The impacts of broadband availability on local economies can be profound. Limited access can impact an areas’ ability to recruit new businesses, educate for a modern workforce, and engage in global commerce.
The North Carolina Innovation Index, published in 2013 said “North Carolina has significant and unique middle-mile assets that can be leveraged to increase speeds and capacity in last-mile deployments and help leverage solutions for serving some of the unserved pockets in the state.”
While North Carolina ranks ninth in the nation in broadband deployment, slightly above the US average, the most recent data modestly predicts that approximately seven percent of North Carolinians do not have access to bandwidth speeds the FCC determines as broadband. Almost 90 percent of those households are in the more economically distressed areas and areas that are more sparsely populated.
However, some of NC’s most remote communities buck the trend, and have facilitated the deployment of next-generation, high-speed internet access at affordable or competitive prices.
Yancey and Mitchell Counties, located in Northwestern N.C., have populations of almost 18,000 and 15,500 residents, respectively. They house several large industrial manufacturers, and host thousands of tourists who visit Mount Mitchell and other attractions each year.
Yancey and Mitchell Counties developed a strategic plan to address broadband challenges in their counties. They then established a public-private partnership with Country Cablevision and applied for and secured a grant of $25.3 million from USDA’s Rural Utilities Service for a fiber-to-the-home broadband project.
With the recent completion of the build-out, all homes and businesses in both counties now enjoy broadband service with speeds from 25 mbps to 1 gig or greater. Telecommuters and “lifestyle entrepreneurs” who love the natural beauty of Western North Carolina mountains are now relocating to the area because they can obtain the necessary bandwidth to work remotely. Their success has encouraged neighboring counties to begin planning to expand the network in their communities.
Communities that develop strategic broadband plans have a greater amount of success in accomplishing their goals of getting more citizens in their community connected.
Similarly, the Broadband Infrastructure Office developed the forthcoming, Connecting North Carolina State Broadband Plan, in collaboration with nearly 80 state and local leaders, stakeholders and broadband providers to ensure every community and North Carolinian has affordable access to broadband service if they so choose, by 2021.