Special to Iredell Free News
RALEIGH — A bill to distribute $750 million in federal funding to expand high-speed broadband internet access in all 100 counties in North Carolina has passed the state House unanimously.
House Bill 947, “The GREAT Broadband Expansion Act,” is being described as one of the largest and most comprehensive efforts in the nation to increase broadband connectivity.
“North Carolina has been a national leader when it comes to expanding rural broadband,” said Rep. Dean Arp (R-Union), a senior chair of the House Appropriations Committee and the primary sponsor of House Bill 947. “With additional funding coming from the federal government, we have a tremendous opportunity to close our state’s digital divide. This legislation capitalizes on these resources and puts forth a bold and unprecedented investment to connect all North Carolinians to high-speed internet access.”
House Bill 947 allocates $400 million to the newly established Completing Access to Broadband (CAB) program, which will be made available to every county in the state to help close “broadband gaps.”
Under the program, counties would be encouraged to use their share of federal American Rescue Plan (ARP) dollars to partner with the state to build broadband infrastructure. This has the potential to leverage over $1 billion between state and local funding.
“As someone who represents a rural area, I understand how vital internet access is to education, health care and economic development,” said Rep. Jake Johnson (R-Polk), another primary sponsor of the legislation. “This bill will go a long way in making sure broadband gets to the areas that need it most. It is a bold and historic effort to close the digital divide and address an issue that is vital for rural communities.”
The legislation also provides $350 million for the Growing Rural Economies with Access to Technology (GREAT) program, which was created in 2018 to expedite the deployment of high-speed broadband to rural parts of the state by encouraging partnerships and competition among utility providers.
Currently, the North Carolina General Assembly allocates $15 million a year for the program. The GREAT program has become a national model for deploying broadband to unserved and underserved areas.