Skip to content
Broadband Availability Broadband funding Digital Inequality Private Internet Service Providers

WNC Needs Private Internet Service Providers

With rural Wilson, North Carolina being a broadband municipality success story; other NC rural counties struggle to overcome a digital inequities that could be remedied with future broadband infrastructure funding assistance.

A diversity of internet service provider solutions will be needed for Western North Carolina, which is both rural and mountainous; likely with very few subscribers in many miles of roads.

“Internet providers pay for their investments with subscribers. So, if there are fewer subscribers in a mile of road, out in a rural part of the state, they won’t make their money back in time.”

Nate Denny, North Carolina’s Deputy Secretary for Broadband and Digital Equity

Denny estimated around 1.1 million North Carolinians still have broadband needs according to ABC11 News.

“About half of those don’t have service because they can’t afford it. It’s too expensive on a monthly basis for them to purchase internet service. About a third of them don’t connect because they don’t have the tools they need, whether it’s a laptop or even a smartphone, or the skills to fully participate in the digital economy,”

Nate Denny

Denny who is heading the state’s effort to close the digital divide agreed that more partners and providers are a good thing.

“I think competition is crucial, especially in rural parts of the state. Right now, about 10% of North Carolina households don’t have access and to even one provider, but we know that where there are multiple providers costs go down and service goes up”

Nate Denny

Denny is hoping private internet providers will be attracted to rural areas with grants the state is awarding. He said his office has already awarded more than $30 million grants to help connect 16,000 households.

To further close this gap, Denny said the state is planning to use around $1.2 billion from the American Rescue Plan to invest in infrastructure, create affordable internet and award devices and digital literacy to households.

NC Broadband Goals

By 2025, the state aims to have high-speed internet

  • Connected in 98% of North Carolina homes
  • 80% of households subscribed

Kummerer, Samantha. 2021. “One NC City Serves as a Global Solution for Solving Broadband Inequities.” ABC11 Raleigh-Durham. WTVD-TV. November 4, 2021.

Brookings Digital Citizenship Digital Equity Digital Inequality Economic Development Infrastructure Prosperity Social Outcomes

Digital Prosperity

Can broadband can deliver health and equity to all communities?

Every industry relies on computing, cloud storage, or other digital equipment to sell goods and services. Employers increasingly demand more advanced digital skills from the labor force. Meanwhile, people’s individual lives often orbit around the internet, whether at home, at work, or on the move.

Brookings – Digital prosperity: How broadband can deliver health and equity to all communities

Broadband is so influential on our society that we can now call ‘dependable high-speed internet’ as an essential infrastructure service.

Broadband’s applications are so far-reaching that these physical networks directly and indirectly affect a wide range of conditions that impact health and life outcomes, known as social determinants of health (SDOH) or conditions in the places where people live, learn, work, and play that affect a wide range of health and quality-of life-risks and outcomes (CDC-Center for Disease Control and Prevention).

If broadband is essential infrastructure, then regulation and public policy should support every American community having equitable access to broadband and the skills necessary to use it.

Why Broadband Matters

For most Americans, broadband is commonplace in professional, personal, and social interactions. Yet even with this ubiquity, the extent of broadband’s health and equity benefits aren’t fully understood. In part, this is because broadband’s physical networks do not directly impact health and equity outcomes in the way other infrastructure systems do. Instead, broadband serves as a platform on which a range of different applications operate and impact individuals. Just having an internet connection does not boost someone’s health outcomes—but using the internet to access remote health care providers, services, and information can serve as a conduit to improved physical and mental health.

Because broadband’s applications are so wide ranging, it can deliver services that touch every social determinant of health. From economic stability, to education, to social supports, to civic agency, broadband and the digital services it enables are today intrinsically tied to collective health and equity outcomes.

