RUTHERFORDTON — New broadband options may be available to underserved areas across the nation, including portions of Rutherford County.

In the “Rural Digital Opportunity Fund (RDOF)” auction, Charter Communications, as well as Space Exploration Technologies Corp. (a broadband company owned by billionaire Elon Musk), won the rights to several areas in Rutherford County. The auction was conducted by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to make federal funds available to expand service to completely unserved areas throughout the country.

Charter Communications was one of the largest RDOF recipients in the country. The company won RDOF grants in 83 counties in North Carolina, and will receive more than $142 million in federal funds for North Carolina.

“My understanding is that Charter is publicly stating that they will invest at least twice as much in private funding in these projects,” said Steve Garrison, Rutherford County manager. “The standards speed they will be offering will be 200 Mbps with optional service up to 1 Gigabit.

Nationwide, Charter said it expects to invest approximately $5 billion to support its broadband buildout initiative, offset by $1.2 billion in support from RDOF funds, expanding Charter’s network to lower-density, mostly rural communities that do not have access to broadband service of at least 25/3 Mbps.

Charter said the presence of its modern communications network in these rural areas may result in economic development and more homes and businesses for Charter to serve in these communities and additional buildout to adjacent communities, producing greater investment returns over time.

“The pandemic has further highlighted the need for broadband availability and adoption and Charter is committed to further its efforts as part of the comprehensive solution needed to address these challenges,” said Tom Rutledge, Charter Communications chairman and CEO. “As Americans across the country increasingly rely on broadband to work, learn, access healthcare and stay in touch with family and loved ones, bringing broadband access to more unserved areas should be a priority for all stakeholders.”

Charter is actively expanding its workforce and developing a plan to initiate this project.

“With the recent news of Rutherford County receiving funds from the CDBG program in partnership with Carolina Community Broadband Alliance for broadband deployment, and with the news of Charter and Space Exploration Technologies receiving RDOF funds to expand in Rutherford County’s unserved areas, our goal of gaining broadband service for our citizens is coming to fruition,” Garrison added.

Broadband access is needed, he said, for things like remote learning, virtual medical appointments, and working virtually including home-based entrepreneurial endeavors.