TRENTON Jan 31, 2020 The N.C. Department of Information Technology’s Broadband Infrastructure Office, Eastern Carolina Broadband and Jones County today celebrated the launch of the “Eastern Carolina Broadband and Jones County: GREAT Grant Program,” with a ceremony at the Jones County Courthouse. The Broadband Infrastructure Office awarded Eastern Carolina Broadband and Jones County a $270,901 Growing Rural Economies with Access to Technology (GREAT) grant to help bring high-speed internet service to nearly 700 households, agricultural operations and businesses in the county. Those grant dollars matched with a $150,716 investment from the internet service provider bring the total of the project to $430,617. “We are excited to support Jones County and Eastern Carolina Broadband in their efforts to expand high-speed connectivity in their community,” said Jeff Sural, director of the Broadband Infrastructure Office. “Our goal is for all North Carolinians to have access to affordable, reliable high-speed internet service, and this is a critical step in ensuring that Jones County can participate, grow and compete in our increasingly-digital 21st-century society.” Jones County Manager Franky Howard said that the county was excited to partner with Eastern Carolina Broadband for this grant. “There are so many citizens that will benefit from this new offering of broadband services throughout Jones County. From students that need access to do homework and complete school projects, to those choosing to work from home, this means a lot,” Howard said. Susan Myers, CEO and co-founder of Pink Hill-based Eastern Carolina Broadband, credited the success of the grant process to the dedicated citizens of Jones County. “What makes Jones County special is that its people put the community needs first rather than their personal needs. Instead of asking, ‘What’s in it for me?’, the farmers, community leaders and government officials asked, ‘What can we do to help our community get high speed internet?’” Eastern Carolina Broadband will build out the infrastructure during the next three months and plans to start connecting customers in May. Myers cautions that it may take 18 to 24 months to reach all customers. The Growing Rural Economies with Access to Technology (GREAT) program allows internet service providers and electric membership cooperatives to compete for funding to lower financial barriers that prevent broadband expansion in rural communities. In May 2019, Gov. Roy Cooper announced that grant award as part of the first round of GREAT grants. Nearly $10 million has been awarded to 20 broadband service providers to facilitate the deployment of broadband service in 19 Tier One counties to date. The funds are matched with private funds totaling more than $6 million. The N.C. General Assembly approved and Gov. Cooper signed legislation providing an additional $30 million for grants through June 2021 to continue the program. The Broadband Infrastructure Office is currently accepting applications for the 2019–2020 award period. The application period is open until March 16. Information on how to apply is available at https://www.ncbroadband.gov/greatgrant/. To increase internet access across North Carolina, Gov. Cooper established the Governor’s Task Force on Connecting North Carolina.