Residents in areas of southern Wayne County will now have access to high-speed internet thanks to a new service being offered by AT&T.

The announcement was made Tuesday night during the Elected Officials Appreciation Barbecue held at Live Oak Farm on Ditchbank Road. The annual event was presented by the News-Argus and Wayne County Chamber of Commerce.

Providing countywide high speed internet has been a top priority for Wayne County commissioners, particularly Chairman Bill Pate.

"Folks, this is a proven technology," Pate said. "Three years Commissioner (Ray) Mayo and I saw this at a conference we went to. This is the answer to reach out to all parts of the county.

"This is a positive first step. It is something commissioners have been looking at closely and have been working on very hard. I applaud AT&T for taking this first step. But I want to see this thing reach every person in Wayne County because it is an economic-driving force."

Although the announcement was not made until last night, the service already is available, said John Lyon, regional director of external affairs for AT&T North Carolina.

The new fixed internet works kind of like satellite TV, he said.

A special satellite antenna has been placed on two cell towers -- one on Emmaus Church Road and the other on U.S. 13 South at Grantham.

People who subscribe to the $60 monthly service will have a device mounted on their homes or businesses. It will be directed toward the cell tower.

People within 2.5- to 3-mile radius of the tower will be able to get internet service.

It will offer download speeds of at least 10 megabits per second and uploads of at least 1 megabit per second.

"So this will be a boon for the folks in the Grantham area," Lyon said. "The one out on Emmaus Church Road actually reaches down into the very northern part of Duplin County as well."

Lyon said the first question he gets is when will the service be available in other areas of the county.

"As funding becomes available we will roll it out in different parts of the county," he said. "This is part of a special program in conjunction with the FCC (Federal Communications Commission). The FCC has actually provided a portion of the money for this."

The FCC has identified where the money can be spent across the county, he said.

AT&T has identified those areas and is rolling out the service little by little, Lyon said.

Internet was considered a luxury item when it first came out, Lyon said. Now it is a basic need, he said.

It is something that everyone expects to have, but rural areas like those in Wayne County have no or limited choices for internet service, Lyon said.

"Kids, when they are in school they have internet," he said. "When they get home, they want to do their homework -- a lot of them don't have internet service. People applying for jobs living in these rural areas, they need to get on the internet to apply for these jobs. They don't have access.

"The farmer, they are just as important as the bankers in town. They need to have access while they are out on their tractors checking seed prices, or whatever the needs may be. They don't have internet service or they don't have reliable internet service."

Pate agreed and said that most of the complaints he had heard about the lack of internet service came from farmers.

"They are the No. 1 economy-driving force in our county and this state," he said. "So we have got to take care of these people."

Pate said parents were calling him because their children were having to go to eBooks and that meant they had to go to someplace that has internet.

Seven years ago the FCC said the internet is changing how children are being, educated, he said.

It said as well that it is changing how America manages health, manages energy, ensures public safety, engages government and accesses, organizes and discriminates knowledge, Lyon said.

That is even truer today, he said.

AT&T is committed to help in that regard, he said.

However, it can't do it fast enough and for enough folks, Lyon said.

The rollout, now in 18 states, started earlier this year and is part of the FCC Connect America Fund.

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