With students forced into virtual learning, access to high-speed internet is more important than ever
Raleigh, N.C. – Some North Carolina legislators are signaling support for additional funding for the Growing Rural Economies with Access to Technology (GREAT) Grant program in 2020 ahead of the September session.
Those legislators hope to inject $30 million from the federal CARES Act funding into the program to fund another round of awards in 2020.
The GREAT program supports expanding high-speed broadband internet access in rural counties across North Carolina. The legislature has allocated $24 million to the program this year. So far, in 2020 more than $12 million in grant funding has been awarded to expand access to 8,017 households and 254 businesses in 11 counties.
“From Day One the GREAT program has benefited rural North Carolina, including Robeson and Columbus counties,” Sen. Danny Earl Britt, Jr. (R-Robeson) said.“Access to reliable internet is an absolute game-changer for our business community, our education systems, and our daily life. It’s more important than ever to ensure our students and small business owners have access to reliable internet.”
Columbus and Robeson counties were both awarded GREAT grants during 2020 and will expand access to the internet to nearly 3,300 households and 54 businesses.
“Access to high-speed internet allows a person to expand his or her world beyond their wildest imagination,” Sen. Bob Steinburg (R-Chowan) said.“Students from Murphy to Manteo are losing out on critical learning because they don’t have access to the internet. As remote learning becomes a new norm, it is imperative we invest in this infrastructure.”
The legislature created the GREAT program in 2018. Since then it’s continued to prioritize funding to expand broadband, despite Gov. Roy Cooper vetoing funding for it in 2018 and 2019.
“When we created the GREAT program in 2018 it was innovative and became a model for other states,” Rep. Dean Arp (R-Union) said.“This pandemic only highlights the extraordinary need to continue to fund this program. Investing in rural broadband is an investment in the future of North Carolina.”
In May, the General Assembly also approved $11 million for additional Wi-Fi access in homes, $35 million for electronic devices to access remote learning, and $1 million to equip buses with Wi-Fi. In September, the legislature hopes to allocate an additional $10 million for internet hotspots for K-12 students.
“This funding reinforces the commitment from both the Senate and the House to connect our students, parents, and teachers to online learning resources no matter what challenges are before us,” Rep. Jason Saine (R-Lincoln) said.