RALEIGH – Many North Carolina households still lack access to high-speed internet access, but state government can play a role in changing that, according to documents presented to a group of state legislators earlier today.

The House Committee on Appropriations, Information Technology, met at 10 a.m. on Wednesday to hear a set of presentations, including one on cybersecurity and broadband access from the North Carolina Department of Information Technology (NCDIT), according to an agenda published previously by the North Carolina General Assembly.

The committee also heard a presentation on the state of the technology industry from the president and CEO of the North Carolina Technology Association, NC TECH.

NC’s tech sector still surging forward, state legislators hear from NC TECH exec

State seeking to increase access

Documents available on the North Carolina General Assembly website show that when it comes to broadband access and connectivity in the state, there’s still room to increase access and enhance affordability.

According to the presentation, there are only 73% of households in North Carolina with high-speed internet subscriptions, though 81% of households with children currently have one.

But the document notes that the target for connectivity is 80% of all households and 100% of all households where there are children living by 2025.

Part of the state’s plan to expand access to high-speed internet relies on funding from the federal American Rescue Plan Act, part relies on the state’s ability to land funding for broadband infrastructure through the federal Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, and the state may play a role as well, according to the document.

$350 million in grants available to expand rural internet access across NC

Broadband access in NC can be ‘GREAT’

The document also highlights the progress of the state’s GREAT Grant program, noting that 305 new applications in 94 North Carolina counties have been received.

The program, Growing Rural Economies with Access to Technology (GREAT), “funds the terrestrial deployment of broadband within unserved areas of economically distressed counties,” according to the state’s website.  It is meant to provide state-funded grants to private providers of broadband services “to facilitate the deployment of broadband service to unserved areas of North Carolina.”

According to the presentation, those 305 applications would serve some 14,000 businesses, about 488,500 locations, and come at a cost of about $1.77 billion.  WRAL TechWire previously reported that up to $350 million in federal funding through the American Rescue Plan Act could be accessed in order to help fund the program.

The GREAT Grant program launched in 2018 and as of May 13, 2022, the state had invested $55 million to connect over 40,000 households and businesses to broadband, according to a statement released by North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper.

MCNC, which operates statewide fiber network, ‘fully’ supports Internet for All initiative

State may access three federal programs

North Carolina is also pursuing a funding opportunity associated with an initiative known as Internet for All, which consists of three programs.  Those programs are available following a federal Notice of Funding Opportunity made available through the U.S. Department of Commerce’s National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA).

They include the program known as BEAD, or the broadband equity, access, and deployment program, as well as the digital equity planning and middle mile programs.

Deadlines for applications for each of those three programs are coming soon, and according to the presentation document.

Governor Cooper issued a letter on May 16, 2022, stating an intent to participate in the BEAD program and a request for $5 million in initial planning funds.

“State and federal partnerships are critical to helping us close the digital divide and North Carolina is all in on getting internet for all,” said Governor Cooper in a statement. “This effort will pave the way toward a future where everyone will have access to high-speed and high-quality internet.”

The deadline for applications to the program is July 18, according to the Notice of Funding Opportunity, with all supplemental information due by the end of the day on August 15, 2022.