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.