Funds available for broadband providers looking to expand

Published 12:00 am Friday, March 23, 2018

Federal funding is available for local broadband internet providers looking to expand or develop their areas of service.

The opportunity comes through the Federal Communications Commission’s Connect America Fund Phase II, a grant-like program offering $1.98 billion nationwide to help expand high-speed internet access to rural areas that lack service.

Applications are being accepted until March 30, 11 days after the Rowan County commissioners appointed a broadband task force to explore bringing service to the southeastern and western parts of the county.

According to Randy Cress, the county’s information technology director, Connect America funding is used to expand access to voice and broadband services. A variety of technologies may compete for support, including phone companies, fixed wireless providers, satellite providers, cable companies, and rural electric utilities.

Providers that accept the money have six years to plan and provide broadband to consumers in identified areas of need.

According to the FCC, 18 areas in Rowan County are eligible for the funding.

Cress said AT&T and Windstream accepted funding during Connect America’s first phase. AT&T, he said, received $10 million for nationwide expansion.

In Rowan County, the company used this to expand fixed wireless service, bringing cell tower-driven broadband in the Cleveland area.

But the service is not ideal for more than one user, Cress said, and data is not unlimited.

County Commissioner Judy Klusman, who represents the commissioners on the task force, said she’d heard reports from the area that the new cellular service is not meeting customer expectations.

“While they’ve accepted money to expand, it’s potentially in a different form than what Windstream may do to expand out their service,” Cress said.

“This is a unique opportunity for broadband providers to expand their service,” said FCC Chairman Ajit Pai.  “More important, this is a unique opportunity to bring digital opportunity to parts of rural America that have been bypassed by the broadband revolution. So I hope that all eligible providers will give this opportunity a hard look and choose to participate.”

 The auction is scheduled to begin July 24. Providers can apply by visiting auctions.fcc.gov.

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