Digital divide: more than 250,000 people in North Carolina cannot access the Internet due to lack of infrastructure


RALEIGH, NC (WNCN) — Many people can’t go a day without using the internet, but not everyone has the same access.

North Carolina estimates that 270,000 North Carolina residents cannot access the internet at all because the infrastructure is not there. Nearly $1 billion, mostly from the federal government and some states, is being spent on improving broadband infrastructure.

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

It uses the internet for everything from remote monitoring of products to downloading navigation to tractors. Sometimes she had to tell customers that she couldn’t provide them with something because the internet was down.

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

After CBS 17 spoke to LeQuire, she learned that Spectrum was expanding service on her route, hoping she would get internet access to her office and make her job easier.

“We know the equipment is there to bring us more high-speed internet – we just wish it was in place here,” she said.

Nate Denny is Assistant Secretary for Broadband and Digital Equity at the North Carolina Department of Information Technology. He estimates that less than 95% of North Carolina residents have high-speed Internet access.

This means that at least half a million people do not have access to broadband.

He said access is a problem in both rural and urban areas, but deploying current technology in rural areas is a big challenge. He said internet service providers often had no incentive to extend lines.

“There are significant capital expenditures associated with laying fiber or deploying fixed wireless technology,” Denny said.

“A unique opportunity” to improve broadband infrastructure

Denny said there was a unique opportunity for North Carolina to rise to the challenge — COVID-19 relief money from the federal government.

North Carolina is using $941 million in US bailout funds and $30 million in government funds to build broadband infrastructure. Of that, $380 million will go to the GREAT grant program, which expands internet access in rural areas.

“These grant funds are meant to change the math so that it’s worth it for ISPs to go to these rural parts of the state,” Denny said.

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

This averages just over $2,000 per household. Denny said he doesn’t believe the cost is too high.

“To fully participate in the modern economy today, you need to have a high-speed internet connection, and so I would say that cost is quite significant for the state and for the people of North Carolina,” did he declare.

Denny noted that the federal infrastructure bill includes $65 billion to improve internet access in the United States. He said that with federal money, North Carolina would get 98% of households with high-speed Internet access (100/20 Mbps) by 2025.

It’s a benchmark that can’t come soon enough for people like the Pilkingtons who live in Johnston County, who say 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 have fun, you know, do our thing and then the internet stops us from doing it,” Pilkington said.

Of the money for broadband infrastructure, $1 million goes to mapping. Denny said this will help focus on what households have and don’t have the internet.

You can click here to grab state broadband investigate and report your internet speed.

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


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