Tuesday, a workshop of government and industry leaders discussed North Carolina’s broadband concerns.
According to the N.C. Department of Information Technology Division of Broadband and Digital Equity, 1.1 million North Carolina households lack access to high-speed internet, can’t afford it or don’t have the skills needed to advantage of the digital economy.
“It’s an absolute basic necessity, almost like power and water. People need internet,” Gov. Roy Cooper told WRAL News.
Last year, as part of the Biden-Harris Administration’s Internet for All Initiative, NTIA announced that North Carolina received its first “Internet for All” planning grants totaling more than
$6.4 million to plan for the deployment and adoption of affordable, equitable, and reliable high-speed Internet service throughout the state. The state has used that money to get feedback and establish comprehensive internet access and digital equity plans.
“The Internet for All initiative is a once in a generational opportunity,” said Doug Kinkoph.
Kinkoph works for the National Telecommunications and Information Administration’s (NTIA) as the associate administrator with the office of internet connectivity and growth.
The state is also expected to receive at least $100 million more in Broadband Equity, Access, and Deployment (BEAD) funding. However, NTIA will announce the exact amount allocated for each state next month.
Jesse Bradley is the program director of the Right Here, Right Now Project in Chatham County. The nonprofit offers digital literacy training in the community. He said internet connection and having the skills to use it are integral parts of the economy.
“Plus, technology companies coming to North Carolina…it’s huge for people to get internet access, so they can get access to these jobs coming in,” Bradley said.
WRAL News asked Gov. Cooper about the importance of internet connection given the population growth in the state and cities like Raleigh.
“We’re seeing ways that having connection is more economical,” Bradley said. Bradley mentioned industries like telemedicine that have grown substantially.
Gov. Cooper also noted that closing the digital divide also means making sure people have the skills and the necessary devices to get connected in the first place.
“People need devices; people need to be able to afford to connect; people need to have training to be able to learn how to connect,” he said.
North Carolinians are encouraged to take the first Digital Equity survey, which is used to share individual needs for accessibility and affordability of digital devices and the internet as well as digital skills needed to safely access online resources.