Digital Divide: 250,000+ in NC cannot access the internet due to no infrastructure

RALEIGH, NC (WNCN) — Many people can’t live without the Internet for a day, but not everyone has the same access.

North Carolina estimates that 270,000 North Carolinas have no internet access at all because the infrastructure is not there. Nearly $1 billion, mostly federal and some state dollars, will go toward improving broadband infrastructure.

Kim LeQuire is the human resources manager at Kornegay Family Farms and Produce in Johnston County.

She uses the internet for everything from monitoring products remotely to uploading navigation to tractors. Sometimes she had to tell customers she couldn’t get something to them because the internet wasn’t working.

“It shouldn’t take 30 minutes to upload a single photo,” LeQuire said.

After CBS 17 spoke with LeQuire, she learned that Spectrum is expanding the service in the hopes that she’ll get Internet access in her office and make her job easier.

“We know the equipment is there to bring us more high-speed internet — we’d like to see it brought out here,” she said.

Nate Denny is Deputy Secretary for Broadband and Digital Equity at the North Carolina Department of Information Technology. He estimates that less than 95 percent of North Carolinas have access to high-speed internet.

That means at least half a million people don’t have access to high speeds.

He said access is a problem in both rural areas and cities, but implementing the actual technology in rural areas is a major challenge. He said ISPs often have no incentive to extend the lines.

“There is significant capital expenditure involved in laying fiber or deploying fixed wireless technology,” Denny said.

“Unique opportunity” to improve broadband infrastructure

Denny said there is a unique opportunity for North Carolina to rise to the challenge – COVID-19 aid money from the federal government.

North Carolina uses $941 million in American Rescue Plan funds and $30 million in state money to build broadband infrastructure. $380 million of that will go to the GREAT grant program, which is expanding Internet access in rural areas.

“Those grant funds are meant to change the math so it’s worth it for Internet service providers to move to these rural parts of the state,” Denny said.

In January, the state said it has expanded access to 40,000 homes and businesses since the GREAT program began in 2018, spending a total of $91 million in state and private funds, according to a state press release.

That averages out to just over $2,000 per household. Denny said he doesn’t think the cost is too high.

“To fully participate in today’s modern economy, you need to have a high-speed Internet connection, and so I’d say those costs are quite a bit for the state and for the people of North Carolina,” he said.

Denny noted that the federal infrastructure bill includes $65 billion for improving Internet access in the US. With federal money, North Carolina will have 98 percent of households access to high-speed internet (100/20 Mbps) by 2025.

That’s a measure that can’t come soon enough for the likes of the Pilkingtons who live in Johnston County, who say that daily web browsing is a struggle.

Cameron Pilkington’s speed test showed a speed of 8.97/0.94 Mbps.

“Sometimes, like at the end of the day, we just want to relax, and just act crazy, you know, do our thing and then the internet stops us from doing that,” Pilkington said.

Of the money for broadband infrastructure, 1 million dollars goes to mapping. Denny said this will help estimate what households have and don’t have the Internet.

You can click here to take state broadband research and report your internet speed.

Click here to learn more about the FCC’s Affordable Connectivity Program which gives internet discounts to households that cannot afford it.

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