ELIZABETHTOWN — Star Communications, represented by Kyle Randleman and Johnny Eason, gave the Bladen County commissioners an update Monday on service coverage.
They were invited following inquiries about service in some of the county’s underserved areas. Randleman said the company has been successful in a couple of rounds of grant money request, and is making another pitch for more.
“Star is trying to deploy, to the best of its ability, fiber-optics in Bladen and Sampson counties,” Randleman said. “We provide 25 to 30 percent today, and with help of these grants, we’re going to be probably close to 70 percent of service territory in Bladen County.
“We’ll be going after a third round of grant money. If we get it, it takes us to 90 percent coverage of fiber-optics in Bladen County.”
The 10 percent would not include areas where CenturyLink has coverage. Most of that is in municipalities.
As part of the next steps in the process, after discussion and questions from commissioners, Randleman said he and his team would bring back more updated information on where service can be extended. The areas looked into will include places where other communications companies have territory but are yet to improve service, such as East Arcadia. The Tobermory area was also discussed.
Star is a nonprofit cooperative which is owned and operated by its members, with headquarters in Clinton. It serves Bladen, Sampson, Cumberland, Duplin and Columbus counties.
The last several years have included some significant steps in providing coverage to the county.
In 2019, an $860,000 grant was matched by Star with $860,000 and more than 400 addresses benefited in the areas near Pusey’s Store, Mote Road and Oak Grove Church. This was part of the Growing Rural Economies though Access to Technology program, also known as GREAT Grant funds.
That same funding source came through again at the end of 2020, helping improve high-speed internet service in the Abbottsburg community between Clarkton and Bladenboro. More than 1,400 addresses in the county near Abbottsburg, plus another 442 in Sampson County, were assisted by the program operated by the N.C. Department of Information Technology.
Earlier in 2020, at the outset of the coronavirus pandemic, Star responded to schools have to go to remote learning. It placed additional WiFi spots throughout the county.
Later in the year, a $23.4 million dollar USDA ReConnect Grant helped the company serve 8,600 Bladen and Sampson homes, farms, businesses and critical care facilities. The total investment exceeded $30 million, with Star providing a matching amount of $7.4 million.
This story authored by Alan Wooten of the Bladen Journal. Contact him at 910-247-9132 or email@example.com.