ELIZABETHTON — After waiting in vain years for private investors to begin the process of expanding broadband internet into the mountainous sections of Carter County, the local government is now recommending that the county put “a little skin in the game” along with some state grant money to attract a developer.
The Carter County Commission’s Budget Committee agreed it was a good time to attract an investor, with the state offering chunks of $2 million grants to extend broadband. The committee was also spurred by the County Commission’s Health and Welfare Committee. That committee has been active in the past few months talking with potential investors, economic development professionals and state internet officials.
The result was that the Budget Committee voted unanimously Monday night to recommend to the full County Commission that $600,000 be set aside an enticement to get investors to commit to a broadband expansion project that would involve Carter County’s 1st (Stoney Creek), 2nd (Roan Mountain and Tiger Valley) and 6th Districts (Elk Mills and Little Milligan).
Health and Welfare Committee Chairman Robert Acuff said the county could receive benefits in several areas from expanding broadband to the mountains. Those include improvements in education, medicine and economic development.
The Health and Welfare Committee has been working closely with the Carter County School Department on the expansion plans, which follow a “hub and spoke” pattern. Acuff said broadband has already been extended to all the schools in the county. The plan would be to expand this by running “spokes” of new internet from these hubs.
Acuff told the Budget Committee that the state grants could not be issued to local governments. They would be awarded in $2 million blocks to developers. Acuff said his committee has already talked with several potential installers. The most interested one is North Carolina’s Sky Best, which is already active in neighboring Avery County, North Carolina and Johnson County, Tenn. The Elizabethton Electric Department might be another potential partner.
The motion to recommend the grant came from Patty Woodby. Her motion included taking the money from fund balance and holding them until it is known if the state approved any grants for Carter County. The county and its partner might try for as many as three different grants for the various districts of the county.
In other matters, the Budget Committee voted unanimously to recommend that $587,499 in funds from the Governor’s Local Support Grant be used to pave the county highways and roads in the worst shape.
Woodby also made a motion that was unanimously approved to recommend that the $2,000 taken from the Shepherd’s Inn domestic violence shelter and $2,500 from Children’s Advocacy be restored to those agencies in this year’s funding. The funds were cut when a new law specified that partial funding could come from court fees. Woodby, deputy clerk in the Carter County Circuit Court’s office, said she has seen a rise in domestic violence since COVID-19 struck and many people are not earning the money needed to pay court fees during the pandemic.