Open Broadband poised to give rural parts of Rowan County new internet option

Published 9:00 pm Monday, December 6, 2021

SALISBURY — Residents in parts of Rowan County where internet connection is problematic will soon have a new option for logging online.

Nick Steward, area manager for Open Broadband, says the company is preparing to go live with services in western and eastern parts of the county.

“By the end of this week or beginning of next week we will have customers installed with high speed internet in Rowan County,” Steward said.

Steward delivered the update at the Rowan County Board of Commissioners meeting on Monday evening. The board convened for its last scheduled meeting for 2021 and tackled a number of agenda items, ranging from funding requests for health programs to receiving the promising brief about Open Broadband’s progress in the county.

“This is good news,” Chairman Greg Edds said about the company’s impending start to operations. “We’ve been waiting on this for four years.”

Open Broadband opening shop in Rowan County is the result of an effort spearheaded by county government to bring a reliable internet connection to rural areas that have typically had to rely on cellular internet service, dial-up or driving to the nearest store with Wi-Fi.

A task force led by Chief Information Officer and Assistant County Manager Randy Cress formed in 2018 to study the problem and pinpoint parts of the county where increased internet connectivity was severely lacking. The task force, which includes community stakeholders, determined the most broadband-needy areas are in the northwest and southeastern portions of the county, including stretches near the Scotch Irish Township and Tuckertown Reservoir.

The task force also explored ways to encourage broadband expansion and decided to form a public-private partnership with Open Broadband. The county elected to distribute $150,000 in both county funds and money from the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act to Open Broadband to incentivize the company’s expansion. Open Broadband used $100,000 of its own funds to complete the buildout.

Based in Waxhaw, Open Broadband provides services to parts of North Carolina, Virginia and South Carolina. The company typically employs a method called fixed wireless to transmit radio signals via antennas from towers or other high up places directly to homes. Fixed wireless is designed to be a cost effective way to beam internet over a large, more rural area, as opposed to installing fiber cables into the ground. 

Open Broadband has been installing fixed wireless infrastructure in Rowan County since last year, but progress has been impeded by supply chain issues caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. Steward said the company also had to wait on Duke Energy granting it clearance to install electricity.

Steward said several hundred potential Rowan County customers added themselves to a waitlist for services on the company’s website, which gives Open Broadband a “good indication” of where it’ll be serving people. Those customers, he said, should expect to receive an email or other form of contact notifying them that Open Broadband has gone live.

Rowan County customers, Steward said, will be able to choose between one of three packages, ranging in price from $49.99 per month to $84.99 per month, depending on the amount of megabits per second. Steward said there is also a $150 installation fee that covers the cost of equipment and labor needed to install it at a residence.

Cress said the county will have fewer “unserved” areas after Open Broadband begins operations, which means residents who previously had no broadband internet options will now have access to at least one.

More information about Open Broadband’s services in Rowan County can be found online at openbb.net/rowanco or by calling 980-246-8989.