Economic Outcomes

In terms of economic outcomes, broadband delivers benefits to both individuals and communities. Broadband makes:

  • Job seekerseasier to search for jobs, apply for them, and to keep looking for longer.
    • In turn, businesses reap benefits from e-recruiting, which makes it less expensive to access a larger pool of candidates.
  • Digitally fluent workforce – brings productivity gains to firms, who can then reward employees with higher wages.
  • Macro economic lens – based on higher levels of broadband adoption lead to economic growth, higher incomes, and lower unemployment.

Social Outcomes

Broadband also plays an important role in improving social outcomes:

  • Broadband democratizes access – to education, offering a wide supply of free and open education platforms, courses, and resources.
  • Help people foster social supports – stay in contact with a broader social network. For traditionally marginalized groups who are prone to social isolation, access to the internet allows them to connect to others anonymously.
  • Telehealth – the use of telecommunications to deliver health services and education—can directly improve health outcomes, especially for those who otherwise lack access to medical providers.

Broadband is the Country’s Most Inequitable Infrastructure

The 2020 state of American broadband access, adoption, and use is one of disparate outcomes. According to the 2018 American Community Survey (ACS),

  • 85% of households have subscriptions to some form of “broadband” internet service.
    • ~10% have cellular-only access to the internet
  • 99.6% of households have complete plumbing.
  • 100% of households with access to electricity.

Additionally, the less population-dense an area is; the greater the digital divide due to the costs of connecting and providing service.

How do we become more digitally-prosperous?

Broadband’s ability to reach and positively impact households depends on three critical inputs:

  1. Physical availability
  2. Affordability of services and equipment
  3. Digital skill levels

Western North Carolina Broadband Initiative

The WNC Broadband Project is here to help:

  • Build & grow coalitions
    • School systems
    • Municipalities of Cities and Counties
    • Neighborhoods
    • Religious Institutions
  • Target opportunities
    • Online banking
    • Telehealth education
    • Communities
  • Make resources bi-lingual
  • Gather and effectively present data
    • Data visualization
    • Benchmarks and milestones

If you our your group and help bind opportunities across social, economic, and physical health dimensions, please contact a member of the WNC Broadband Project Team.

Building more equitable broadband infrastructure will improve our outlook on the Western North Carolina social determinants of health.

Adie Tomer, Lara Fishbane, Angela Siefer, and Bill Callahan. 2020. “Digital Prosperity: How Broadband Can Deliver Health and Equity to All Communities.” Brookings. Brookings. February 26, 2020.

Buncombe Digital Divide Digital Inequality Haywood County Henderson Madison Racial Disparity Transylvania

Tech – Racial Disparity in WNC

What is the digital divide for the Land-Of-Sky (LOS) regional counties when looking at the racial populations?

Where are the racial inequities?

For this data reporting, the Land-Of-Sky (LOS) counties include:

  • Buncombe
  • Haywood
  • Henderson
  • Madison
  • Transylvania

No Internet Access (%)

In the Land-Of-Sky Region , two significant disparities:

  1. 19.0% of the hispanics in the LOS area do not have internet access when compared to North Carolina.
  2. 9.2% of the white population in the LOS area do not have internet access compared to 6.9% of North all Carolinians .
No Internet Access (%)
No Internet Access (%) – LOS vs NC by Race

No Internet Subscription

Buncombe – 7.2 % of Households with No Internet

In Buncombe County the hispanic population has the greatest percent of households with no internet.

Buncombe County % of households with no internet.
Buncombe County % of households with no internet.

Haywood – 13.6 % of Households with No Internet

In Haywood County, the black, hispanic, and native Americans represent significantly larger percentages of households with no internet.

Haywood County % of Households with No Internet
Haywood County % of Households with No Internet

Henderson – 7.6 % of Households with No Internet

In Henderson County, the hispanic population represents a high percent of households with no internet.

Henderson households without internet
Henderson households without internet

Transylvania – 10.9 % of Households with No Internet

In Transylvania County, the hispanic population represents the largest percentage of households with no internet.

