(TNS) — President Joe Biden’s visit to North Carolina on Thursday comes with an announcement that the White House says will benefit 16,000 households and businesses and bring hundreds of jobs to the state.
“Today the president is traveling to the Raleigh area to announce $82 million in new investments from the American Rescue Plan that will expand reliable, affordable high speed internet to another 20,000 North Carolinians,” said Principal Deputy Press Secretary Olivia Dalton. “One in three North Carolinians lives in a rural area and so there’s quite a divide that exists between communities across the state in terms of access to the internet.”
The pandemic relief law known as the American Rescue Plan, which Biden championed, passed Congress in 2021. Dalton said the money being announced will pay for fiber-optic cable, and said work is already underway to lay the fiber, so the effects should be felt quickly.
Early in his term, Biden put into motion steps to close the digital divide that included a $100 billion plan to bring the internet into rural communities without access and provide affordable internet to people with low incomes.
“When he entered office in the throes of the pandemic, it was very clear to everyone across the country that the internet was no longer a luxury,” Dalton said. “It was a requirement for daily life, whether you’re a student, an employee or just someone who needs to stay in touch with health care providers or other services.”
Biden announced he will visit the “Raleigh-Durham area” Thursday to tout the role “Bidenomics” has played in creating jobs and supporting small businesses.
Rural communities deal with slow internet
Dalton said Biden saw this as he campaigned across the country in 2020 and heard from families about driving to their local McDonald’s and sitting in the parking lot just so their children could access their online schoolwork.
Many North Carolina families reported feeling the effects of poor-quality internet during the pandemic. The Charlotte Observer previously reported on the Lennon family in Orrum, who couldn’t get through an online class without their teacher freezing. Five different broadband internet companies told them that service wasn’t available in their community, The Observer reported.
But it’s a problem that rural North Carolina counties have been dealing with for years.
Beginning in 2015, in rural Rockingham County, former Superintendent Rodney Shotwell decided to take matters into his own hands and set up WiFi on several school and activity buses throughout the county that students in areas without internet or reliable internet could get on and do their homework.
Promise of high-speed internet
Dalton said at the start of Biden’s term, 24 million people did not have access to the internet and others had spotty or limited access.
Biden made a commitment at the start of his presidency that by 2030 every American would have affordable high speed internet.
North Carolina has already received $2.9 billion to provide reliable internet, according to White House officials.
And the Affordable Connectivity Program offers eligible households at least $30 a month off their internet bills and a one-time discount of up to $100 to buy a laptop, desktop computer or tablet.
More than 22 million people have signed up for this service, with more than 880,000 in North Carolina, according to White House officials.
And with North Carolina being what one company called the fiber-optic capital of the United States — with 40% of fiber-optic cable being produced in the state, according to Dalton — she said that means hundreds of jobs and hundreds of millions of dollars of private sector funding coming to North Carolina in order to fulfill the need for cable as the projects continue across the United States.
CommScope and Corning, in Catawba County, are committing a combined $550 million to build the fiber-optic cable, Dalton added.
Thursday marks Biden’s seventh trip to North Carolina since taking office. He last visited Rocky Mount and Fayetteville with First Lady Jill Biden on June 9 to tout jobs and support for military families.
© 2024 McClatchy Washington Bureau. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.