French Broad EMC recently received a $3 million grant to provide broadband service to unserved and underserved parts of its service territory. The grant was issued through USDA’s ReConnect Pilot Program through the CARES Act. U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue visited the co-op this week to announce the funding.
“The need for rural broadband has never been more apparent than it is now – as our nation manages the coronavirus national emergency,” Perdue said. “Access to telehealth services, remote learning for school children and remote business operations all require access to broadband.”
As part of the phase of deployment covered by the latest grant, French Broad EMC will be building nearly 227 miles of new fiber line (highlighted in orange on the map below) to serve an estimated 4,000 members in Madison County. Currently, 3,000 members have access to French Broad Fiber services.
“In initial phases, we went after the unserved, most dense areas first, and as we’ve had opportunities to apply for grants — including an ARC POWER grant, USDA Community Connect grant and the recent funding — we’ve been able to move to more rural areas,” said French Broad EMC General Manager Jeff Loven. “The program is a win-win for everybody, so we’re continuing to do what we can do to get it out to as many people as we can.”
In addition to high-speed internet service for members, the fiber system is also enhancing the speed of the co-op’s wireless AMI system as fiber-connected data collectors are added in the field. Once the next phase is complete, final work will be done to connect members in Northern Madison County and Tennessee.
“I am so proud of our rural communities who have been working day in and day out, just like they always do, producing the food and fiber America depends on,” Perdue said. “We need them more than ever during these trying times, and expanding access to this critical infrastructure will help ensure rural America prospers for years to come.”