The Digital Divide

Achieving Digital Equity

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Infographic reading 'Investing in high-speed internet infrastructure and access, affordability, and digital iteracy and enablement will achieve digital equity.'

Too many North Carolinians lack access to an internet connection, cannot afford an internet subscription or do not have an adequate device. Many also lack the skills to take advantage of digital services like telehealth, online education or online job boards. 

Gov. Roy Cooper's plan aims to close the digital divide by addressing:

  • Infrastructure and access
  • Digital literacy
  • Affordability

The nearly $1 billion in federal American Rescue Plan funds (and $30 million in state funds) invested in this plan must be spent by the end of 2026:

Amount Purpose
$971 million To rapidly build crucial infrastructure in unserved areas to give internet speeds of 100/20 Mbps to households (with the ability to handle future speeds of 100/100 Mbps)
$50 million To create awareness and support digital literacy and skills training to participate in the digital economy

An additional $15 million would cover administrative and operational costs to supplement existing state administrative capacity to support high-speed internet efforts. The plan also will require significant private sector investment. 

By 2025, North Carolina can become a national leader, ranking in the top 5 states for high-speed internet adoption. As North Carolinians in every corner of the state can get, afford and use high-speed internet, they can take advantage of job, education and health opportunities. That can drive the state's economy.

This vision is possible by achieving three goals:

  • Raising the percentage of North Carolina households with high-speed internet subscriptions from 73% to 80%.
  • Raising the percentage of North Carolina households with children with high-speed internet subscriptions from 81% to 100%.
  • Increasing adoption rates to 80% across racial subgroups:
    • Native American (currently 57%)
    • Black: (currently 64%)
    • Latinx: (currently 68%)
    • White: (currently 76%)

Infrastructure is a major challenge, affecting both rural and urban areas in North Carolina.

By investing $971 million, North Carolina can rapidly build crucial infrastructure in unserved areas to give internet speeds of 100/20 Mbps to households (with the ability to handle future speeds of 100/100 Mbps).

American Rescue Plan and state funding would be allocated as described below.

Allocation Amount

GREAT Grant Program

$380 million
  • Upgrades and expands existing last-mile grant program to invest in future-proof technologies and connectivity speeds of at least 100/20 Mbps
  • Provides competitive grants for high-speed fiber connections, wherever feasible, supplemented by fixed wireless and satellite options where fiber is infeasible due to cost or geographic features
  • Relies on comprehensive mapping fabric and cost-modeling to use state resources more efficiently
Pole Replacement Program $100 million
  • Provides funds for pole replacements
  • Reimburses broadband service providers for eligible pole replacement costs in underserved areas
Broadband Mapping $1 million
  • Paints a paint a better picture of each community’s unique challenges and needs with more accurate data
  • Helps NCDIT design the necessary strategies and direct funding and grants to achieve affordable broadband access and digital literacy for all

Completing Access to Broadband Program

$400 million
  • Creates a partnership between each county and NCDIT for a competitive bidding process to build infrastructure and provide service to unserved/underserved areas within each county 
  • Provides opportunity to mutually identify eligible areas
  • Includes an NCDIT RFP template and process

Stop Gap Solutions

$90 million
  • Provides targeted grants to address local infrastructure needs and connect underserved households with children and/or elderly (65+) not likely to get fiber for 3-4 years. 
  • Includes funding to address tower deployments, support upgrades to state property in support of private, fixed wireless deployment, pole replacements in support of major broadband projects, as well as devices for underserved households. Solutions would be deployed in the interim period between planning and project completion to connect high-need areas.

Affordability is a barrier to low-income households. The FCC's Affordable Connectivity Program, which provided eligible, low-income households a monthly discount on internet service, has ended.

Without additional funding from Congress, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) could no longer administer the program. It was fully funded through April 2024. 

Having broadband access does not mean being able to use it.

By investing $50 million, the state can improve awareness and enable more North Carolinians to utilize the benefits of high-speed internet through programs aimed at accessing the digital economy (e.g., education, job seeking, telehealth).

Funding would be allocated as described below.

Allocation Amount FY22 FY23-25

Awareness and Digital Literacy

$50 million $12.5 million $37.5 million
  • Grants funding for broad-based awareness campaign with targeted community-based efforts and digital literacy offerings.