Special to Iredell Free News

RALEIGH — Gov. Roy Cooper on Tuesday announced the launch of the state’s first digital equity grant program, which will help North Carolinians afford high-speed internet, obtain digital devices and access digital literacy resources.

The multi-phased program, administered by the N.C. Department of Information Technology’s Office of Digital Equity and Literacy, will invest up to $24 million of federal American Rescue Plan Act funds for collaborative digital equity projects.

“We want more North Carolinians to get the tools and knowledge they need to connect to high-speed internet and to use it to transform their communities and their lives,” Cooper said. “This is an important step toward getting more people connected online so they can work, learn, access telehealth and connect with one another.”

The program’s first phase will invest $10 million in total funding to support 10 to 15 state government entities to develop or expand digital inclusion programs. Applicants must be an entity of North Carolina state government, which includes all state government organizations as outlined HERE; University of North Carolina System or individual schools, universities, or centers within the system; and N.C. Community College System or individual schools, colleges or centers within the system. This two-year, noncompetitive grant funding program encourages collaborative partnerships. Each grantee will be awarded a maximum of $2 million for a project that must be completed by the end of 2024.

Applications from state government entities will be accepted through October 28. Information sessions for applicants will be held October 4, Oct. 10 and Oct. 20. Additional details can be found at www.ncbroadband.gov/funding-programs/digital-equity-grant.

In winter 2023, the Office of Digital Equity and Literacy will launch the second phase of the digital equity grant program, a competitive grant process with $14 million in total funding, which will be open to applications from municipalities and nonprofits, community-based organizations, and key stakeholder groups for local digital inclusion projects and device distribution.

“We are excited to collaborate with digital equity experts across the state through this new grant program,” said NCDIT Secretary and State Chief Information Officer Jim Weaver. “These strategic partnerships at the state and local level will help drive meaningful and measurable change for North Carolinians in the next two years.”

These grants are part of Gov. Cooper’s plan to give 95 percent of North Carolina households access to high-speed internet by expanding access and addressing issues of affordability and digital literacy. Through these investments, the Office of Digital Equity and Literacy is seeking partnerships with experts across the state to implement digital equity solutions that positively impact target populations identified in the Digital Equity Act. These populations include low-income households; individuals who primarily reside in a rural area; older Americans/aging residents; incarcerated and/or second chance citizens/reentry/justice involved; veterans; individuals with disabilities; individuals with a language barrier (including individuals who are English learners or whose first language is not English and/or those who have low levels of literacy); and individuals who are members of a racial or ethnic minority group.

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