% of Households with No Internet - Transylvania County, NC
Transylvania County, NC % of Households with No Internet

Households Without a Computer

Households without computers by WNC county
Households without computers by WNC county

Buncombe – 12.5% of Households with No Computer

Above average populations in Buncombe County without a computer include:

  • Black 15.1%
  • Hispanic 17.5%
Buncombe County NC % of Households with No Computer
Buncombe County NC % of Households with No Computer

Haywood – 17.3% of Households with No Computer

Above average populations in Haywood County without a computer include:

  • Black 23.7%
Haywood County NC % of Households  with NO Compute
Haywood County NC % of Households with NO Computer

Henderson – 13.1 % of Households with No Computer

Above average populations in Henderson County without a computer include:

  • Black 15.1%
  • Native American 22.4%
Henderson County % of Households with NO Computer

Madison – 19 % of Households with No Computer

Madison County NC % of Households with NO Computer

Transylvania – 10.6 % of Households with No Computer

Above average populations in Henderson County without a computer include:

  • Hispanic 18.9%
  • Asian 16.5%
  • Black 12.9%
Transylvania % Households with NO Computer
Transylvania % Households with NO Computer

Racial Disparity in the Land of Sky Region. ArcGIS StoryMaps. Published November 10, 2020. Accessed September 23, 2021.

Advocacy Affordability Broadband Availability Buncombe Cable Cloud Digital Inequality Digital Literacy DSL Fiber Fixed Wireless Broadband Latency Microsoft OneDrive Telecom Industry

No DSL – Cable, Fiber, Fixed Wireless, or Satellite?

What is next when the DSL copper internet service is stopped?

Recently I helped a rural Buncombe County resident of 60+ years with a questions about ‘unexpected errors and messages’ she was receiving while working on her bookkeeping desktop computer.

The Excel spreadsheet occasionally created ‘auto-recovered’ versions that confused her. Then she could not find the file on her local computer’s file system.

Noteworthy: Excel will attempt to autosave and create a recovery version of a file if unexpected computer system events occur, like a power failure or closing the computer without saving a file.

Additionally Microsoft was defaulting to save files to ‘OneDrive’ or Microsoft’s cloud storage instead of the local computer.

Cloud or ‘OneDrive’ file storage needs dependable internet. If your internet speeds are of DSL copper wire or wireless latency, you have less confidence of a timely remote cloud-server save.

Microsoft OneDrive is the Cloud

If you have an older computer and DSL speeds, saving a file the the cloud can be questionable if you are in a hurry. Slow download, upload, and latency can create uncertainty.

Additionally, if the system is trying to protect your local file by putting it to the cloud and you don’t know that ‘OneDrive’ is the cloud; your file could become orphaned from your workflows.

Fiber Broadband 12-Month Promotion

As it turns out, the client’s home had recent street-side digging of a fiber installation. Soon after, the client received a letter offering to get a ‘500Mbps speed’ service for $45 per month for up to 12 months.

The client claimed “$5 higher per month than her current service” from the same major provider.

Features and Benefits of AT&T 500Mbps speed

This client has several major features and benefits with fiber, including these listed on AT&T’s website:

  • 500Mbps equal upload and download speeds
  • Faster speed and more bandwidth for the always connected household
  • 20x faster upload speeds than cable
  • Power even more devices so everyone can enjoy their own screen
  • AT&T Internet Security included

What the promotional USPS promotional letter did NOT Indicate:

  • How much do you pay for monthly fiber broadband service after 12 months?
  • What are the taxes and equipment fees?

AT&T Shelving DSL

In October of 2020 AT&T indicated they would start shelving DSL.

“We’re beginning to phase out outdated services like DSL and new orders for the service will no longer be supported after October 1,” a corporate statement sent beforehand read.

“Current DSL customers will be able to continue their existing service or where possible upgrade to our 100% fiber network.”

