Grant to bring faster internet to thousands of rural homes

Grant to bring faster internet to thousands of rural homes

BOLTON, N.C. (WECT) - Faster internet will soon be coming to more than 4,000 rural households.

The USDA announced Tuesday that Atlantic Telephone Membership Corporation in Columbus County is receiving a $7.9 million ReConnect Program grant to bring fiber-optic broadband to the area. The company will spend an additional $8 million to cover the entire project cost of just about $16 million.

The grant will mean faster internet for families as well as local businesses, farms, schools and hospitals across a 150-mile area as cable is run in areas across Columbus County.

The announcement was made at the Waccamaw Siouan Tribal Administrative Building, which also will benefit from the new connection, said Chief Michael Jacobs.

“It’s really going to be a blessing to be able to utilize this, because it as of right now we are limited,” he said. “Everything is just so slow: You have to wait on this and wait on that. You talk about a person’s well-being, and their education, it isn’t something we need to wait on. We need to put that in the forefront so this is really a blessing.”

North Carolina director of the USDA’s Rural Development department Robert Hosford said the increased internet access not only helps individuals, but the agriculture-based economy of the area as well.

“The health and vibrance of rural communities most usually is from farmers and forestry in this state,” Hosford said. “If those small communities are healthy, that means their farming communities are healthy, and this is just another tool in our toolbox to help these rural communities.”

Hosford said the agriculture industry has struggled in recent months due to ongoing trade disputes, so any boost is a welcome one.

ATMC CEO Keith Holden says this is something the people of Columbus County have been hoping to see for a long time.

“The community is very excited," said Holden said. "Everybody here understands how important it is, and they know that the kids and people that live in the larger cities have access to something that they are families haven’t had, and they know that now that their families will get that benefit also.”

ATMC says it will begin designing the new network in the coming weeks, and hopes to begin construction by the middle of next year.

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