For Buncombe County businesses and residents, access to high-speed internet is essential. But estimates show that there are more than 502,000 unserved and underserved locations across North Carolina, including in our area. The good news is that North Carolina will receive the fifth-highest allocation, more than $1.5 billion, from the National Telecommunications and Information Administration’s Broadband Equity Access and Deployment program to expand broadband internet to areas across the state.
Officials now have important decisions to make about how that funding will be used to ensure all locations get connected to reliable and fast broadband. UScellular was the first wireless carrier to offer service in Western North Carolina and has dedicated the last 40 years to bringing connectivity to those who are topographically, financially and technically most difficult to cover. The most important lesson that we have learned is a mix of technologies is required.
We understand there are parts of North Carolina where fiber will be the right solution, mainly in urban areas, where the infrastructure and terrain make it easy and affordable to install. In many rural areas, 5G FWA (fixed wireless), using cellular technology to provide both home broadband and mobile connectivity, is best because one cell site can serve multiple locations without having to dig up long distances to avoid crop fields or hanging aerial fiber on unevenly spread poles over rocky terrain.
Importantly, these decisions aren’t an either/or between wireline or wireless, fiber or 5G FWA, urban or rural. When considering how to connect Western North Carolina residents, we all must think in terms of “and” instead of “or.” We urge officials to keep open the option to use all available, reliable solutions to get Western North Carolina connected as they take advantage of its allocated BEAD funding.
— Kristen Carter
Editor’s note: Kristen Carter is the store manager for UScellular in Asheville.