A recent op-ed article in The New York Times (“Locked Out of the Virtual Classroom,” 27 March 2020) argues that we are facing a moment of reckoning with the growing inequality in Internet access, separating the economically advantaged–who have the digital capability and hardware to succeed academically even in quarantine–and those in rural and poor communities, who often lack even the basics for simple connectivity. The coronavirus is making clear just how closely economic inequality and the digital divide track one another. The pandemic is crystallizing for us how critical the broadband needs of under-resourced communities are, and what will be necessary to address them. To learn more, visit The New York Times.
The COVID-19 pandemic has closed K-12 schools and universities nationwide and, in response, education has gone online. But, as a recent article from The Guardian points out, as many as 22% of American households lack internet access. To learn more about what happens when students can’t connect with their teachers, and what some schools are doing to address the problem, visit The Guardian.
Early last week, in response to COVID-19, the University of North Carolina system made the decision to extend Spring Break by a week, so that faculty could prepare to teach their courses online for at least the next two weeks, and perhaps for the remainder of the semester. Locally, at UNC Asheville, faculty, staff and administrators are working together to support their students via remote-learning strategies. On 14 March, Gov. Roy Cooper issued an executive order closing K-12 school for two weeks and with the assistance of the NC Department of Public Instruction, teachers statewide are getting ready to take their classes online in the face of considerable challenges. As an article in today’s Asheville Citizen-Times makes clear, many students in Western North Carolina still do not have internet access in the home, and if they do, their service may not have the bandwidth that digital instruction requires. To learn more about how the coronavirus is compelling the rapid shift to online learning, and the difficulties our communities will encounter, visit the Asheville Citizen-Times.
In 2019, the WestNGN Community Broadband Survey, administered by the Land of Sky Regional Council, reveals that 13 percent of our region’s residents do not have broadband access and that for over half of the population, their service is inadequate. The WNC Rural Downtown Wifi and Jobs Project has been awarded $100,000 by the Appalachian Regional Commission to build out broadband access points and kiosks at regional centers, so that members of our community without access or adequate service can benefit from truly high-speed digital connectivity. To learn more about this initiative, please visit the Buncombe County Connecting Community webpage.
North Carolina, along with five other new state members, has joined the National Telecommunication and Information Agency’s State Broadband Leaders Network. The goal of this group is to gather data from state leadership about about broadband challenges and efforts, to create information tools and to shape discussions about the promotion of broadband at the state level. To learn more, please visit BroadbandUSA.
Eric Boyette, the Secretary of the NCDIT, announced the implementation of two new state-level broadband indices, to be used to track broadband access, adoption and the digital divide across North Carolina. To learn more about this important development, visit the NCDIT website.