Legislative leaders, governor reach $30 million rural broadband funding deal

North Carolina news

Legislative leaders and Gov. Roy Cooper reached a deal to ensure $30 million is allocated as promised to the Growing Rural Economies with Access to Technology (GREAT) rural broadband program.

“This pandemic has emphasized the importance of high-speed internet for people across our state and it is critical that we continue increasing access in rural communities,” said Cooper in a press release. “My administration is committed to following the law and getting maximum benefit from federal Covid relief funding, and I appreciate legislative leaders and my budget staff ensuring that funds can be used to expand internet access in North Carolina.

In September, the legislature passed, and Gov. Cooper signed, legislation that would allocate $30 million in federal CARES Act relief funding to North Carolina’s GREAT program. The program provides grants to expand rural broadband access.

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Senate Leader Phil Berger (R-Rockingham) and House Speaker Tim Moore (R-Cleveland) both released statements in support of the deal.

“I appreciate the work put in by legislators and legislative staff, working with Gov. Cooper and his team, to reach this agreement,” said Berger. “Expanding access to rural broadband is a shared priority, and I’m glad we could successfully resolve this issue.”

“Rural broadband remains a top priority of this General Assembly and our state is fortunate to have continued revenue availability to meet this need and make flexible budget adjustments as federal rules may require,” said Moore.

U.S. Treasury guidance jeopardized the eligibility of the funding because of questions about whether the CARES Act-funded rural broadband projects must be complete before a Dec. 30 deadline.

The legislature will vote on a bill early next year to appropriate the newly freed up $30 million from the General Fund to the GREAT program.

The Office of State Budget and Management will proceed with the administrative process of reviewing grant applications from providers and preparing contracts until the legislature formally appropriates the $30 million early next year. The process generally takes several weeks, so the time delay in awarding broadband grants under this new plan will be minor.

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