Yesterday marked a significant milestone for North Carolina counties. Lawmakers introduced a bipartisan Senate bill to authorize counties to provide grants to high-speed internet providers and build facilities and equipment for broadband service. It also allows counties to raise local revenue to deliver high-speed broadband internet service within the county. The bill, S.B. 689, County Broadband Authority, would address the number one legislative goal for all 100 North Carolina counties, which seek to expand digital infrastructure and broadband capability to the state’s unserved and underserved residents.
The legislation would also give counties the legislative authority they need to maximize funding opportunities provided in the American Rescue Plan to expand broadband access. Many counties are leveraging their own assets and infrastructure to partner with private industry and need more flexibility to connect North Carolinians to reliable, high-speed, and affordable internet service. Federal law allows some of the American Rescue Plan Act funds to be invested in broadband infrastructure, but state law in North Carolina restricts counties’ ability to use the money flexibly and comprehensively.
“This is critically important legislation as North Carolinians, especially those in rural areas, still await adequate high-speed internet. As we have seen during this year of the COVID pandemic, high-speed internet is vital to our everyday lives. We look forward to continuing our work with the legislature to allow counties to help address this significant challenge,” said Kevin Leonard, Executive Director, North Carolina Association of County Commissioners.
The North Carolina Association of County Commissioners commends the bill sponsors for addressing broadband access needs, made even more urgent by the pandemic as students and employees work from home. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, 1 in 4 people do not have a broadband internet subscription in one-half of North Carolina counties.
The North Carolina Association of County Commissioners (NCACC) is a non-partisan organization, which represents the official voice of all 100 counties on issues considered by the General Assembly, Congress, and federal and state agencies. The Association provides expertise to counties in the areas of advocacy, research, risk management and education and leadership training.