Halifax-Warren internet provider lands $17.5 grant; feds announcing $759M in US awards in Raleigh

RALEIGH – The US Department of Agriculture is providing $759 million in grants and loans to help rural communities access high-speed Internet. This is part of the broader $65 billion plans for high-speed links included in last year’s Infrastructure Act.

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack and White House senior adviser Mitch Landrieu will present the grants Thursday in North Carolina.

There are 49 recipients in 24 states.

One of these is North Carolina’s AccessOn Networks, which will receive $17.5 million to provide broadband services to 100 businesses, 76 farms and 22 educational institutions in Halifax and Warren counties. Both counties are rural and have predominantly black populations.

The announcement and visit to North Carolina, a state with an open US Senate seat, comes as President Joe Biden and other top Democratic officials seek to sell their gains to voters ahead of the Nov. 8 midterm elections. Landrieu, the infrastructure coordinator and former mayor of New Orleans, told reporters on a call Wednesday that the Biden administration has already committed $180 billion to various infrastructure projects.

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The government is specifically targeting support for small towns and farming communities, places that Republicans generally favor over Democrats.

“Rural communities are the backbone of our nation, but for too long they have been left behind and undervalued,” Landrieu said. “We all know how important the internet is for accessing life-saving telemedicine, reaping economic opportunities, connecting with loved ones, working on precision farming and more. It is just beyond unacceptable that this is not available to rural America.”

Vilsack said he and Landrieu are “learning firsthand” from the people of North Carolina about the opportunities that Internet access can create. They plan to meet with state and local officials, including North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper, at Wake Technical Community College, where they will announce the grants. They will also be holding a town hall in Elm City.

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Neither candidate in the race for the US Senate in North Carolina – Democrat Cheri Beasley and Republican Ted Budd – is expected to appear at the events.

Vilsack said previous trips showed how broadband connections are starting to make a difference. While in Nevada this summer, he heard from people in the town of Lovelock who wanted to take advantage of the improved Internet to improve their emergency services and tourism opportunities, and to help high school students earn college credits online.

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