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HIWASSEE DAM—Cherokee County Board of Education members and staff, WNC EdNET grant administrators, BRMEMC representatives, local allies and media personnel gathered at Hiwassee Dam school in extreme western Cherokee County on Monday to celebrate the lighting of a new fiber-optic connection linking the school with the rest of the world. What is so unique about this connectivity is that Hiwassee Dam is a very rural school and is North Carolina’s western-most school facility. The funding to deploy this connectivity was provided by a grant from WNC EdNET, a regional consortium of school systems focused on improving connectivity to all rural schools in the six southwestern NC counties. Blue Ridge Mountain EMC, in partnership with BalsamWest FiberNET, LLC and Southern Pipeline Utility bid on and was awarded the contract to connect all the schools in this area. This is the first new construction completed as a result of the EdNET grant project.

This new fiber connectivity allows Hiwassee Dam School to access higher-speed, more reliable, and lower cost broadband capabilities. It will enable students to participate in distance-learning classes, do online research, and access video-conferencing with students from across the globe. “Going forward from today, students at Hiwassee Dam School have equal access to technology resources as students in Charlotte or Raleigh…New York or London,” said Joe Satterfield, BRMEMC General Manager.

Mr. Satterfield went on to say that the connectivity offered via the EdNET grant will provide other broadband opportunities to the area. “Cherokee County’s west EMS station and Hiwassee Dam Volunteer Fire Department have already contacted us about providing services. A number of residential customers inquired about when they might be able to expect service. We are working hard to deploy connectivity throughout the community, especially since this is an area with no broadband options available.”

Funding for the WNC EdNET project was coordinated by Senator John Snow and Representative Roger West, and was provided by the GoldenLEAF, Cherokee Preservation Foundation, and the Appalachian Regional Commission. The grant was administered by WRESA, an organization of WNC schools headquartered in Enka, and the Southwestern Commission – Region A based in Sylva was fiduciary agent for the funds.

The intent of the grant was to provide two fiber strands to each school facility in the six western counties of North Carolina (Cherokee, Clay, Graham, Jackson, Macon, and Swain) and the Eastern Band of Cherokee schools in the Qualla Boundary. The schools own and operate their own networks over this fiber, and have ultimate flexibility with regard to how their strands are used.

Blue Ridge Mountain Electric Membership Corporation is a member-owned electric cooperative headquartered in Young Harris, Georgia, serving 47,000 customers in Cherokee and Clay Counties in Western North Carolina, and Towns, Union and Fannin Counties in Northeast Georgia. Organized locally in 1937, BRMEMC has invested over $100 million in physical infrastructure in its mission to provide reliable electric services to its members where those services would not otherwise have been available. In 2002, began operation with a similar mission in mind: to provide high-speed Internet connectivity to our underserved region. Now over 3,000 customers strong, is forging ahead in its effort to make the Western North Carolina and North Georgia region a leader in the technology age.