Broadband plan progresses

Published 5:19 pm Tuesday, January 24, 2023

Getting your Trinity Audio player ready...

JACKSON – As a part of their continued partnership with Northampton County, representatives from UScellular attended the Board of Commissioners’ regular meeting on Jan. 18 to provide an update for their new broadband service.

Ron Jackson, Public Sector Manager, and Jeremy Taylor, Director of Sales and Operations in North Carolina, were optimistic about the program’s reception so far as they spoke before the commissioners.

“We’ve had 13 initial installs,” Jackson reported, noting that several of those have exceeded well above the minimum 25/3mps (download/upload) speeds promised by the service.

The “Essential Connection Home Internet Plan,” which is only available for Northampton County residents, started with a soft launch so that UScellular representatives were able to make any necessary changes as the program began. But with the success so far, Jackson said that they would be making a larger push for signups starting in February.

Jackson also explained that the program is $40 per month, but those eligible for the federal Affordable Connectivity Program (ACP) can receive a $30 monthly discount. And customers who sign up for paperless billing can also receive a $10 discount each month.

“We have several ways to make it as affordable as possible for the citizens of this community,” he said.

As previously reported by the News Herald, the Northampton County Board of Commissioners agreed to a partnership with UScellular in September last year in order to bring more affordable internet options to county residents. The program is “Fixed Wireless Access” (FWA) which works through a small externally-mounted antenna on each home that connects wirelessly to a nearby cell tower. The antenna receives signal and then connects to an in-home router which provides wi-fi connection to other devices within the home.

As part of the agreement with UScellular, the county will pay a $585 per home support fee to cover the installation fee and some of the equipment costs. The agreement caps the number of FWA installations at 1,144 homes, and the county will be billed quarterly for all installations that took place during the previous quarter. American Rescue Plan (ARP) funds will be used to pay the support fee.

As Jackson continued his report to the board at the Jan. 18 meeting, he noted that there had been some locations where they hadn’t been able to provide the speeds promised for the program. In those cases, he noted that the company shared other home internet options they could choose from outside of the Essential Connection Home Internet Plan.

He also announced that they had partnered with the Gaston Community Center, located at 564 NC Highway 46, to provide their facility with free internet service for six months. In return, residents can visit the community center in order to test how the service works and see what the installation looks like. The center will be available for UScellular to host demonstrations of the service as well.

According to an additional press release from UScellular, the Essential Connection Home Internet plan is currently available in parts of the following communities: Henrico, Gaston, Garysburg, Seaboard, north of Jackson, Potecasi, Milwaukee, Rich Square, and due east of Conway near the county border.

Interested Northampton County residents who want to check their eligibility can visit or visit the UScellular stores in Roanoke Rapids (297 Premier Blvd) or Ahoskie (1428A E. Memorial Drive).

The current county partnership is intended to be a “phase one” with potential expansion within Northampton County in the future if state or federal funding is secured.

Board Chair Charles Tyner thanked the UScellular representatives for their presentation.