State grant helps connect many in rural NC area to high speed internet for first time

For the last three weeks, French Broad Electric has been hooking up its customers in Buncombe and Madison County to brand new, fiber optic internet.

This is the first time ever that many in this community have had access to reliable, high speed internet.

“Opportunities that we just wouldn’t even know that were there are going to be open for us with having this access,” said Vanessa Campbell with Full Sun Farm.

Residents in the Sandy Mush community showed News 13 how the internet is being expanded out to their homes.

Since French Broad Electric is their electric utility provider, cables are being run on existing power poles and into each of the homes.

“We’ve been advocating for it here in this community for I guess around 10 years,” said Terri Wells, Buncombe County commissioner. “We’ve been working toward getting better internet for folks.”

Last year, French Broad Electric got a North Carolina GREAT grant to connect their customers to fiber internet.


Up until now many relied on satellite for internet, which people said has been expensive and slow.

“I spent $150 for 25 megabytes,” said Becky Caldwell of Caldwell Farm.

For the last several years people have had to go to the Sandy Mush Community Center for internet.

The center became especially important during the pandemic. Teachers and students used the center for virtual learning.

“There were definitely days when my girls needed to go down to the community center where they had the high speed internet and sort of set up in the car,” said Campbell.

Getting this internet also better connects the many working farms in the area to the digital marketplace.

“We’ve been waiting on it for a long time so it’s great,” Caldwell said. “It’s great, I use it a lot especially during the summertime when we have our tomato season. I use the internet a lot.”

However, not everyone is celebrating.

Larry Wells of Wellsdale Farm lives just a few miles down the road. He still doesn’t have access to high speed internet.

“They’re all tickled to death, but I wish we could get it because it’s really a disadvantage,” he said.

People around his farm can get internet now either through French Broad Electric or Spectrum. However, where his farm sits on North Turkey Road he can’t get access to any of it.

He’s still using dial up, and even that is weaker than it should be.

“We’re supposed to have 9.0 signal strength and the guy come out here and say you’ve got .09,” Larry said. “We’re really behind the eight ball here; we’re still operating like it’s the 60s and 70s, everybody else is in the new millennium.”

Terri said she hopes what they’re doing in Sandy Mush can be expanded to others in the region without internet.

“I’m like, we have all of these poles all over Western North Carolina, to me there’s got to be a way to make this happen,” she said.


Getting the Sandy Mush community connected means the volunteer fire department now also has better internet.

Residents added it could help people sell their homes and rent out their Airbnbs to people who rely on internet for work.

“We sat down and watched a movie without the buffering thing,” said Campbell.

Campbell and Caldwell talked about what they did when they first got connected.

“Got on Amazon, went shopping,” Caldwell said.

Billions of dollars are being pumped across the state to expand broadband access right now. Buncombe County has allocated millions.

It’s all in the hopes that soon everyone has the chance for high speed, reliable internet.

Next up, residents in Sandy Mush hope they can get a cell tower. They said getting better cell service is their next obstacle.


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