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Bridging the Digital Divide Through Internet Access in N...

Bridging the Digital Divide Through Internet Access in North Carolina’s Triangle Region

Tech savvy residents can rejoice that Google Fiber will be coming to the Triangle region in North Carolina. Google chose several cities to serve as testing sites for its high-speed broadband service, and the region encompassing Raleigh, Durham, and Chapel Hill joins cities like Provo, Utah and Austin, Texas in the final selection. The service boasts

Free drop-in tech workshops are offered at the Undergraduate Library at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Chapel Hill, North Carolina, United States

Tech savvy residents can rejoice that Google Fiber will be coming to the Triangle region in North Carolina. Google chose several cities to serve as testing sites for its high-speed broadband service, and the region encompassing Raleigh, Durham, and Chapel Hill joins cities like Provo, Utah and Austin, Texas in the final selection. The service boasts a downloading rate of 1 gigabit per second compared to average broadband connections around 10 megabits per second. The rollouts to the Triangle are already underway and will stretch from Carrboro to Garner. Google cautions that the process will take several years to complete, in addition to requiring the assistance from hundreds of construction crews and installers. In anticipation of the installation, the Town of Chapel Hill has set up a website as a resource for residents with questions about the installation of Google Fiber in their area.

Construction crews started digging up and putting down the infrastructure for Google Fiber in the Triangle, Raleigh-Durham metropolitan area, North Carolina, United States

Despite securing the winning bid for Google Fiber, many residents in the Triangle are still without basic home Internet access. U.S. Secretary of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), Julian Castro, recently said less than half of America’s lower-income households have a home Internet subscription, and nearly one-third do not own a computer. In an effort to bridge the digital divide, the Obama administration announced that Durham would join 26 other cities in receiving high-speed Internet access for many public housing and other low-income housing residents. About 2,000 families will receive free Internet access under the Federal program, ConnectHome. The program will allow the city to work with groups like the American Library Association, PBS and the College Board to offer free digital literacy training, educational tools and devices.

Nearby, Chapel Hill is also looking to leverage Internet access when it comes to education. Four of Chapel Hill’s 13 public housing communities have received free access to AT&T U-verse. Chapel Hill officials stated that providing Internet access to residents in public housing was a priority as those residents will have the hardest time gaining access to the Internet in the first place. It offers opportunities for their children to do well in school in addition to giving adults the ability to search for job opportunities and stay informed on current events. The Chapel Hill-Carrboro City School District is also developing a program to get broadband and laptops into every student’s home.

Beyond the Triangle, high-speed Internet is still unavailable or unreliable in some areas of Orange County. Currently, about 89 percent of Orange County’s population has broadband access, but by land area, a significant portion of the county to the west of Chapel Hill does not have access. The County Manager wants to place focus on developing maps to highlight this disparity in Internet access, as many Internet service providers typically make decisions to expand service areas based on population density. The majority of rural Orange County currently falls outside of the currently set parameters. Officials hope that showing where potential customers are located will entice some providers to partner in providing rural residents Internet access.

What opportunities can cities anticipate with increased Internet access? How can rural and impoverished communities work to receive better Internet access? Share your thoughts and your city's stories in the comments area below. 

Credits: Images by Rachel Eberhard and WUNC. Data linked to sources.

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