High-speed fiber internet is on its way to several underserved rural communities in Buncombe County thanks to a $1.8 million state grant. According to a presentation by County Manager Avril Pinder at the July 18 Board of Commissioners meeting, more than 500 households will receive fiber internet service no later than December 2026.
Asheville-based Skyrunner Internet, the grant recipient, will expand service in the North and South Turkey Creek, Fairview Forest, Reems Creek and Ox Creek neighborhoods. The county will chip in an additional $500,000 to the project from its federal American Rescue Plan Act funds.
“We are proud to be a part of this initiative, as it strongly aligns with our mission to ensure digital equity for all residents of North Carolina,” said Skyrunner President J.J. Boyd in an email to Xpress after the meeting.
Boyd added that Skyrunner will offer eligible low-income households a $30 monthly discount on service through the federal Affordable Connectivity Program, as stipulated in the grant.
Commissioner Terri Wells commended county staff for making sure Buncombe was considered for the grant.
“Continuing to connect our community with this high-speed broadband is really going to bring lasting dividends for our families and our businesses. Some of our families I know have been waiting for years to have this technology,” she said.
The latest funding, part of $80 million in Growing Rural Economies with Access to Technology grants announced by Gov. Roy Cooper July 6, is the third such award Buncombe has received since 2020. In total, according to Pinder, that money will help bring broadband internet to more than 2,000 households.
“As these providers build out, if there’s people in those areas who want to sign on, they can sign on as well. So it’s really a much larger impact than this even shows,” Wells added.
In other news
Buncombe County has seen poor air quality in recent weeks as a result of Canadian wildfires made more intense and wide-reaching by climate change. But county leaders hope to address sources of pollution closer to home through the adoption of a new open burning ordinance.
Buncombe Fire Marshal Kevin Tipton gets an average of 30 complaints a month for smoke, he told commissioners at a July 18 briefing. He said he needs more specific ordinance language on open burning to help address those complaints.
The proposed changes would establish rules for the legal burning of vegetative waste. The ordinance gives the fire marshal or a designee authority to put out fires deemed hazardous; it also mandates that open fires larger than 3 feet in diameter must take place at least 50 feet away from any structure. Open burning of nonvegetative waste, such as construction materials and tires, is still prohibited under the ordinance.
Tipton also proposed an increase to fines for businesses not complying with the fire code. Penalties would go from $100 to $500 for serious violations and from $25 to $100 for minor violations. He said some business owners were willing to pay the fines rather than abide by the code under the previous penalty structure, which has not been revised since 2007.
The changes come after a 2022 study of EMS and fire services conducted for Buncombe by North Carolina Fire Chief Consulting, which recommended the county should update its fire ordinances. Tipton said he had read 27 ordinances from surrounding counties to draft what he called a “lax” proposal.
“I’m not trying to reinvent the wheel, but I am trying to cut down on nuisance burning,” he said.
The commission will consider approving the changes at the meeting of Tuesday, Aug. 1.
Commission meeting times to remain the same
Commissioners agreed to not alter the board’s meeting schedule after considering the results of a community survey on preferred meeting times. Although a majority of the survey’s 101 respondents favored shifting one meeting per month to the morning, Commissioners Al Whitesides and Martin Moore said the number of responses were insufficient to merit making a change.