A slice of rural North Carolina.
A slice of rural North Carolina.

A lack of reliable internet access is a huge problem in rural communities, and the grants, funded by the American Rescue Plan, are a part of an effort to close the “digital gap” in North Carolina. 

More than 1.1 million households in North Carolina either lack access to high-speed internet or are unable to afford it, a digital gap that threatens the healthcare, education and economic mobility of wide swaths of the state’s rural areas.

The state took a step toward filling that gap on Monday, at least for 12 counties.

Gov. Roy Cooper announced that $23.4 million in grants, paid for through the federal American Rescue Plan, had been awarded to a dozen rural counties across the state (see below) to expand their broadband infrastructure. That means that by the end of 2026, some 7,000 households and 374 businesses in these areas would have the same high-speed internet many cities take for granted, Cooper’s office said. 

“Reliable and affordable high-speed internet is a necessity for all North Carolinians to work, learn, connect and access online health care,” Cooper said in a news release announcing the grants. The payments, Cooper said, also expand access to “opportunity.”

Why Does This Matter? 

A lack of reliable internet access and other infrastructure is a major problem in North Carolina, as anyone reading this on the internet well knows. 

This digital divide makes it difficult for residents to work from home in a changing economy, look for work through online job boards, or even just access government services. It also sets children back in school and cuts off older residents from Telehealth access to their doctors. 

These 12 grants, (formally called “Growing Rural Economies with Access to Technology” grants or GREAT), will be rolled out through the summer, and are part of Gov. Cooper’s larger plan to drastically improve internet access across the state.

Cooper’s “Digital Equity” plan will spend nearly $2 billion from the American Rescue Plan and state programs to fill North Carolina’s many rural internet deserts, teach digital literacy, and fund initiatives, many through internet providers directly, to help residents afford service. 

Counties and service providers applied for the GREAT grants, for example, but to be eligible the providers had to participate in the state’s Affordable Connectivity Program, which provides a $30 discount each month to eligible low-income households. 

Cooper has pledged to ensure that at least 80% of NC households, and 100% of households with children, have high-speed internet. The plan also promises to fix the widespread racial disparities among the households currently lacking reliable internet. (76% of white households now have internet across the state compared to 57% of Native Americans, 64% Black and 68% Latinx.)

Under provisions of the American Rescue Plan, all allocated funds must be spent by Dec. 31, 2026.

On Monday, Aug. 1, Cooper announced another series of grants of about $30.8 million for 11 more counties. These latest payments, his office said, would bring broadband to an additional 13,000 households and 582 businesses.

The counties and internet providers that won the grants:

Round 1:

Alexander County: Yadkin Valley TMC (Yadtel | Zirrus)

Avery County: Spectrum Southeast, LLC

Bertie County: Spectrum Southeast, LLC

Chowan County: ATMC (Focus Broadband)

Clay County: Blue Ridge Mountain EMC

Cleveland County: Spectrum Southeast, LLC

Davidson County: Yadkin Valley TMC (Yadtel | Zirrus)

Gaston County: Spectrum Southeast, LLC

Hyde County: Connect Holding II LLC (Brightspeed)

Lincoln County: Spectrum Southeast, LLC

New Hanover County: Spectrum Southeast, LLC

Stanly County: Windstream North Carolina, LLC

Round 2:

Anson County: Spectrum Southeast, LLC (Charter Communications)

Cabarrus County: Spectrum Southeast, LLC (Charter Communications)

Davie County: Yadkin Valley TMC (Yadtel | Zirrus)

Iredell County: Yadkin Valley TMC (Yadtel | Zirrus)

Madison County: French Broad Electric Membership Corp.

Polk County: Spectrum Southeast, LLC (Charter Communications)

Rowan County: Yadkin Valley TMC (Yadtel | Zirrus)

Stokes County: RiverStreet Communications of NC, Inc. (RiverStreet Networks)

Transylvania County: ZITEL LLC

Union County: Windstream North Carolina, LLC (Windstream)

Yadkin County: Yadkin Valley TMC (Yadtel | Zirrus)

This post has been updated to add the second round of grants.