ATMC Awarded USDA ReConnect Grant to Bring High Speed Internet to Columbus County
Columbus County, NC - ATMC announced today that the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has awarded the cooperative a $7.9 million dollar grant to help fund its ‘Faster Columbus’ project which will allow the Shallotte-based company to expand high-speed internet access to approximately 4,000 residential addresses in rural Columbus County. In addition to the residential addresses, the project will also be able to serve over 50 businesses, ten educational facilities, three critical community facilities, and 23 agricultural operations. ATMC will contribute $7.9 million dollars in matching funds to bring the total project investment to $15.87 million.
Making the announcement on behalf of the USDA was North Carolina Rural Development State Director, Robert Hosford. “Connectivity through access to high-speed internet in this generation is just as vital as electricity was in the 1930s,” commented Hosford, “This grant will allow members of this community equity in education, technology that can improve agricultural operations, access to telemedicine, increased business opportunities, and more. The USDA is excited to be able to partner with ATMC to connect rural areas of Columbus County.”
In March 2018, Congress provided $600 million to the USDA to expand broadband infrastructure and services in rural America through the program they named “ReConnect”. The ReConnect Program received 146 applications between May 31, 2019, and July 12, 2019, seeking $1.4 billion in funding requests. The funds awarded must be used to cover the costs of construction, improvement, or acquisition of facilities and equipment needed to provide broadband service in eligible rural areas.
“I can’t express how excited we at ATMC are to be a recipient of the ReConnect grant from the USDA,” said Keith Holden, ATMC CEO. “This grant has the potential to make a huge impact in Columbus County by helping us bring high speed internet to thousands of residents that have been without it for far too long. We would like to extend our gratitude to all the residents, farmers, business owners and community leaders who provided letters of support for the Faster Columbus project. That support was key in helping us win this critical funding.”
“We are excited to be here to show our support for ATMC and celebrate its continued work to bring broadband to rural areas of our state,” said Jeff Sural, Broadband Infrastructure Director for NCDIT. “This grant will create viable opportunities for generations to come and we are happy to have played a role in making high speed internet a reality in this community. I believe small businesses and rural telecom providers, like ATMC, will be the ones who help us finally close the digital divide.”
ATMC will begin the design work required for the project in the coming weeks and anticipates construction of the new fiber optic network to begin during the middle part of 2020. The network will cover approximately 155 square miles, including underserved communities near Tabor City, Hallsboro, Lake Waccamaw, Bolton, and areas north of Whiteville. It will enable the delivery of high-speed internet speeds of up to 1Gigabit per second as well as cable TV, telephone, and home security and automation services.
“For too long it’s like we’ve been on an island without the internet, and opportunities were like ships passing us by because we didn’t have a harbor for them to come to. Now we’re finally going to have a harbor so our community and our children will be able to take advantage of all the opportunities we’ve been missing,” commented Chief Michael Jacobs of the Waccamaw Siouan Tribe. “We are thankful to the USDA and to ATMC for this incredible investment that will enrich the lives of so many in this area.”
In 2010, ATMC received $16 million dollars through a USDA grant to build a fiber optic network to the unserved communities of Nakina, Guideway and Old Dock. In May of 2019, ATMC was awarded $1 milliondollars in grant funding from the NC GREAT Grant program which is allowing the company to bring fiber optic service to underserved homes in the Beaverdam community. ATMC also recently began a $4.5 million-dollar project to bring a fiber optic network to residents and businesses in the Town of Brunswick and areas in the southern portion of Whiteville. The company plans to apply for additional grant funds in 2020 to bring highspeed internet to other unserved areas of Columbus County.
For more information about ATMC’s progress on the ReConnect Grant, or to stay up-to-date on all of ATMC’s Columbus County high-speed internet expansion projects, visit www.fastercolumbus.com or call 910-7544311.
Pictured: (L-R) Robert Hosford, USDA North Carolina Rural Development State Director, Keith Holden, ATMC CEO, and Chief Michael Jacobs of the Waccamaw Siouan Tribe.