Residents still waiting after grant promises much-needed internet access to parts of Burke County

Locals have few options when it comes to internet connection in the area.
Residents in Burke County are struggling to find feasible internet access.
Published: Jul. 8, 2022 at 5:38 PM EDT
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BURKE COUNTY, N.C. (WBTV) - Being able to log onto the internet anytime and anywhere is something many people take for granted these days.

But in certain parts of western Burke County, connectivity is a luxury many still don’t have.

Melanie Miller loves the rural property where her and her husband are raising their two children not far from Morganton.

“We chose to build here because we knew this is our forever home,” she said.

That forever home is almost perfect - but not quite. What they don’t have is a reliable internet connection, which makes her job as a virtual special-needs teacher difficult.

It’s tough to engage with students when Miller’s connection is hit or miss.

“When I’m cutting in and out it’s really disruptive to them and it loses their attention,” she said.

Miller’s options to access the web are slim in western Burke County. Either she can use a Verizon Wireless mobile internet jet pack or shell out $240 a month for a satellite provider.

“We went and switched to a satellite internet so I could work from home,” she said. “But the cost was outrageous. And it still was not completely reliable.”

Melanie isn’t the only one frustrated in her area. She said she’s spoken to over 20 people who are in the same boat. She also launched a petition that has garnered over 100 signatures from people who are also struggling with connectivity issues in the Foothills.

Dallas Miller understands. He lives up the road from Melanie and has worked as a cattle farmer for over four decades.

“How we communicated 40 years ago when I started was by phone or by written letter,” he said. “Now with high-speed internet, all of this information is at our fingertips.”

Dallas often has to drive into Morganton to make phone calls and send emails for his business.

“It’s a real pain to try and do that up here. I think we’re at a real disadvantage because of it,” Dallas said.

Relief is on the way at some point. In 2020, the Federal Communications Commission allocated 20 billion dollars to expand broadband internet access across the country, calling it the Rural Digital Opportunity Fund.

The FCC gave Charter Communications, also known as Spectrum, the installation project for Burke County. But this area is still very much offline.

“If there’s money that’s been allocated, you ask the question, why hasn’t it been done?” Dallas asked.

On their website, Spectrum says some of their multi-year project across 24 states began in 2021 - but they didn’t specify where.

When WBTV reached out to the company for details, a spokesperson said, “With this being a multiyear buildout, the entire schedule has yet to be released but we will continue to communicate with local residents and business owners on our broadband expansion as it unfolds.”

Melanie plans to keep teaching virtually but she has to drive to her sister’s house miles away to do so. All the while questioning when the world wide web will be at her fingertips, too.

“My question is, what’s the holdup?”

Related: Family fighting to get internet fixed after 20-day outage in Union County

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