Numerous Morris Broadband customers in McDowell County should notice a difference in their Internet speeds once the process of upgrading service is completed. The upgrade process has been slowed because of the COVID-19 pandemic but work is picking back up.
That is the message from Tony Carter, general manager of Morris Broadband, regarding the continuing work to upgrade Internet service for the company’s McDowell customers.
“We have been performing a lot of building in McDowell County, however activations have been a little slower than we like, mostly due to equipment arrival with delays in 2020 due to COVID,” said Carter to The McDowell News. “Some of our fiber activation gear is just now arriving in the warehouse. Since most of the fiber and coax lines are up, once we get all the equipment in, then the activations will go fast. We have released some areas already and have active customers.”
In December 2019, Morris Broadband announced plans to bring improved Internet, phone and cable TV service into rural and isolated areas of McDowell County by 2020 and extend those same services to areas underserved, reaching nearly 400 potential new customers. This would be done with help from a state grant.
At a December 2019 meeting, the McDowell County Commissioners received a PowerPoint report from Carter about how his company plans to provide better service to rural sections of the county.
The North Carolina Department of Information Technology’s Broadband Infrastructure Office had created the GREAT Broadband grant to provide funding to Internet providers located in rural areas. GREAT stands for Growing Rural Economies with Access to Technology. McDowell County was a beneficiary because a $757,200 GREAT grant was awarded to Morris Broadband, which provides cable TV, phone and Internet service to certain parts of the county. With this grant, Morris Broadband announced plans in December 2019 to spend $407,750 making a total investment of $1.165 million.
Starting in February 2020, Morris Broadband would begin construction so cable TV, phone and Internet service could be upgraded to existing customers and those services brought to areas of McDowell that were underserved. The estimated date of completion was originally November 2020, according to the announcement in December 2019.
The new and improved lines were scheduled to run along Mud Cut Road, Bethel Church Road, Lawing Road, Grassy Hollow Drive, Rock House Road, Wildberry Drive, Benview Drive, Pine Valley Drive, Sugar Hill Heights Drive, Montford Cove Road, Sugar Hill Road, Old Fort Sugar Hill Road, Epley Drive, Wayne Hyatt Drive, Zion Hill Road, Butter Cup Lane and other roads in McDowell. The new lines were expected to bring cable TV, phone and broadband Internet to underserved areas and will pass by 381 locations, five of which are businesses, according to the report by Carter in December 2019.
Since that announcement, the work has been slowed but it continues to take place. Some readers of The McDowell News have asked for an update on this process and wonder why it is taking so long.
Carter said much work has been completed but more remains to be done in the rural sections of McDowell served by Morris Broadband.
“We have been very active with construction in the area and completed almost all the fiber and cable buildout,” he said. “However, during the COVID period last year, activation gear arrivals slowed way down.”
Crews with Morris went several months without getting any arrivals of the activation gear during the COVID situation. “It has picked up now and is almost back to normal,” said Carter on Monday. “We see no issues completing within the grant timeline.”
The state grant requires Morris Broadband to be complete by July 15, 2021.
“Even with the shipment delays due to COVID, we are on schedule to beat that deadline,” Carter said Monday.
He added the gear arrivals are picking up and the Morris crews have already activated and installed in multiple areas.
As of last week, these are the following streets or roads that Morris Broadband has completed work and are available for installation: Lukes Loop, Old Seether Road, Larhan Drive, Oak Park Court, Zion Hill Road, Shamrock Drive, Harveys Trail, Epley Drive, Thunder Hill Drive, Trails End, Wayne Hyatt Road and B&R Drive.
“We anticipate the activations of other areas begin to pick up at a rapid pace within the upcoming next two months,” Carter said. “We have completed about 90% of the grant construction in McDowell County, and approaching approximately 25% of the actual home activations.”
There are several phases of a construction: permits and pole replacements, physical line construction and installation of activation gear. “We are now almost completely in the last phase of activation,” said Carter.
One reader, Bradley Carroll, said he’s not seen any progress on Bethel Church Road and he’s believes Lawing Road and Rock House Road “are in the same boat.” He’s not sure about the status of Mud Cut Road.
The need for fast and reliable Internet has become even greater during the COVID-19 pandemic with school students doing remote learning and many adults choosing to work from home.
In response, Carter said all of that area is almost completely constructed for the upgrade.
“One power pole replacement is still in process on Bethel Church Road,” he said. “In fact, when the state conducted their site visit back in November, we stopped and talked to the construction crews on Bethel Church while they were working. This area will be activated within the grant schedule.
“Construction is 90% done, waiting a few things in a few areas, like the one pole on Bethel Church Road. Activation is when the customer will be ready for service, that is the gear we will be installing over the next four months that was delayed in shipping and is still coming in.”
There are more than 300 homes to be activated. “There is a lot of little roads, but we have them broken up in areas: Mud Cut Road/White Pine, Bethel Church Road/Rock House, Wellwood/Sugar Hill, Montford Cove and the balance of Zion Hill area,” he said.
Once it is complete, these customers should notice faster Internet speeds.
“Morris finished a major infrastructure upgrade in the last quarter of 2019,” said Carter. “This upgrade resulted a substantial increase in Internet speeds. Customers in the grant areas will immediately get to take advantage of this upgrade and the higher Internet speeds.”
Carter said he would like to know the addresses of the customers who have expressed concern about the lack of progress so he can verify where his crews are to get them activated.
“We have had several people call in and think the grant was for all of McDowell County and not realize they were not part of the grant area,” he said.
In addition to Morris Broadband, Charter Communications also offers cable TV, Internet and mobile phone services under the Spectrum brand name to McDowell customers.
Carter said Morris Broadband customers can email him at firstname.lastname@example.org if they have questions or concerns about the upgrade.