Battle for broadband in Eastern North Carolina continues despite advances

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KINSTON N.C. (WNCT) – It’s a problem that plagues many rural communities across the state of North Carolina, reliable broadband internet. This issue has been around for years, and the COVID-19 pandemic has shed light on some of the inequities students and their families face.

It’s estimated nearly 300,000 families in North Carolina don’t have reliable internet access.

“Governor (Roy) Cooper always talks about gas, water, electric, essential utilities, the internet has now become part of that conversation,” said Tim Stranahan, COO of Tekniam.

It’s the battle for broadband.

“We must have internet right now within the foreseeable future so that rural families can come into the 21st century digitally,” said Congressman G.K. Butterfield.

Greene County is no stranger to this problem.

“There is a report issued by the FCC back in 2018 that says only about 41% of households in Greene County have reliable high-speed broadband internet,” said Dr. Frank Creech, Greene County Schools assistant superintendent.

One company believes they’ve found a cost and time-efficient way to help bridge the gap.

“The RUCS is meant to be a simple machine, there is really only one power switch, and there are only two chords,” Stranahan said. “We set this up here in Kinston on May 6, it took us a day and a half to put it in place. Everyone knows if you run fiber, it’s going to take a long time, and generations of kids would graduate long before the internet was run to their homes.”

The Remote Universal Communications System, also known as RUCS, was set up in a home garage in Kinston.

“This will send a signal to the community across the street to the Jones and Jones mobile community and distribute that signal to over 25 students in that community,” Stranahan said.

Nine on Your Side visited the site across from the Jones and Jones Community and hooked to the RUCS internet right away and had high downloading and uploading speeds from the connection.

But how can a system like this actually be brought in to help a community? Stranahan hopes county leaders will use federal money to invest in the RUCS technology, which costs around $120,000 to set up in the one Kinston community.

“President (Joe) Biden has proposed a Build Back Better agenda and included $65 billion for high-speed reliable internet for every household in America,” Butterfield said. “The grants will be given to states so that governors can administer these funds to local communities.”

“Students who don’t have internet at home are struggling and they’re sliding further and further back,” Stranahan added. “That homework gap existed long before COVID, it’s just COVID shined a spotlight on it.”

“We also had a number of churches, all of the volunteer fire departments, and some businesses who opened up their broadband access to our students so they could come in and park and upload and download assignments,” said Creech.

Butterfield predicts with technologies like the RUCS and others, broadband is coming.

“I predict within the next 24 months every household, including every household in Eastern North Carolina, will have access to high-speed broadband,” Butterfield said.

“The more families that have access to broadband, the better our students are because they are able to continue to communicate with their classmates and teachers in virtual settings if they have to, and they’re also able to collaborate on projects and take courses online,” Creech added. “It is really important that as many or all of our families have access to reliable broadband.”

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