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Some rural areas getting broadband access

By Jeanna Baxter White

Davie County Economic

Development Commission

“Access to high-speed internet is a cornerstone of prosperity, and unfortunately, many of America’s rural communities lack access to this critical infrastructure, said U.S. Department of Agriculture Deputy Under Secretary for Rural Development Bette Brand.

“Connecting America’s rural communities to this essential infrastructure is one of the USDA’s top priorities because we know that when rural America thrives, all of America thrives.”

She was speaking during a grant award ceremony at Yadkin Valley Telephone Membership Corporation headquarters in Yadkinville last week.

Yadtel Telecom received a $2.3 million ReConnect Program grant from the USDA to deploy a fiber-to-the-premises network to businesses and residences without 10/1 Mbps internet service. This investment will allow the company to lay another 70 miles of fiber connecting 5,686 people, 67 farms, and 18 businesses to high-speed broadband internet in Davie, Yadkin, and Iredell counties.

The 2020 pandemic has accentuated the gaps in the digital divide between rural and urban Americans. Studies indicate that

• 75,000 students in rural areas of North Carolina have no access to broadband; and

• rural Americans are 24 percent more likely to have children who are unable to participate in online learning, while the parents are unable to work from home.

“We are here today because 21 million people lack connection to high-speed internet and 80 percent of those people live in rural communities. In this day and age, all Americans need this modern robust infrastructure to thrive. It is a necessity and not an amenity.

“If you have access to high-speed internet you can incorporate precision agricultural technology into your agri-business; you, your children, or grandchildren can participate in distance learning and still maintain their studies when schools remain closed; you can access life-saving medical services remotely using telemedicine; and you can continue to run your business and keep your employees employed while working from home,” said Brand.

“Yadtel is setting a great example for the rest of the country right here in North Carolina. They are showing that no household, no business, and no person should be left behind in this critical infrastructure development.”

“Yadtel Telecom is proud to be a premier provider of reliable, high-speed internet. We are committed in our efforts as a partner in the deployment of high-speed broadband e-Connectivity to areas in local communities that lack access to such critical infrastructure,” said Janet Culpepper, vice president of human resources and public relations at Yadtel Telecom. “Yadtel is passionate about building essential infrastructure to meet the critical needs for high-speed broadband internet in either unserved and underserved rural communities.”

US Rep. Ted Budd, US Rep. Virginia Foxx, US Rep. Patrick McHenry, NC Sens. Joyce Krawiec and Vicki Sawyer, NC. Rep. Julia Howard, USDA Rural Development State Director Robert Hosford, and N.C. Commissioner of Agriculture Steve Troxler were among the national, state, and local political representatives on hand for the announcement.

During her speech, Foxx shared that she had received a letter from a fifth grader expressing his frustration over not having consistent internet service to do his school work.

“Internet access is critical for all over the country, but particularly in rural areas. I appreciate what is being done at the local, state, and federal levels to make it available to everyone. I don’t want another fifth grader to have to write me a letter because they don’t have internet.”

“I am really proud that our state has received this grant,” said Budd, who is also a Yadtel customer. “We realize that helping rural America thrive is really the bedrock for the great American comeback and I am glad that we can play a part in that.”

“Things like this don’t just happen,” said Troxler. “It started with local people who understood what connectivity really means. It took our Congress being able to step up for rural America. It took the Department of Agriculture in Washington. And it took the Trump administration having the wherewithal to understand what rural America really is. It has been a great partnership and one that has been a game-changer. Every time we do this we are moving rural North Carolina forward. And every time we do something for rural North Carolina we are doing something for the Ag businesses in North Carolina and we are moving North Carolina’s economy forward.”

Hosford ended the program by contrasting his internet access in Raleigh to that of a family he met in rural eastern North Carolina.

“My little girl is in third grade. She and another little girl are homeschooling in the back of the house while I’m working in the front of the house and they can get their homework done just like that.

“I was talking to the Chief of the Waccamaw-Siouan Tribe, who is also a Baptist preacher, owns a car fix-it shop, and is a single dad. He has to drive his child to the burger joint to do homework because he doesn’t have the internet yet where he lives. Just think about that, that’s a double whammy. The kid is sitting in the back seat with a Chromebook out, which isn’t really a conducive way to get educated and he has to take time away from preparing sermons or fixing cars which pays the bills.

“Getting quality broadband into all of North Carolina’s 100 counties is a daunting task. Nevertheless, how do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time, one project at a time, one $500,000 grant at a time, one $24 million grant at a time. That’s how you get it out there and we are looking forward to being proud partners with this community and many others.”

USDA Rural Development provides loans and grants to help expand economic opportunities and create jobs in rural areas. This assistance supports infrastructure improvements; business development; housing; community facilities such as schools, public safety, and health care; and high-speed internet access in rural areas. For more information, visit www.rd.usda.gov.

Yadkin Valley Telephone Membership Corporation is a member-owned non-profit cooperative founded in 1950 in the Piedmont area of western North Carolina. The company’s origin was a grassroots effort to provide telephone service to rural areas deemed unprofitable by commercial telephone companies. Today, 70 years later, the mission has expanded to include bringing high-speed broadband fiber internet to unserved rural areas. They proudly serve the residents of Yadkin, Davie, and portions of Alexander, Forsyth, Iredell, Rowan, and Wilkes counties. For more information, visit www.yadtel.com.