Broadband coming to rural areas in Sampson County

From left, North Carolina State Director of USDA Rural Development Steve Hosford stands with USDA Deputy Under Secretary for Rural Development Donald LaVoy, U.S. Congressman David Rouzer and Jeff Nethercutt, executive vice president and general manager of Star Communications, after a grant announcement Wednesday. The USDA announced a $23.7 million grant to Star Communications to bring broadband access to rural areas of Sampson County not already served by the company.

Star customers have hope

With the help of the largest grant of its kind this year, Star Communications will soon be bringing broadband to rural customers in Sampson County.

The United States Department of Agriculture has granted the company $23.7 million under the ReConnect Pilot Program aimed at building high speed broadband infrastructure to create or improve rural connectivity.

The announcement was made by USDA Deputy Under Secretary for Rural Development Donald LaVoy, during a press conference at the company’s warehouse in Clinton Wednesday morning.

“I’m looking forward to the future of us being able to provide service to 8,750 households through this grant we were able to provide,” LaVoy said. “We know bringing broadband to all of our country allows us to all connect. Connection is the thing that will basically take us where we have to be in the future.”

LaVoy called the grant and the ensuing infrastructure development as a game changer for the area. He gave the example of how a house with the door closed has no visitors and activity before opening the same door and allowing access to the outside world.

“Broadband is a door-opener,” he said. “You can connect with any number of resources and they can connect with you.”

The project will bring approximately 2,000 Star Communications customers in Western Sampson county broadband service over the next one to two years through the installation of fiber-optic cable, according to Star Engineering Manager Steve Harrison.

He said the area along U.S. Highway 421, which currently is seeing an upgrade, will be further expanded to the east and south through the grant.

“It will take about one or two years for the area to be completed,” Harrison said. “With the entire project being completed within five years, according to he terms of the grant.”

In addition to the 8,750 households, the project will extend broadband to 19 businesses, 10 educational facilities and three critical community facilities, according to North Carolina State Director of USDA Rural Development Robert Hosford.

In addition to the connectivity provided for businesses and homes, Hosford said it will help boost the precision-Ag sector of Sampson County, which is the largest agricultural county in North Carolina. He said it will help the industry reach $100 billion in the state, it currently stands at $94 billion, according to Hosport.

“Precision Ag, drone usage, uploading in the field, this will help in this way, too,” he said. “This [is] one of the many things we do at USDA Rural Development in North Carolina. But, right now this is the priority, connecting rural communities and making a flat, fair table for everyone out there who wants to go to school or who wants to compete around the world with agricultural products.”

In total, the USDA handed out around $600 million in such grants, according to U.S. Representative David Rouser (D-NC), who represents Sampson County and said he was very happy to see the county receive the funding.

“I’m really thrilled that a portion of that $600 million Congress funded the program with is coming back to southeastern North Carolina and in this area specifically,” Rouzer said. “I was asked what was the significance of broadband deployment and really it’s everything. All of my life I’ve heard of the haves and the have-nots. I learned about five or six years ago that those who have internet are the haves and those who don’t have the internet are the have-nots. Because, quite frankly, if you don’t have that infrastructure, if you don’t have that technology, it’s very difficult to operate in the 21st Century.”

-Dunn Daily Record