CHARLOTTE – Charter Communications, which offers internet and related services through its Spectrum brand, says it will expand high-speed internet footprint to some 128,000 homes and small businesses where broadband is not available as part of a multi-year $442 million project. That’s a big chunk of the some 200,000 households in the state that don’t have access to broadband.

The federal goverment through the FCC will provide $142 million as part of the FCC’s Rural Digital Opportunity plan.

Charter says its offering through an expanded fiber-optic network will be at up to gigabit speeds – far faster than traditional cable offerings. The company’s footprint already covers much of the state, including the Triangle and Charlotte, with interent offerings between 200-940 megabits per second. Plans under the expanded program will start at 200 mgps. The company has six years to complete the project.

“Most of our network is already fiber-optic,” a Charter spokesperson tells WRAL TechWire. “We don’t have an estimated number of [additional] miles to share right now.”

Some 5% of households in North Carolina lack access to broadband, according to the North Carolina Broadband Infrastructure Office.

Several other companies such as Windstream and CenturyLink also will be expanding broadband services across the state, but the Charter program is by far the largest, based on figures provided by the FCC. Some 27,000 other locations are included.

The federal program has awarded $9.2 billion to providers covering 5.2 million locations.

“Preparation for the RDOF Phase I broadband buildout has already begun and will include Charter expanding its existing construction organization in order to focus on deployment of this new fiber-optic network,” the company said.

According to Charter, its program will reach 83 of the state’s 100 counties, including 12 not served currently by the company, and 83% of the sites in areas selected for the FCC plan. Service will be expanded in 67 rural counties.

One half of the sites to be reached are located in 38 of the state’s 40 “most economically distressed counties,” Spectrum noted.

“The pandemic has highlighted the need for broadband availability and adoption and Charter is committed to furthering its efforts as part of the comprehensive solution needed to address these challenges and positively impact the local communities we serve,” said Tom Rutledge, Chairman and CEO of Charter Communications, in a statement. “As Americans across the country increasingly rely on broadband to work, learn, access healthcare and stay in touch with family and loved ones, bringing broadband access to more unserved areas should be a priority for all stakeholders.”

The federal program targets some 1 million households and small businesses in 24 states where broadband service definied as 25 megabits download/3 megabit upload is not available.

However, Charter warned that the project’s rollout could be hindered by such issues as permitting needed to utilize utility poles.

“With fewer homes and businesses in these areas, broadband providers need to access multiple poles for every new home served, as opposed to multiple homes per pole in higher-density settings,” the company said. “As a result, pole applications, pole replacement rules and their affiliated issue resolution processes are all factors that can have a significant impact on the length of time it takes to complete projects in these rural areas.”

Noted Charter’s CEO: “We look forward to working with local municipalities, electric cooperatives, and investor-owned utilities to ensure that permits are obtained in a timely, fair and cost-effective fashion.”

Charter says the service will not have any data caps or modem fees. WiFi will be included in home and customers also can choose to add Spectrum wireless phone access, the Charter spokesperson said.

The company is investing overall some $5 billion in the expansion across its 41-state network with the federal government covering more than $1 billion of the costs. It expects to hire more than 2,000 workers and contractors for the project.

Charter employs some 11,000 people in North Carolina.