North Carolina awarded more federal money to improve digital divide

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Monday, December 26, 2022
NC awarded additional federal dollars to improve digital divide
Expanding broadband access in underserved communities

Lindell Lynch wants to make a better life for herself living in Halifax County. She's working two jobs and carving out time at night to attend college online. The workload is hectic and stressful, but one thing that's making the process even harder is her access to the internet.

"It's 2022. We should have had adequate internet service by now," Lynch said.

She has a hotspot at home, but it's almost easier to drive 30 minutes to the closest city for strong service to do coursework.

"It's a challenge without internet service," said Lynch. "It's almost like the rural community here has been forgotten about because everyone else is advance and we're just still behind."

There are hundreds of thousands of North Carolinians fighting for access to stable internet service and many rural communities, with a strong Native American population, are being shut out of an inter-connected world.

Governor Roy Cooper says there are more than a million North Carolinians are on the wrong side of the digital divide.

More than 1.1 million people across the state find themselves on the wrong side of the digital divide.

North Carolina is embarking upon a plan to bring connectivity to distressed counties.

The grant area encompasses more than 200 miles. The plan is to install fiber lines in those area and bring high-speed internet access to the people living there.

It's happening in Warren and Halifax counties, as well as for the people living the Haliwa-Sponi tribal area.

The effort will help more than 2,500 unserved addresses and 100 businesses, with the goal of improving digital equality.

"We know today that likelihood of a white household having high speed internet connectivity or subscription to internet connectivity is at 76 percent. That number drops to 68 percent for Latino community, that number drops to 64 percent for African American communities and that number drops even further to 58 percent for Native American communities," said North Carolina Department of Information Technology Secretary James Weaver. "The governor's challenge to us is 80 percent across all racial subdivisions. That's the goal we're trying to achieve."

The state is dedicating more than a billion dollars of American Rescue Plan funds to close the gap.

The cost of connecting each household is coming out to more than $4,000 and it comes with another issue.

"It does us no good to build out connectivity to someone's house and they can't afford it, and they don't have the devices to use it. What did we accomplish?" said Weaver.

Through additional federal funding, low income households can get a $30 per month subsidy and then place themselves on the digital highway to opportunity.

"The ability to complete a degree, work from home, look for a job -- (since) nobody's applying for a job with paper application -- find virtual work opportunities outside of her community, access telemedicine services, all of these require high speed internet," said North Carolina Broadband and Digital Equality Deputy Secretary Nate Denny.

Lynch has high hopes for what the change means for her and the overall development in Halifax.

"They can't come and start business here when they don't have internet capabilities," said Lynch. "Hopefully, it will decrease our unemployment rate here."