USA Today’s Rob Pegoraro 2020

Monopolistic Fiber Broadband

This client has 5 options:

  1. Stop copper DSL internet (and phone service) and leverage there cell phones.
  2. Upgrade to cable internet.
  3. Investigate wireless home internet options (slower and less dependable internet than cable)
  4. Consider satellite connectivity, low-earth orbit
  5. Purchase fiber broadband service from the one and only provider in their area

The consumer has no ability easily to benchmark or compare internet service provider pricing options. Likely, the one-year plus pricing for fiber service will be much higher than $45 per month.

Reasonable and Protective-Pricing

Although this client appears to have the financial means to upgrade to fiber, who is advocating for reasonable and protective pricing schemes for this elderly client?

  • What happens to neighbors that may not have the financial ability to pay for upgraded fiber?
  • Who provides credible and secure digital education specific to the user’s needs?
  • What happens to the client’s service if the DSL service fails?
  • Who advocates for the not-so-current digital tech user?

“AT&T Fiber – Unlimited Internet Data | AT&T Internet.” 2021. AT&T. 2021.

“Understanding Internet Speeds.” 2020. AT&T. 2020.

Pegoraro, Rob. 2020. “AT&T Shelving DSL May Leave Hundreds of Thousands Hanging by a Phone Line.” USA TODAY. USA TODAY. October 3, 2020.

Broadband access Digital Inequality Fiber Watauga

Watauga County

$7 Million Project Building Out Fiber-Optic Internet Access to Underserved Areas

We salute the growth of quality broadband to the underserved areas of Watauga County North Carolina.

The lack of high-speed internet access in the High Country has been one of the things that the COVID-19 pandemic has uncovered, especially with lots of folks moving to the area and finding out that large, rural parts of the county do not have access to high-speed internet. – Nathan Ham

Fiber is the future-proof solution!

Watauga County Commissioners Approve $7 Million Project Building Out Fiber-Optic Internet Access to Underserved Areas of the County. High Country Press. Published August 20, 2021. Accessed September 4, 2021.

Broadband access Digital Inequality Low-income Access

Digital Deserts

Broadband Drought Locations

Drought in the Western NC Mountains

For those of us who drive west, you quickly realize the quality and availability of cellular access points becomes more and more remote. The residents and businesses in these areas are also likely to have poorer fixed internet options.

With more and more interactions being required online from governments and related businesses, broadband or high-speed internet can starve individuals and communities of life-necessities of internet connectivity.

Community Broadband Access Points

To connect and communicate through the internet requires internet service providers. Wireless service providers facilitate some coverage, however this is usually at a premium of having a smartphone and sometimes expensive monthly cellular plans, most with contracts. Additionally our mountainous region has geographic limitations for WISP or wireless internet service providers.

Municipalities do provide public access points in their buildings and schools, medical facilities provide public access at most locations, many restaurants provide public access points, and my favorite are communities centers including public libraries.

Escape the Digital Desert for Seniors

School age students have the benefit of digital stewardship at public schools. But what about the senior demographic in Western North Carolina? What do they do if they don’t have a partner, spouse, children, or a community member to steward their digital needs?

Barrier to entry is really high for seniors in order to start using or feel comfortable using devices or the internet.

Deirdre Lee, Program Coordinator of Senior Planet Colorado

It appears significant Federal and State infrastructure monies are coming, including funding to grow digital connectivity and water the digital deserts. How will computer equipment and digital literacy be planned as part of the changing our digital deserts?

Digital Navigator Marc

Digital Navigator – Marc Czarnecki, alias Web Tech Czar

The author of this article, Marc Czarnecki, alias Web Tech Czar; is a member of the WNC Broadband Project Leadership team with a role of a Digital Navigator for the Digital Literacy Network and facilitates computer-tech education at NCWorks Career Center of Asheville, Asheville-Buncombe Technical Community College, Meet-the-GeeksAsheville SCORE, UNC Asheville Osher Lifelong Learning Institute, and the Experienced Workforce Initiative of WNC.

Marc leverages 4G and 5G hotspot technologies from Verizon, T-Mobile, US Cellular, and area community WiFi access points.

Contact Marc with your ideas to change our WNC digital deserts:

NaBeela Washington. Escaping the Digital Desert – Senior Planet digital desert. Senior Planet. Published August 5, 2021. Accessed August 15, 2021.

