Economic Development Foundation receives broadband grant

Marine Science and Technologies Early College High School student Joseph Hamilton works on a class project in a computer lab in January 2019. The Carteret County Economic Development Foundation recently received a grant to develop a digital inclusion plan that will help expand broadband internet access in Carteret County. (Cheryl Burke photo)

CARTERET COUNTY — The Carteret County Economic Development Foundation has been awarded a $5,000 grant to develop a comprehensive, countywide digital inclusion plan that will help guide future expansion of broadband technology.

The foundation’s board of directors announced Wednesday it was included in the first round of recipients for a Building a New Digital Economy in North Carolina, or BAND-NC, grant from the Institute for Emerging Issues at N.C. State University.

The IEI has partnered with the N.C. Department of Information Technology’s Broadband Infrastructure Office and others to create the new grant program designed to help close the “digital divide” in North Carolina.

“This grant from the Institute for Emerging Issues comes at a very opportune time for Carteret County,” foundation Chairperson Ed Stack said in a release announcing the grant award. “Our Foundation Board of Directors has identified addressing the county’s broadband challenges as our highest programmatic priority this year, and the grant will allow us to jumpstart the development of a countywide plan to address the broadband needs of all Carteret County residents  .”

Maggie Woods, program and policy manager for the IEI, said the purpose of a digital inclusion plan is to identify and map the digital needs of a community and outline strategies to meet those needs. The exact scope of a plan varies by community, but most generally address the following key points:

  • Access to affordable, high-speed internet.
  • Access to a device that meets needs, typically computers or laptops.
  • Developing digital skills and literacy.

The goal of the Economic Development Foundation is to become the first rural county in North Carolina to develop a digital inclusion plan. Mecklenburg County, which is home to Charlotte, is currently the only county in the state with such a plan.

Carteret County Economic Development Director Don Kirkman said the hope is for Carteret County to serve as a model for other rural counties developing their own digital inclusion plans. The ultimate goal of the IEI and Broadband Infrastructure Office is to make North Carolina the first state in the nation with a digital inclusion plan for every county.  

“We want to go beyond just the goal of inclusion and identify the entire spectrum of broadband needs in the county,” Mr. Kirkman said of the purpose of the digital inclusion plan.

A major component of the plan will be identifying geographic locations in the county where there is no or sub-optimal internet access. The plan will outline other challenges, including cost, that further limit internet access. Finally, the plan will also take inventory of the county’s existing broadband infrastructure.

Mr. Kirkman said broadband internet – defined as a minimum of 25 Mbps download speed and 3 Mbps upload speed –  has become an essential utility, especially in light of the coronavirus pandemic forcing many to take up remote work and schooling. He said rural areas, where high-quality internet access is often not widespread, are at risk of falling behind in an increasingly digital world.   

“The pandemic has elevated the challenges in rural areas, especially,” he said.

High-quality, broadband internet is also important in attracting new residents to live in and tourists to vacation in Carteret County. A key part of the county’s economic development strategy is attracting more remote workers.

“Without reliable, affordable, high-speed internet, we won’t be competitive in a variety of different areas,” Mr. Kirkman said.

The county will likely pursue other funding sources, including another anticipated round of BAND-NC funding in the spring, once it finishes the digital inclusion plan and is ready to implement some of the strategies for expanding broadband internet access.

The Economic Development Foundation has engaged Deborah Watts, principal with Broadband Catalysts, as a consultant and project manager to facilitate the development of the Carteret County plan, which is anticipated to be completed by early 2021.

“There is no question that broadband is essential infrastructure in the 21st century. The coronavirus pandemic has underscored the importance of high-speed internet to education at every level, health care and remote working,” Ms. Watts said. “Many North Carolinians, including those in Carteret County, face significant barriers to affordable internet services, and the plan is intended to identify those hurdles and describe a range of solutions.”

 

Contact Elise Clouser at elise@thenewstimes.com; by phone at 252-726-7081 ext. 229; or follow on Twitter @eliseccnt.

(4) comments

David Collins

Y’all can spend all the money you wish in order to come up with a plan . The internet providers are not going to string their cabling throughout rural N.C. unless they can profit from doing so . That means the folks will have to pay for said service and pay well for it . It all comes down to dollars and cents . Always does .

Of course you can always get Government involved but most will age out before getting reliable service . You do want reliable service , don’t you . Low bidders often fall short in that department . Then we will have the governmental favorite , subsidies for those than can’t or won’t pay . No problem , just tax those that can pay to cover those deserving folks that can’t . After all, it is about the children , again .

sonsofPepe

What we really need is competition in the ISP market. Charter/Spectrum is the only viable option for much of us in the county, granting them an effective monopoly that may implement data caps if they manage to get out the of merger condition of no data caps.

I would really like to see the Carteret-Craven Coop get into the ISP business as already have many of the right of ways needed. Deploy fiber, and give Charter/Spectrum a run for its money.

mpjeep

I agree with you 100%, son. I have dropped Charter/Spectrum cable TV and would drop their Internet Service, if I could find a viable solution.

mpjeep

Plan sounds good on paper, but what will $5k really get you? So who pays the big money?

“A major component of the plan will be identifying geographic locations in the county where there is no or sub-optimal internet access”. I bet Spectrum, CenturyLink and a couple others already have that information. Just ask.

“Minimum of 25 Mbps download”, I’d probably have to ditch my digital equipment if that’s all I had.

You don’t have to reinvent the wheel by “developing digital skills and literacy”. Take a class at the local community college.

You keep saying that Covid-19 is somewhat driving this effort, but understand you’re talking about a 5-10 year project. Don’t you think we will have a much better handle on Covid by then, and all schools will reopen?

I read somewhere, (and I can’t find the article, so don’t hold me to this), that Verizon is working on such a program for digital access.

Don’t get me wrong, I think everyone should have internet service if they want it. I can’t live without it. But, it’s like garbage service, if it’s not cost effective, it won’t happen.

Welcome to the discussion.

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