Opportunities for Broadband Expansion In Macon County

Jeff Lee, LittleT Broadband

One must become an eternal optimist when working for rural broadband advocacy and support. There seem to be so many hurdles and road blocks that stand in the way of broadband development in our area, that sometimes it is difficult to find the bright side. One of those “encouraging” bright sides was the recent application window for the NC GREAT Grant program.

May 4th was the application deadline for the NC GREAT 2022 program. Normally GREAT is allocated $15M-$20M per year to disburse throughout the entire state, which is unfortunately not sufficient to build out fiber in one county, let alone 100. This year however, the GREAT program was funded through the American Rescue Plan Act (APRA) signed into law in the spring of 2021. Though it has taken a while for those funds to percolate to our level, $350M of ARPA funds were allocated by the NC legislature to the GREAT Grant program for this round.

Under the GREAT Grant program, internet service providers choose project areas and then develop and submit applications for grants. These grants are then use to fund or help fund the development of high-speed broadband for the proposed project areas. The GREAT Grant program for this round capped single applications to a max of $4M, and the the max allocation per County at $8M. The application window opened at the end of this past January.

LittleT Broadband had the unique opportunity to work with Macon County and several broadband providers to help promote and develop applications that would serve our area. The County’s role for the GREAT program was to do everything possible to encourage providers to become interested in and develop applications for projects within the County, and this round of the GREAT Grant program provided counties wih new tools to help attract and ecouge providers to participate. LittleT worked closely with the Macon County Broadband Committee to develop strategies for maximizing the use of those tools to attract providers, and then worked directly in support of those provider’s application efforts.

On May 4th, four providers submitted five GREAT applications for fiber to the home projects that would serve Macon County. Though there were a number of restrictions as to where providers were allowed to propose projects, those that were submitted as applications cover North, Central, and South Macon, and one proposal would span eligible areas throughout the County.

We are hopeful that one or more of these GREAT Grants will be awarded in Macon, as any of them will help to begin the expansion of high-speed fiber into needed areas. It is important to view these grant projects as a way to begin expansion. Once a provider has grant funds to build into an area it becomes much more cost effective for them to continue that build into surrounding areas.

We should begin hearing the results of the GREAT Grant program in the July timeframe.