With a recently awarded $1.5 million state grant, locally based firm CloudWyze Inc. will expand internet service in Halifax County, one of the state’s most economically disadvantaged counties, in hopes of closing the digital divide in that area.
“A big part of who we are and what we do has been focused on getting service in the rural communities,” said Shaun Olsen, president and CEO of CloudWyze.
The grant, announced last week, is part of the state’s Growing Rural Economies with Access to Technology (GREAT) program, which provides matching grants to internet service providers and electric membership cooperatives that provide funding to lower financial barriers that prevent high-speed internet expansion in Tier 1 counties, stated a news release.
Tier 1 counties are the most distressed counties in the state determined by average unemployment rate, median household income, percentage growth population and adjusted property tax base per capita, according to the N.C. Department of Commerce website.
The GREAT Grant was awarded to 21 applicants in 19 counties who received a total of $10 million.
“Access to reliable, high-speed internet service is critical for businesses to grow, students to learn, and communities to thrive,” said Gov. Roy Cooper in the release. “These grants will help connect thousands of homes and businesses with opportunities across the state and around the world.”
CloudWyze has the goal of delivering internet service to 1,000 homes without service in Halifax by the time the project is completed in about 14 months, Olsen said.
There's a vast number of counties in North Carolina that have very limited internet service, which is creating a big issue, he said.
This grant follows CloudWyze’s $2 million
government contract in Nash County, announced last year, which also seeks to deliver internet service to underserved areas.
“When we first started the organization, one of the biggest issues that we had was access to quality bandwidth,” Olsen said. “We were approached by the state, as well as a few other counties, to come take a look at some of these other counties that had no access to service. We started discussions with those counties and started to research more into the challenges that these counties were having.”
CloudWyze put together a business model to develop public-private partnerships, he said.
With those two projects underway, CloudWyze plans on hiring additional employees.
“We expect to bring about three to five jobs to our area over the next 12 months and then, three to five in those communities,” Olsen said. “We also have some offices that would open up in those areas, that would have about three to five folks there as well.”
CloudWyze has been in the process of moving from its Leland location at 503 Olde Waterford Way to downtown Wilmington at 720 N.Third St. after being displaced by Hurricane Florence in September last year.
The business technology and internet service provider currently has 12 full-time employees in the area.
“There is a digital divide between counties and communities that have service and those that don't,” Olsen said. “We've made it our mission to help close that divide.”