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Legislative leaders, governor strike bargain to make sure $30 million planned for rural broadband gets spent

Legislative leaders and Gov. Roy Cooper have struck a deal to ensure that $30 million earmarked for The Growing Rural Economies with Access to Technology (GREAT) Program is spent despite a snafu with the federal aid that was intended for the program.

A press release today from House Speaker Tim Moore, R-Cleveland, Senate President Pro Tempore Phil Berger, R-Rockingham, and Cooper announced the compromise.

This pandemic has emphasized the importance of high-speed internet for people across our state and it is critical that we continue increasing access in rural communities. My administration is committed to following the law and getting maximum benefit from federal Covid relief funding, and I appreciate legislative leaders and my budget staff ensuring that funds can be used to expand internet access in North Carolina,” Cooper said in the press release.

The GREAT Program provides grants to help expand rural broadband access, and legislation giving $30 million in federal COVID-19 relief funding to the program was passed by lawmakers and signed by Cooper in September.

However, the federal aid has to be spent by the end of the year, and, according to the press release, there was some question as to whether broadband projects funded with the aid had to be complete by the end of the year as well.

In order to resolve any confusion, Cooper and legislative leaders decided that the original $30 million in federal aid will instead be used to replace expenses that would have been paid for out of the state’s general fund. And then, in 2021, the legislature will appropriate $30 million that has now been freed up from the general fund to go to the GREAT program.

“I appreciate the work put in by legislators and legislative staff, working with Gov. Cooper and his team, to reach this agreement. Expanding access to rural broadband is a shared priority, and I’m glad we could successfully resolve this issue,” Berger said in the press release.

Rural broadband remains a top priority of this General Assembly and our state is fortunate to have continued revenue availability to meet this need and make flexible budget adjustments as federal rules may require,” Moore said in the press release.

Alex Granados

Alex Granados is senior reporter for EducationNC.