Special to Iredell Free News
RALEIGH — Gov. Roy Cooper has announced the creation of a new Office of Digital Equity and Literacy, a first for North Carolina and the first in the nation. The office is part of the newly created Division of Broadband and Digital Equity within the N.C. Department of Information Technology (NCDIT), elevating Cooper’s priority to close the digital divide in North Carolina.
“The pandemic showed us more than ever the importance of digital equity in North Carolina,” the governor said. “Creating the Office of Digital Equity and Literacy will enable us to accelerate the critical work of bringing all North Carolinians up to speed with the digital society so they can live more equitable, prosperous, educated and healthier lives.”
NCDIT Secretary Jim Weaver has named Nate Denny as the new deputy secretary of Broadband and Digital Equity. Denny previously served as NCDIT’s chief of staff.
Jeremy Collins, who served as director of the Speed initiative in Cooper’s NC@High Hometown Strong office, will lead the Office of Digital Equity and Literacy. The office will execute Cooper’s plan to expand digital literacy offerings and partnerships across North Carolina, as well as lead the Digital Equity and Inclusion Collaborative and promote the NC Digital Inclusion Playbook for local municipalities.
Jeff Sural, director of the Broadband Infrastructure Office (BIO), will lead an expanded effort to create transformational infrastructure investments in counties across the state through a variety of grant programs and other efforts.
In the past few years, the BIO team has leveraged state and federal funds to expand access to high-speed internet. Through the GREAT grant program, North Carolina has invested $56 million to bring broadband access to 28,000 households. In addition, BIO has leveraged more than $237 million in federal funds to expand access. The BIO team also responded to the COVID-19 pandemic by participating in efforts to close the homework gap in North Carolina and connect students to broadband through the NC Student Connect partnership.
“Jeff and his team have worked tirelessly to move the needle on their goal of ensuring that every North Carolinian has affordable access to broadband service,” said Jim Weaver, secretary of NCDIT and State Chief Information Officer. “Combining these resources will elevate our work and achieve Gov. Cooper’s goal to fully close digital equity gaps in North Carolina.”
On May 19, Cooper announced his plan to invest $1.2 billion in American Recovery Plan funds to close the digital divide in North Carolina by 2025. NCDIT’s expanded Broadband and Digital Equity division will be charged with executing the governor’s plan, including spending $165 million on efforts to achieve digital equity and literacy for all North Carolinians.
The plan will connect 98 percent of North Carolina households to high-speed internet infrastructure, support 80 percent of North Carolina households’ subscriptions to affordable broadband service and allow 100 percent of households with children to subscribe, permanently closing the homework gap in North Carolina.