Legislature provided $39 million for rural broadband grants in COVID relief packages
Months after the bill passed, the Cooper Admin informed providers the broadband grants wouldn't be coming – and didn't bother telling the legislature
RALEIGH, N.C. – Senator Chuck Edwards (R-Henderson) sent Gov. Roy Cooper a letter asking him to reverse his 11th-hour decision to eliminate COVID relief funding for rural broadband.
With proposed broadband projects in the 48th district, Sen. Edwards said, "The people in our rural areas desperately need broadband access. Nothing has changed about the guidelines surrounding this funding, so it is troubling for this issue to come up now. I hope the Governor will work with us to help these people. They are already expressing concerns that he is taking their funding for his pet projects. I hope they are wrong, and he chooses to help us."
In a bipartisan bill passed in May 2020, the legislature appropriated $9 million in federal CARES Act funding for the Growing Rural Economies with Access to Technology (GREAT) rural broadband program. Again in September, in a bipartisan vote, the legislature appropriated an additional $30 million in federal CARES Act funding to the GREAT program.
Nobody in the Executive Branch expressed any reservations about the funding. In fact, Gov. Roy Cooper even touted it in a September press release.
Seventy broadband providers statewide submitted grant applications, and dozens expected awards to be announced imminently. But last week, in contravention of state law and without informing the legislature, Gov. Cooper's administration pulled the funding, leaving children and seniors in the lurch. Many students are still receiving virtual instruction, and seniors rely heavily on telehealth. Both suffer without expanded broadband.
Senator Edwards expressed surprise in the letter, given the noncontroversial history of the funding and the legislature's clear determination that it's an eligible use of CARES Act dollars, the Governor would take action at this late stage to eliminate it.
The letter reads, in part, "State law grants the Executive Branch flexibility in reallocating CARES Act money only if there is no reasonable expectation of expending funds by Dec. 30. But more than 70 grant applicants have submitted proposals, and a priority list of who should receive the grants was created by Department of Information Technology staff as recommendations for approval ... It is clear that a reasonable expectation of awards before Dec. 30 exists because dozens of providers expected to receive an award this month."
Read the full letter here.