through October 14.

Projects in Tier 1 and Tier 2 counties as well as rural census tracts located in Tier 3 areas currently being served by less than 25 megabytes per second download and 3 megabytes per second upload speeds are eligible for this 2020 Special Supplementary GREAT Grant round.

This special supplementary funding round follows the recent announcements of the 2019-2020 GREAT grant awards and additional funding awards from the COVID-19 Recovery Act.

Since the GREAT grant program launched in 2018, the state has invested nearly $26 million in 26 Tier 1 counties, connecting more than 21,000 households, businesses and agricultural operations to high-speed internet.

The state funding has been matched by more than $20 million in private investment.  The program will expand to include 98 counties for this upcoming grant cycle.