By Tom Woerner
Dunn Daily Record
Internet service, and the access to the World Wide Web it will bring, will soon improve for residents in the northern part of Sampson County thanks to a new grant program announced Tuesday.
North Carolina Rural Development State Director Reginald Speight joined county officials in Clinton to announce a $2.3 million U.S. Department of Agriculture Community Connect Grant awarded to Star Telephone Membership Corporation. The corporation, hosting the event at its Clinton distribution center, will use the funds to construct an approximately 120-mile Fiber to the Premises system in the northern end of Sampson County. The areas served will include the Mingo, Plain View, Dismal and Spivey’s Corner areas of the county.
The system is expected to expand access to economic, educational, health care and public safety opportunities for 1,800 residents and 15 businesses in Sampson County. The residents affected will have the opportunity to connect directly to wireless services.
The funds will also be used to turn the old Midway Elementary School on U.S. Highway 421 in Spivey’s Corner into a community center where residents can access the free high speed internet for up to two years.
“These investments will help to ensure rural North Carolinians have access to reliable high speed internet to benefit from more educational, health care and economic opportunities in America’s smallest communities,” Speight said. “Under the leadership of President Biden and Vice President (Kamala) Harris USDA is committed to building a better America by investing in America’s rural infrastructure by expanding access to broadband.”
He said the needs have been increased by the ongoing global pandemic that has forced many employees into remote work situations where they are required to have internet access. The need for online service has increased because of the educational system’s dependence on remote learning for students.
“Internet access is the new electricity. It is an essential service,” Speight said. “We have to address this need and this program is one way we are going to be able to do that. We are proud to be a partner in making this happen in rural North Carolina.”
Star Communications Board of Directors President Chairman Thurmond Smith also spoke at Tuesday’s event. He was joined by other company officials.
“This is going to get us where we want to be, to get internet access to all the people we serve,” Smith said. “The need has been enhanced because of the COVID-19 pandemic. It has created a digital divide and we want to bridge that divide.”
Smith said his company has a corporate goal of providing online access for all people in its service area within five years.
Star Communication is the largest communications company in the Sampson County area. It provides voice, video, internet, wireless, security, automation, hosted cloud solutions and surveillance services across Southeastern North Carolina. Other organizations have received the grant funds including the Atlantic Telephone Membership Corporation in Robeson County.