Lenoir, NC – Blue Ridge Energy has begun the engineering and construction of fiber-optic infrastructure to bring high-speed internet to parts of northern Caldwell County thanks to GREAT (Growing Rural Economies with Access to Technology) grant funding from the North Carolina Department of Information Technology. As construction is completed, high-speed internet service will be provided to customers by SkyBest Communications.
The extensive project requires approximately 60 miles of above ground construction and eight miles of underground construction of fiber in the rocky, mountainous terrain of northern Caldwell County. Due to the size of the project and challenging topography, work will be completed in three phases over approximately two years. After Blue Ridge Energy completes construction to a community, SkyBest Communications will begin offering its high-speed internet there. Homes in phase one are projected to have internet access with speeds up to 1 Gig in spring 2022. SkyBest also offers telephone, TV and security systems.
The grant-funded area includes more than 400 homes and businesses located off Hwy 268 from Indian Grave Road to the Wilkes County line where no internet service is currently available, other than satellite or cellular service. Residents can search for their address on the interactive map located at www.skybest.com/CaldwellGrant21 to determine if it is in the grant area.
To receive progress updates and be the first to know when internet is available in their community, property owners in the grant-funded area are encouraged to update their contact information with Blue Ridge Energy by calling 1-800-451-5474 or logging into their online account at BlueRidgeEnergy.com. Letters with project details will be mailed to members in the area later this month.
As a member-owned cooperative serving some 76,000 members in Caldwell, Watauga, Ashe, Alleghany, Avery, Wilkes and Alexander counties, Blue Ridge Energy has a long history of supporting economic development and other initiatives in communities served by the cooperative.
“We’re honored to have been selected for such a competitive grant,” said Blue Ridge Energy Chief Executive Officer Doug Johnson. “We’re especially pleased to help provide this critical quality of life service for our members.”
The grant is especially critical because of the expense to build infrastructure to serve rural communities: nationally-based internet service providers have not extended high-speed internet service to areas like northern Caldwell County because it’s extremely expensive to build the infrastructure in sparsely populated rural areas, especially those with rocky, mountainous terrain. As a result, some local communities don’t have access to digital services that most people rely on for basic needs such as education and job opportunities.
SkyBest Communications is a wholly-owned subsidiary of SkyLine Membership Corp., a telecommunications cooperative based in West Jefferson. SkyBest Communications has provided internet access to homes and businesses in Ashe, Alleghany, Watauga and Avery counties in North Carolina and Shady Valley, Tennessee since 1995. They began offering fiber-optic internet service in downtown Lenoir and parts of Lower Creek in 2017.
The cooperative plans to continue working with SkyBest Communications to pursue additional state or federal grants for other parts of northern Caldwell County and across Blue Ridge Energy’s service area that do not have high-speed internet access.