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Op-Ed: Closing the digital divide

By Jim Weaver

Across North Carolina, when the COVID-19 pandemic hit, it rapidly and radically altered how we work, learn and connect with friends and family. Broadband internet instantly became critical for residents to learn and work remotely, find jobs and even access telemedicine.

The pandemic showed us that many North Carolinians lack the access, financial means, devices or skills needed to fully participate in today’s digital society. As we emerge from the pandemic and our economy recovers, too many North Carolinians are at risk of being left behind unless we help them get connected.

Governor Roy Cooper is committed to closing the digital divide so all North Carolinians can benefit from high-speed internet for education, job and health care.

Today, at least 1.1 million households in North Carolina are on the wrong side of the digital divide:

  • 4% of urban households and 35% of rural households lack adequate broadband infrastructure.
  • 24% of white households, 32% of Latinx households, 36% of black households and 43% of American Indian households do not have high-speed internet subscriptions.
  • 19% of households with children do not have the infrastructure or subscriptions.

Many barriers keep residents from accessing high-speed internet: infrastructure, affordability and digital literacy. Simply having broadband access does not mean having the skills, training or tools to use it.

But, with significant investments over the next four years, North Carolina can become a national leader, ranking in the top five states for high-speed internet adoption by 2025.

Governor Cooper proposes investing $1.2 billion in federal American Rescue Plan funds in three key areas:

  • Infrastructure and access – $600 million to rapidly build infrastructure for high-speed internet in unserved areas
  • Accessibility – $420 million to promote and continue federal programs for affordable internet such as the Emergency Broadband Benefit Program
  • Digital literacy – $165 million to provide devices, training and tools to connect to the digital economy

More details of the governor’s plan can be found at www.ncbroadband.gov/digital-divide.

With these investments, North Carolina can achieve digital equity. In every corner of the state, residents will be able to access and adopt affordable, high-speed internet and feel enabled to use it for jobs, education and health opportunities. They will then be able to help drive the state’s economy forward.

The pandemic offers a unique opportunity to end the digital divide in North Carolina. Bold investments can allow all residents to enjoy more abundant, better educated and healthier lives in a prosperous, innovative state.

Jim Weaver is the North Carolina State Chief Information Officer.

FOR MORE COLUMNS AND LETTERS TO THE EDITOR, CHECK OUT OUR OPINION SECTION HERE.

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