ATMC announced today that the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has awarded the cooperative a $21.6 million dollar grant to help fund its ‘Faster Pender’ project which will allow the Shallotte-based company to expand high-speed internet access to over 7,000 addresses in rural Pender County. Gigabit broadband internet access will be made available to 6,853 residential addresses, over 285 businesses, 19 educational facilities, nine healthcare facilities, 15 critical community facilities, and 209 agricultural operations. ATMC will contribute $7.2 million dollars in matching funds to bring the total project investment to $28.9 million.
“The need for rural broadband has never been more apparent than it is now – as our nation manages the coronavirus national emergency. Access to telehealth services, remote learning for school children, and remote business operations all require access to broadband,” said U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue. “I am so proud of our rural communities who have been working day in and day out, just like they always do, producing the food and fiber America depends on. We need them more than ever during these trying times and expanding access to this critical infrastructure will help ensure rural America prospers for years to come.”
In December of 2019, the USDA announced the availability of a second round of funding under the ReConnect Program. Through the ReConnect broadband program, the USDA has over $600 million available for grants, grant/loan combinations, and low-interest loans. Applications for the second round of funding were accepted between January 31, 2020 and April 15, 2020.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.
“It is a huge honor for ATMC to once again be a recipient ReConnect funding from the USDA,” said Keith Holden, ATMC CEO. “This grant will make a considerable impact in Pender County for many years to come 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 the UDSA, Congressman Rouzer, the Pender County Board of Commissioners, and all the residents, farmers, business owners, and community leaders who provided letters of support for the Faster Pender project. That support was key in helping us win this critical funding.”
With a project of this size, there is a great deal of preliminary work that must be done before actual construction can begin. ATMC anticipates construction of the new fiber-optic network to begin during the middle part of 2021 after all necessary program paperwork and environmental studies have been completed.
The network will cover approximately 538 square miles, including underserved communities west of Interstate 40 to the Bladen County line, including Atkinson and Currie, and unserved areas east of Burgaw and Rocky Point. The network will enable the delivery of high-speed internet speeds of up to 1Gigabit per second as well as telephone and home security and automation services.
“Once upon a time it was the interstate system, water and sewer that was key for commerce, and quite frankly today if you don’t have broadband, none of that matters,” commented Congressman David Rouzer. “Broadband is the infrastructure of today and of the future.”
Chairman of the Pender County Board of Commissioners, George Brown, also spoke at Friday’s event saying, “Imagine not being able to use a computer or phone because of a lack of high-speed internet, that’s a reality for many in our county. It’s not about congratulating the folks that made this grant happen, today congratulations are in order for the people of Pender County who will benefit tremendously from this grant.
We are so thankful to Secretary Perdue, Congressman Rouzer and ATMC for this gift they’ve given to Pender County.”
While this will be the first time ATMC has served residents and businesses in Pender County, the cooperative has been serving rural North Carolinians for more than 65 years. ATMC has a great track record of using grant funds to provide high-speed internet to rural areas. 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 Columbus County. In May of 2019, ATMC was awarded $1 million dollars 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. Last December, ATMC won a $7.9 million dollar grant from the USDA ReConnect Grant program to serve Columbus County residents near Tabor City, Hallsboro, Lake Waccamaw, Bolton, and areas north of Whiteville. And, in the last few weeks, the cooperative announced that it had been awarded $3.7 million dollars from the NC GREAT Grant program to provide fiber optic internet services to approximately 2,600 residents and businesses in rural portions of Columbus, Robeson, and Duplin counties.
For more information about ATMC’s progress on the ReConnect Grant, visit www.fasterpender.com or call 910-754-4311.