The NC General Assembly is considering several bills that would increase broadband infrastructure across the state. The COVID/Supplementary G.R.E.A.T. Grant Period (HB 1105) was introduced in the House on May 14 and would provide an additional $30 million to the NC Division of Information Technology’s Growing Rural Economies with Access to Technology (GREAT) grant program, which expands access to broadband infrastructure in the state’s rural counties. These supplemental funds are intended for applications submitted on or before September 15, 2020 and funds would be awarded on or before December 30, 2020. The bill is currently in the House Appropriations Committee.
On April 21, Jeff Sural, Director of the Broadband Infrastructure Office at the NC Department of Information Technology, shared with the NC House COVID-19 Subcommittee meeting on Economic Support his desire to eventually increase the GREAT grant program to $135 million.
The Provide Affordable Broadband Access to NC (HB 1122) contains several provisions to increase digital inclusion across the state. It modifies the GREAT grant program and FIBER NC Act (introduced in 2019), and requires health plans to reimburse for telehealth services. It also establishes a pilot Homework Gap grant program to provide Internet access to students and teachers who do not have, or who cannot afford, home Internet service. The program would be administered by the Broadband Infrastructure Office in the NC Department of Information Technology in consultation with the NC Department of Public Instruction. The one-year grant program would provide Local Education Agencies (LEA) to purchase equipment and services for individual student and teacher use, and provide Wi-Fi on school buses. Funds would be allocated in the following ways:
- $4,500,000 to LEAs to purchase mobile hotspot devices, service for the hotspots, and equipment and mobile service to provide Wi-Fi on school buses.
- $250,000 to administer the grant program and conduct research on the size and scope of the homework gap.
- $125,000 to conduct a third-party evaluation of the pilot program and progress made toward closing the homework gap.
- $125,000 for mobile service testing to ensure mobile hotspot devices can provide adequate access for at-home educational needs