BOLTON, NC (WWAY) — Thousands of homes, numerous businesses, schools and more in Columbus County are getting high speed internet.
It’s thanks to a multi-million dollar grant through the United States Department of Agriculture.
“If we can give them another tool to help these communities, to keep the schools open, to keep the hospitals open..this is the tool to do that,” USDA N.C. State Director Robert Hosford said.
USDA has invested nearly $8 million in North Carolina.
4,000 homes in rural Columbus County are going to finally have broadband access. In addition, the project will also be able to serve over 50 businesses, ten educational facilities, three critical community facilities, and 23 agricultural operations.
In June, Shallotte-based Atlantic Telephone Membership Cooperative (ATMC) applied for the ReConnect Loan and Grant Program through USDA.
ATMC is matching the investment, making the project about $16 million.
ATMC will begin the design work required for the project in the coming weeks and anticipates construction of the new fiber optic network to begin during the middle part of 2020.
The network will cover approximately 155 square miles, including underserved communities near Tabor City, Hallsboro, Lake Waccamaw, Bolton, and areas north of Whiteville.
“It’s really going to be a blessing to be able to utilize this because as of right now we’re limited,” Waccamaw Siouan Tribe Chief Michael Jacobs said. “Everything is just so slow. You have to wait on this and wait on that, and when you talk about someone’s well-being and education, it ain’t something we need to wait on.”
It will enable the delivery of high-speed internet speeds of up to 1Gigabit per second as well as cable TV, telephone, and home security and automation services.
Project officials say this is going to make it easier for students to do their homework and create more job opportunites in the county.
In 2010, ATMC received $16 million dollars through a USDA grant to build a fiber optic network to the unserved communities of Nakina, Guideway and Old Dock.
In May 2019, ATMC was awarded $1 milliondollars in grant funding from the NC GREAT Grant program which is allowing the company to bring fiber optic service to underserved homes in the Beaverdam community.
ATMC also recently began a $4.5 million-dollar project to bring a fiber optic network to residents and businesses in the Town of Brunswick and areas in the southern portion of Whiteville.
The company plans to apply for additional grant funds in 2020 to bring highspeed internet to other unserved areas of Columbus County.