North Carolina’s Growing Rural Economies with Access to Technology (GREAT) matching grant program has awarded Brightspeed more than $90 million to bring broadband to 38,000 addresses in 29 counties.
The grants were announced last week by the North Carolina Department of Information Technology. The GREAT grants are for Ashe, Beaufort, Burke, Caldwell, Camden, Carteret, Catawba, Chatham, Craven, Cumberland, Currituck, Dare, Forsyth, Franklin, Gates, Granville, Greene, Hertford, Montgomery, Moore, Onslow, Pasquotank, Pitt, Sampson, Tyrrell, Vance, Washington, Wilkes and Wilson counties.
The GREAT program was created in 2019 in an effort to lower barriers to high speed service expansion. Recipients must agree to provide 100 Mbps download and 20 Mbps upload with scalability to symmetrical 100 Mbps service by the end of 2026.
The program’s initial press announcing the awards says that GREAT has granted $260 million since July. More announcements are expected during the autumn in the program, which has a budget of $350 million for this round.
Brightspeed was the biggest recipient. “We are thrilled Brightspeed was selected to receive GREAT grant funds in 29 counties across our home state of North Carolina,” Tom Dailey, Brightspeed’s vice president of public policy and government affairs, said in a press release. “As our economy, education systems, workplace options, and healthcare platforms increasingly move online, it is essential for the broadband infrastructure to keep pace for households and businesses alike. We appreciate the opportunity to extend the reach of our fiber network to even more customers across so many North Carolina communities.”
Brightspeed, which won the grants under the name Connect Holding, already had made commitments to its home state of North Carolina. In June, it announced that it would pass 300,000 addresses by the end of next year and add 500,000 more in subsequent years.
Brightspeed is awaiting the finalization of its acquisition of ILEC networks and associated assets from Lumen Technologies. It has approvals from the FCC and the 20 states involved. The deal is expected to close early in the fourth quarter. The company says that it will deploy multi-gigabit XGS-PON technology and Wi-Fi 6.
Brightspeed’s initial announcement in North Carolina was the first of what are expected to be 20. Not including the GREAT grant, Telecompetitor estimates that Brightspeed has announced that it will pass a total of 3.115 million addresses, with 1.157 million of those by the end of next year and 1.958 million slated for subsequent years. The company says that it will spend $2 billion to pass 3 million addresses during the next five years.
There is significant overlap between the counties announced last week by GREAT and the June announcement by Brightspeed. The company said in June that it was interested in participating in the GREAT program.