The Institute for Emerging Issues (IEI) at NC State University today announced formation of Building a New Digital Economy in NC (BAND-NC), a new support program designed to make the state “first in digital inclusion.”
BAND-NC, which launched with initial support from Roanoke Electric Cooperative and the North Carolina’s Electric Cooperatives, in partnership with the NC Broadband Infrastructure Office (BIO), will provide grants to counties to develop plans to increase the percentage of their residents that adopt and are able to use broadband services. BAND-NC seeks to help North Carolina become the first state in the nation where every county has a digital inclusion plan by the end of 2022.
Digital inclusion plans will include strategies to increase access to devices and make broadband affordable to more people. They also aim to equip a range of stakeholders with knowledge of how to utilize broadband: enabling young learners to do homework online and older learners to retrain online, expanding job possibilities through telework, improving access to telehealth services, expanding business markets, improving crop yields and adding efficiency to farm operations.
Data from the NC Broadband Infrastructure Office show disparities in adoption of broadband services, with both a rural-urban and an income divide. Rural households subscribe at lower rates than urban households (as low as 49.7% in Graham County and as high as 89.7% in Wake County). Households making under $20,000 a year subscribe at a 51.2% rate compared to 93.8% of those making $75,000 or more a year.
As part of BAND-NC, the state Broadband Office and IEI will host a series of meetings to assist community leaders in developing and implementing county-level digital inclusion plans. Roanoke Electric’s work will support development of plans in Bertie, Halifax, Hertford, Northampton, Gates, Perquimans and Chowan counties, while North Carolina’s Electric Cooperatives will fund three selected county plans from among its 93-county service area.
Over the next few months, the Institute for Emerging Issues is seeking other investors in BAND-NC, with the goal of making $5,000 grants available across the state to counties developing digital inclusion plans. Interested counties would submit plans August 6 for review on a competitive basis, with selected plans receiving grants to begin implementing their initial strategies.
To see a full listing of North Carolina broadband adoption rates, by county and income level, go to iei.ncsu.edu/band-nc-data/