Digital Divide Digital Inequality Digital Redlining

Digital Redlining

Digital redlining is a term where decision makes deny electronic equipment growth in processes or policies to people and housing in low-income areas.

Digital opportunities could include discriminatory marketing, financial, or residential opportunities.

Is investing in high-speed internet is yet another digital exclusion?

Roots of a Digital Divide

A bill introduced last Friday tackles broadband underinvestment in low-income areas with hopes to address exclusivity agreements between providers and residential buildings.

Could the United States Government and the Federal Communication Commission take action to prohibit digital redlining?

On August 4, 2021 Representative Yvette Clarke of New York started an inquiry on the topic of digital redlining.

Uhunoma Edamwen. Bill to Address Digital Redlining, Exclusivity Agreements Between Providers and Buildings. Published August 4, 2021. Accessed August 5, 2021.

Nally CW. Redlining in a Digital Age | Burke Costanza & Carberry LLP. Burke Costanza & Carberry LLP. Published August 31, 2018. Accessed August 5, 2021.

Text – H.R.4875 – 117th Congress (2021-2022): To require the Federal Communications Commission to issue a notice of inquiry related to digital redlining, to prohibit digital redlining, and for other purposes. Published 2021. Accessed August 5, 2021.

Digital Divide Digital Inequality

Digital Divide Decisions

Don’t replace the digital divide with the “not good enough divide”

Broadband of 25 Mbps down / 3 Mbps up; is a current FCC standard that is definitely NOT future-proof.

With strategic decisions being made to a magnitude not see in the history of the internet, what should the benchmark become?

Congress must prioritize spending public funds for high-speed service, not simply good-enough service.

Tom Wheeler – Brookings

Wheeler, T. (2021, June 21). Don’t replace the digital divide with the “not good enough divide.” Brookings; Brookings.

Broadband access Broadband in WNC Community Development Digital Divide Digital Inequality Fiber NTCA


WNC Needs To Build Big and Bold Broadband Infrastructure

Why does Western North Carolina need to build big and bold broadband infrastructure?


  • Fastest internet
  • Best investment
  • More connected education
  • Essential healthcare
  • 5G access
  • More jobs
  • Better gaming
  • Faster streaming
  • Robust teleworking

With a once-in-a-generation infrastructure opportunity ahead of us, now is the time to aim higher, do better and invest in technology built to last. For broadband, in many cases that means fiber. Fiber delivers not just what we need today but also holds promise for what will be needed in the future, as more Americans engage in teleworking, remote learning and telehealth, and as our country pursues 5G superiority.

Shirley Bloomfield, CEO, TCA

#WeAgree at the WNC Broadband Project.

Thanks to the @NTCAconnect – the Rural Broadband Association and their Chief Executive Officer @sbloomfield15 Shirley Bloomfield for advocating for #rural #broadband!

We can remove the #digitaldivide.

Broadband access Buncombe Community Development Digital Inequality Local Government Senate Bill Terri Wells Tim Love

Buncombe Government Can Not Help

The reality, the needed broadband infrastructure to reach all homes; is not in Buncombe County and other Western North Carolina communities; and our local government can’t currently build and lease the infrastructure to providers. Could Senate Bill 689 pass to allow local governments to help?

Love, Wells and others hoping to tap the arriving federal aid are watching various legislative proposals, especially Senate Bill 689, which would allow local governments to build the infrastructure and lease it to providers. The bill would also allow the use of grants, such as the rescue plan.

Citizen Times

In the mountains with low populations density and a low customer count, like when rural electrification was implemented; our state needs to allow local governments to create the needed infrastructure where it is geographically too expensive to build broadband networks.

Burgess, J. (2021, May 6). 35,000 Buncombe homes, businesses don’t have broadband, and NC law says the county can’t help. The Asheville Citizen Times; Asheville Citizen Times.

‌Also See

2021 Broadband State Legislation