The Daily Tar Heel

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Saturday January 28th

Rural residents to gain high-speed internet after year of initial work by Lumos Fiber

DTH Photo Illustration. Broadband internet access in rural Chapel Hill has continued to develop.
Buy Photos DTH Photo Illustration. Broadband internet access in rural Chapel Hill has continued to develop.

This past April, Orange County began a partnership with Lumos Fiber to bring broadband or high-speed internet service to homes and businesses that previously struggled with internet access. 

Since then, Lumos has begun initial work to increase access to residents throughout the year. The project is expected to reach 28,000 homes and businesses, including 6,400 locations that previously had little to no internet service. 

Lumos said they expect construction to begin as early as spring 2023. The county identified broadband internet access as an issue for rural residents in more underserved areas. 

Carrie Sue Florence, a resident of Cedar Grove and president of the Cedar Grove Neighborhood Association, said she has been frustrated with the lack of internet connection to her home and to the homes of her neighbors. 

“I want my people to get what is due to them, including me,” she said. 

She said she has been working to get stable internet access in rural areas, especially for children in school because she taught for 30 years in Orange County and three years in Chatham County. 

Todd McGee, Orange County community relations director, said the transition to online school, work and even telehealth brought even more attention to how underserved parts of rural Orange County struggle in terms of stable internet and service. 

“The pandemic really exacerbated the fact that broadband was more of a necessity than a luxury item,” McGee said. 

The County is using $10 million from the American Rescue Plan Act to fund the project and it has been expanded by Lumos Fiber’s own investment.  

 Orange County Commissioner Sally Greene said the task force wanted to spend $5 million of the ARPA funds on expanding internet access but their partnership with Lumos ended up costing them almost a third of their allotted ARPA funds. 

However, Lumos offered to expand the network to a much larger area than originally identified. 

“So our investment of $10 million is ending up leveraging their commitment to build out a network that according to them is going to be worth approximately $45 million because they are also very interested in working in Orange County,” Greene said. 

Greene also said Lumos has been doing land surveys, finalizing permits and conducting other engineering work since the partnership was settled. She said she expects the first homes to be connected to Lumos’ fiber network by early spring.

“I’m just happy that Lumos is planning to do much more than we asked them to do initially, and our hope is that the project builds out on time and on schedule, and many, many people are served on broadband,” Greene said. 

The County has adopted different initiatives over the years such as the Open Broadband Partnership to increase internet access in rural areas. However, McGee said that other types of technologies that use wireless internet were not as successful as they had hoped.

The broadband task force, which Orange County Commissioner Earl McKee petitioned for, began meeting in March 2021. 

The task force was charged by the Board of County Commissioners to investigate solutions to improve internet access and quality as well as recommend a plan to expand reliable internet access in the county. 

Greene said the task force has completed its work as this project with Lumos is beginning to unfold. 

Lumos Fiber is expected to install 600 miles of fiber-optic cables and other technology in the area that will provide internet speeds up to 2,000 megabytes per second. 

The project will also provide internet connection to about 24 County-owned anchor institutions which includes community centers, EMS stations and fire stations. 

“By providing 100 percent Fiber-optic internet, we are helping to ensure our local communities and small businesses don’t get left behind because their digital infrastructure can’t keep up,” Brian Stading, CEO of Lumos Fiber, said in a news release on the provider's website. “This expansion highlights Lumos’ commitment to bringing competitive choice and the best technology available to the community, creating a connection to the future.”

Lumos Fiber said residents will receive mail notification before construction and when the service is available to order.

@maggie_mac21

@DTHCityState | city@dailytarheel.com


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