ROCKINGHAM — Nearly 1,900 Richmond County residents could have access to high-speed internet service in about two years, following the signing of an agreement Tuesday night.
The Richmond County Board of Commissioners approved committing $100,000 toward an $8.9 million infrastructure project by Charter Communications-Spectrum to expand internet access across the county.
According to Michael E. Tanck, director of government affairs of the internet service provider, the state of North Carolina has agreed to pay up to 70% of the project, with a cap at $4 million. Because of the cap, Charter-Spectrum will invest a little more than half of the cost.
The county’s share would come from its allocation of funds from the American Rescue Plan Act, according to Tanck.
Tanck said the Federal Communications Commission put together a program in late 2020 called the Rural Digital Opportunity Fund to expand broadband into unservered rural areas, based upon unserved Census blocks: areas with less than 25 megabits downstream and 3 megabits upstream.
Charter-Spectrum won around 120,000 locations in more than 60 North Carolina counties — including 389 in Richmond — through a reverse bid. Tanck explained that “locations” could include a residence, school, church or business — “really, any structure that could connect to broadband.”
According to a map included in Tanck’s presentation, a large number of those locations are in the northwestern section of the county, with a small section between Cartledge Creek Road and the Pee Dee River and another section south of Cordova.
“What we’re going to be building … is fiber to the home, so they’ll be a direct fiber going into each of these locations,” Tanck said.
He added that the company would also service the nearly 1,500 residents “on the way” to the unserved locations.
In addition to the standard 200 Mbs, Charter-Spectrum will also be offering low-cost plans for those who meet the eligibility requirements. Tanck also mentioned a federal program with a $30 per month credit that could help low-income residents get broadband for free.
Those in the company’s footprint would also be able to get video and cellular service.
Once the grant is approved, which Tanck said was expected late in the summer, Charter-Spectrum will have a two-year window to complete the work.
Commissioner Dr. Rick Watkins said the county and Spectrum should make residents impacted by the buildout aware of the low-cost options.
Tanck said those options are currently available to all potential customers.
Commissioner Toni Maples, a longtime educator, said this is the first time she’s heard of the low-cost and essentially free options and told Tanck the schools need to be aware.
“This would have saved a lot of headache for us teachers had we known this was available when COVID first started and we went home,” Maples said.
Tanck said the COVID pandemic “created a heightened awareness of the need.”
The application was due on Wednesday.