Internet provider secures funding pledge from commissioners with intent to expand into Rowan County

Published 12:02 am Wednesday, March 23, 2022

SALISBURY — An internet provider is moving forward with plans to give residents in rural parts of Rowan County another option for improving their online access.

The Rowan County Board of Commissioners on Monday night pledged to allocate $1.98 million in American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funding to help Zirrus, formerly known as Yadtel, expand into northwestern and southeastern Rowan County. The county will only allocate the money if Zirrus receives a Growing Rural Economies with Access to Technology (GREAT) grant from the state. The GREAT grant program was launched in 2018 to help connect more North Carolinians to the internet.

The state has allocated $350 million of its own ARPA funding for the current GREAT grant cycle, which is accepting applications from service providers until April 4. Zirrus is applying for $4 million from those funds to expand into Rowan County. The company will match 15%, or $600,000, which leaves Rowan County responsible for the last $1.98 million needed to build out the entire $6.5 million project.

Brad Worthen, vice president of operations at Zirrus, said the company will bring a “state-of-the-art broadband network” to about 800 “underserved” customers in Rowan County. Underserved means the household has insufficient internet speeds and are struggling from an internet standpoint. The company’s plan is to run fiber internet cables directly to customers’ homes, offices and places of worship. Worthen said the company will offer several internet packages, ranging in speed from 1 to 3 gigabytes.

The geographical regions where Zirrus would expand first have been determined by the state, but Worthen said the company plans on bringing fiber to customers close but outside of those specific regions as well.

A task force led by Chief Information Officer and Assistant County Manager Randy Cress has been working to expand internet access in rural areas for several years. The county incentivized the expansion of Open Broadband into parts of western and eastern Rowan County by allocating $150,000 in county funding.

Open Broadband offers fixed point internet access, meaning the internet is delivered via antennae as opposed to fiber cables. Open Broadband has started to bring customers online in the county. Cress said the two companies will likely overlap in some service areas.

If Zirrus is awarded a GREAT grant, the company will have until the end of 2024 to build out the project. More information about Zirrus can be found online at yadtel.com.

In other meeting business:

• Rowan-Cabarrus Community College will temporarily move its truck driving training program to West End Plaza after commissioners on Monday approved allowing the college to use the parking lot as a temporary driving range.

RCCC President Carol Spalding said the truck driving school is the college’s most successful training program.

“It’s a very short period of time to a very lucrative job,” Spalding said.

The college has held the course at the Intimidators Stadium in Kannapolis since 2016, but the property has been sold for redevelopment. Spalding said the property was vandalized two weeks ago, prompting the college to hasten its move. The long-term plan is for Cabarrus County to build a driving pad as part of a larger public safety training site, but that’s more than two years away from becoming a reality.

• The Board of Commissioners made it possible for county employees to serve on advisory boards by revising the county’s personnel and ordinance policies. The language from the ordinance had not been revised since 1987. The county has dozens of advisory boards, many with vacancies that have been difficult to fill.

• Commissioners passed a resolution declaring March as the 20th annual March for Meals Month. The proclamation recognizes Meals on Wheels Rowan for serving the community for 46 years. Meals on Wheels provides nutritious, hot meals to homebound seniors, many of whom cannot afford to pay for the service. March for Meals is celebrating its 50th national anniversary this month. Meals on Wheels Rowan will host its first March on the Bell Tower Green celebration from 4 to 6 p.m. on Friday, March 25. Hotdogs from the Hotdog Shack and ice cream from Cold Stone Creamery will be available for purchase.

• The board approved an agreement with Davco Roofing and Sheet Metal for the company to replace the Rowan County courthouse roof for $451,000. Davco was the low bidder on the project. The roof replacement will take more than a year to complete.

• Commissioners approved $50,000 payments to seven municipal fire departments. The board previously approved $50,000 payments to the county’s volunteer fire departments and rescue squad to help offset revenue lost and additional expenditures related to COVID. The seven municipal departments slated to receive the funding are located in Kannapolis, Salisbury, Spencer, East Spencer, Rockwell, Faith and Granite Quarry. The money will come from Article 46 sales tax revenue.

• Commissioners accepted $354,000 in funding from the state’s Parks and Recreation Trust Fund to help with the cost of phases one and two of Woodleaf Community Park. The board will transfer $354,000 in American Rescue Plan Act funding for the county’s match required by the PARTF grant. The first two phases start with a walking trail, playgrounds, signage and enhanced planting, a parking lot and restroom. The board also authorized the release of a request for qualifications to receive proposals from firms to conduct services to complete the Woodleaf Community Park project. The board plans to award the project to a firm by May 16.

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About Ben Stansell

Ben Stansell covers business, county government and more for the Salisbury Post. He joined the staff in August 2020 after graduating from the University of Alabama. Email him at ben.stansell@salisburypost.com.

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