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Gigabit Comes to Rural Western North Carolina

New routing switches installed to support Country Cablevision's expanded broadband service

New routing switches are installed to support Country Cablevision's expanded broadband service in rural North Carolina.

At the foot of Mount Mitchell, highest peak east of the Mississippi River, sits the quiet town of Burnsville, North Carolina. People come and go from the textile factory, hikers visit to climb the mountain, and a colorful art scene adds flavor to the community. But in 2009 in the wake of the stock market crash, unemployment in the county rose to 11.9 percent. Burnsville’s problems were compounded by the lack of broadband Internet outside of the town-center, which limited its potential growth.

When USDA announced broadband funding as part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, Burnsville-based Country Cablevision saw an opportunity to expand and upgrade their existing Internet service in Mitchell and Yancey Counties.

The rewards are great. Country Cablevision’s broadband service brings people off the mountain so they can use newly connected facilities in an old library, helps troops overseas watch their kids play baseball via a ballfield with Internet access, and makes it easier to virtually visit family members at the local nursing home.

Through the program, 2,000 Western North Carolina homes now have fiber broadband access and can receive speeds from 25 up to 100 megabytes per second service. Businesses connected through the program can receive up to 1 gigabit per second.  Nationwide, USDA’s Recovery Act broadband program has expanded broadband access to nearly six million rural Americans.

The impact of this project has been felt throughout the region. Jake Blood, the director of the Yancey Economic Development Commission, told me, “It used to be that you had to be in Burnsville or on Highway 29 to get fast broadband” but now broadband will be available to “all our family businesses located throughout the county allowing us all to compete globally.” Sherry McCuller of the broadband task force notes, “We now have a powerful new tool in our economic development toolbox, and our citizens and their children will have access to broadband connectivity equal to or even better than metro areas of the state.” Investments like these by USDA Rural Development are helping build and strengthen the rural communities throughout our country.

One Response to “Gigabit Comes to Rural Western North Carolina”

  1. Yancey County Seasonal Resident says:

    Administrator McBride–

    Interesting post and one of the few stories out there recently on this project. Broadband was certainly scarcely available in Yancey — certainly by the FCC’s revised 25 Mb/s characterization, but even under the older classifications. The legacy coax network that Country Cablevision built is being replaced in some areas by FTTH-based symmetric Internet services, which is a boon.

    However, I would add that those of us in more distal portions of the region are not yet seeing the full benefit. In our case, a fiber node reached the general vicinity, but we’re still on an HFC network with 25 Mb/s download, 1 Mb/s upload. That’s far better than the 3 megabit down, 256 kilobits up speeds before the upgrade. But, it is not yet FTTH. (We will set aside CCVN’s usage caps as an issue more in the FCC’s bailiwick than the RUS’, and one that is by no means isolated to CCVN.)

    Country Cablevision has been relatively opaque in sharing details about their status, and it has been difficult to get further information about their progress or ETA. I find this troubling given the fact that RUS funded this project significantly with grants and loans.

    While Yancey may come last alphabetically among North Carolina’s one hundred counties, one would do well not to assume that her residents are rubes or unsophisticated in broadband. (I am perhaps archly noting the comment of service in town that “brings people off the mountain” — given that the CCVN documents have promised 97% population coverage, one also hopes that few residents have to take that step.)

    Of course, we need to celebrate success. CCVN is a boon to the community. But, further transparency and detail about their operations, timeline and path to complete the good work they have started is needed.

    (Oh, and while the RUS is deserving of credit, it would be a disservice not to note the very important role played by BTOP grants made possible by ARRA. When I traceroute from my better-but-not-yet-best CCVN connection to hosts outside their network, it appears that ERC Broadband is backhauling CCVN traffic. And ERC was subcontracted to MCNC for the backbone work funded by ARRA/BTOP and the Golden LEAF foundation. Kudos all around to federal and state stakeholders for helping to make things better in WNC!)

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