The internet intersects with and impacts nearly every facet of the modern North Carolinian’s life. Through it, citizens can buy and sell goods and services, engage with their governments, complete homework, earn degrees and certifications, receive healthcare services, complete work tasks, run a business, connect with friends and family, watch movies, stream their favorite television show, catch up on current events from around the world, or visit art museums—all without leaving their home.
But when people do not adopt broadband in their homes—as 84 percent of NC households have done,[i] broadband’s potential positive impacts are lost.
North Carolina’s adoption rate consistently ranks low compared to other states. In 2014, only 16 percent of North Carolina households with access to broadband (defined at 25 Megabits per second and 3 Megabits per second upload) subscribed to it.
Research shows five main barriers prevent broadband adoption and they’re particularly pronounced among low-income households. The primary barriers are: the cost or affordability of service; the real or perceived costs of a computer, laptop or other devices; digital literacy (or lack thereof); and the internet’s perceived relevancy in a person’s daily life.
These barriers are the key contributors to NC’s growing digital divide—the “gulf between those who have ready access to the internet and computers[ii] and those that don’t.”
Addressing one barrier without addressing the others has proven ineffectual. Instead, comprehensive approaches—those that provide a low-cost or cost-free device, discounted or no-cost internet subscription, and training and education on how to use the internet effectually in ways that relate to one’s every-day-life—are most effective.
North Carolina boasts several non-profits and organizations like Kramden, E2D and Digital Charlotte working to close the digital divide by addressing adoption barriers for low-income households. Kramden alone has awarded nearly 25,000 refurbished computers and training to families without devices in their homes across 78 counties. E2D has awarded 1,000 computers to Charlotte-Mecklenburg families, and Digital Charlotte is spearheading programming, events, and partnerships to close the digital divide in the city.
But Kramden, E2D and Digital Charlotte cannot bridge North Carolina’s digital divide alone. And dismissing the growing divide will result in a North Carolina population and workforce incapable of thriving in the 21st century.
For these reasons, broadband adoption is a key theme of the Broadband Infrastructure Office’s forthcoming State Broadband Plan. Recommendations address these barriers through suggested programs with partners like Kramden, community colleges, and local governments.
Stay tuned for the release of the report and future posts digging into specific broadband issues.
[i] FCC, 2016 Broadband Progress Report, 74-75.
[ii] “Oxford Dictionary, digital divide definition,” accessed March 15, 2016. http://www.oxforddictionaries.com/us/definition/american_english/digital-divide.