At a Wednesday press conference, Governor Roy Cooper announced a plan to expand high-speed Internet service in 11 rural counties. The GREAT grant program, launched in 2018, will award $12 million to projects that are expected to reach 8,017 families and 254 “businesses, farms, and community institutions.” 

In early August, Governor Cooper declared August 17-21 “Rural Broadband Week” in an effort to bring awareness to the increased need for broadband access. The public school year began across the state the week of August 17 with more than 70% of students taking their classes virtually at home. 

Spotty connectivity has made the decision about whether or not to send their children back to school a fraught one for many families. According to a report from the Associated Press, more than 3 million students across the country do not have reliable internet access. 

“With this pandemic, high-speed internet access is even more important for remote education, telemedicine and small businesses,” the governor said in a press release. “These projects will help bridge the digital divide in 11 rural counties, so these communities can access important services and participate in our increasingly digital society and economy.” 

Programs in Bertie, Colombus, Duplin, Edgecombe, Graham, Greene, Martin, Nash, Robeson, Rockingham, and Swain will receive $10,244,195 in funding; Robeson County will receive an additional $2 million in funding from the COVID-19 Recovery Act.

Six additional projects in rural counties are under consideration for COVID-19 Recovery Act funding, according to the press release. 

Additionally, some Internet providers across the state are offering free Internet access for schoolchildren. An interactive online map created by the N.C. Department of Information Technology’s Broadband Infrastructure Office displays providers across the state offering special pandemic services. That map is updated daily. 

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