RALEIGH May 21, 2019 The N.C. Department of Natural and Cultural Resources and the N.C. Department of Information Technology have partnered with nine library systems and four municipalities to improve internet access in rural communities. The library systems collectively serve 14 Tier 1 counties in the state. The agencies partnered through the Hometown Strong initiative created by Gov. Roy Cooper. The program is intended to strengthen quality of life in rural North Carolina. “All North Carolinians deserve access to reliable, high-speed Internet and digital technology, regardless of zip code,” Gov. Cooper said. “Today’s announcement is another important step toward bridging the digital divide.” Each of the libraries received $35,000 to purchase equipment such as Wi-Fi hot spots or computers that will be made available to students or other library patrons for home use. Some counties partnered with school systems and used the money to install Wi-Fi on school buses to allow students with long bus rides an opportunity to work on their homework while traveling. Communities will be able to use the funds at their discretion to shape a program that best fits their needs. “The ability to assist our counties with expanding broadband access to all areas of North Carolina is critical to ensuring success for jobs, health, and education in our state. Listening to our partners’ needs and being able to make resources available has made this effort successful,” said Eric Boyette, secretary and state chief information officer for the N.C. Department of Information Technology. “This initiative is an example of Governor Cooper’s directive in Executive Order 91 to find ways for the state to support broadband expansion. This effort also works to close the homework gap which is vital in ensuring we create the opportunity our youth need to succeed in the future.” NCDIT funded the initiative and will provide technical expertise. The Department of Natural and Cultural Resources, home to the State Library, leveraged its existing relationships with libraries to identify communities with the most need. The State Library will support the local libraries and hold virtual roundtables as they build their programs and will use this pilot program to help guide other libraries that may want to provide similar services. “Public libraries are located in every North Carolina county and are available to everyone,” said Susi H. Hamilton, secretary of the N.C. Department of Natural and Cultural Resources. “They are uniquely situated to serve schoolchildren and their families and help ensure they have the tools and resources they need for success.” The departments have also partnered to explore adding or enhancing free downtown Wi-Fi access in four small, rural communities: Bryson City, Halifax, Hot Springs and Whiteville. The program would help support communities where the state has existing interests, such as trails, historic sites or museums.