President Joe Biden yesterday signed into law the $1.2 trillion bipartisan Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA) that will bring close to $1 billion in federal funding to help close the digital divide in North Carolina.
“The bipartisan infrastructure package signed yesterday by President Biden is a huge investment in our country that will bring good-paying jobs and much-needed infrastructure modernization to North Carolina,” said Governor Roy Cooper. “This bill will help ensure we emerge from this pandemic stronger than ever before by improving our roads, bridges, public transit systems, high speed internet networks, clean water and disaster preparedness.”
More than one million North Carolina residents lack access to a high-speed internet connection, cannot afford internet service, do not have an adequate device or do not have the digital skills needed to use the devices to work, learn, access telehealth and engage with the digital economy.
The IIJA will provide North Carolina:
- $100 million in block funding, along with the state’s share of both $4 billion in funding for high-cost areas and $37 billion for last-mile infrastructure. These shares will be prioritized based on unserved areas, underserved areas and community anchor institutions such as schools, libraries, medical and healthcare providers, public safety entities, community colleges, and other institutions of higher education;
- In addition, the state will receive or be able to compete for a portion of $640 million for digital equity capacity planning and $1.3 billion for digital equity grants;
- Access to a $1 billion grant program for middle-mile infrastructure to help bring fiber – which allows for faster internet speeds – closer to rural communities; and
- Modifies, extends and renames the Federal Communications Commission’s Emergency Broadband Benefit Program (EBBP), and reduces the monthly benefit to $30 to help households afford access to high-speed internet service.
With these funds and the N.C. General Assembly’s appropriation of more than $960 million of American Rescue Plan Act funds, the N.C. Department of Information Technology (NCDIT) seeks to raise the percentage of North Carolina households with high-speed internet subscriptions from 73% to 80% and raise the percentage of households with children with high-speed internet subscriptions from 81% to 100%. Additionally, NCDIT is striving to increase adoption rates to 80% across the following racial subgroups: Native American (currently 57%), Black (currently 64%), Latinx (currently 68%) and White (currently 76%).
“With this dedicated funding for broadband infrastructure and digital equity, NCDIT can make remarkable strides in equipping North Carolinians with affordable high-speed internet access, technology and skills so they can connect to essential digital resources,” said NCDIT Secretary and State Chief Information Officer James Weaver. “We are working with internet service providers and local municipalities and are encouraging public-private partnerships to ensure we deploy the best solutions to meet each community’s needs.”
More about the Emergency Broadband Benefit Program
The EBBP provides support for broadband services and certain devices to help low-income households stay connected during the COVID-19 pandemic. More than 286,000 North Carolina households have already registered for the EBBP. Residents can learn if they qualify for this benefit at getemergencybroadband.org. NCDIT is encouraging all residents who qualify for the program to apply for benefits. The new program, with nearly $14 billion in funding, will be called the Affordable Connectivity Benefit. Those who qualified under the EBBP automatically will be enrolled in the Affordable Connectivity Benefit.