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New Bi-partisan Grant Program Seeks to Make NC ‘first in digital inclusion’ by 2022

The following article was published in WRAL TechWire on February 10, 2020

RALEIGH — By 2020, every county in North Carolina will have a digital inclusion plan. That’s the goal of a new grant program, Building a New Digital Economy in NC (BAND-NC), rolled out by NC State University’s Institute for Emerging Issues (IEI) today.

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 of up to $5,000 to counties to develop plans to increase the percentage of their residents that adopt and are able to use broadband services.

IEI Director Leslie Boney says North Carolina is making progress in ensuring broadband is available to people across the state, but there’s also an “adoption problem.”

“Right now, just 59 percent of people with access to broadband are subscribing to it. And with lower rates of adoption in rural counties and among lower income families, if we don’t plan now to include people digitally, those people and their communities will get further and further behind,” he said.

“By working on this now, we have a chance for North Carolina to lead the country when it comes to internet adoption and taking full advantage of that. If we do that, it’s going to unleash incredible power in our economy.”

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. The end game: 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, IEI says.

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