CARTERET COUNTY — The Carteret County Economic Development Foundation Board of Directors has announced the release of a comprehensive, countywide broadband plan called Connecting Carteret – A Plan for Digital Inclusion.
According to the foundation, the plan is the first countywide digital inclusion plan in a rural North Carolina county, and Mecklenburg is currently the only other county in the state with such a document.
In August 2020, the Economic Development Foundation was awarded a $5,000 Building a New Digital Economy in N.C., or BAND-NC, grant from the Institute for Emerging Issues at N.C. State University. The grant, along with other foundation funding, was used to hire Deborah Watts, a principal at Broadband Catalysts and a leader on rural broadband issues, as consultant and project manager to develop the plan.
“Access to broadband infrastructure is an economic development imperative,” foundation Chairperson Ed Stack said in a Wednesday release. “Our Foundation Board of Directors identified broadband as its highest programmatic priority last year, and we are delighted with the excellent document produced by Deb Watts and the Broadband Steering Committee.
“The digital inclusion plan provides a blueprint to make Carteret County a state leader in digital inclusion and broadband access for all Carteret County residents,” Mr. Stack continued.
The plan identifies 14 recommendations in four key areas: leadership and community building, availability, access and adoption. A key finding of the plan is there are geographic areas and socioeconomic populations of the county that lack access to the internet. The plan recommends the Economic Development Foundation lead the county’s efforts to expand broadband adoption by creating the Connected Carteret Coalition for Digital Inclusion, a recommendation the foundation board of directors embraced.
“The decision by the Foundation Board to take ownership of the County’s digital inclusion and broadband efforts will provide much need leadership to coordinate Carteret County’s broadband initiatives, which are currently very fragmented,” said Carteret County Economic Development Director Don Kirkman, an ex officio member of the foundation board who, along with economic development department colleague Michele Querry, provided staff support to the broadband steering committee.
Maggie Woods, IEI program and policy manager and BAND-NC lead, expressed enthusiasm for the county’s efforts, saying, “We were thrilled to support the creation of Connecting Carteret – A Plan for Digital Inclusion, and we are very pleased with how it turned out.
“To put this in context, Carteret County is one of only two rural counties nationally to develop a digital inclusion plan,” she continued. “We believe these efforts will meet pressing needs and help close the digital divide in the county.”