Rockingham County, NC
Analyzing data on broadband access for Black communities in Rockingham, North Carolina, to support the pursuit of funding to address the racial digital divide.
Rockingham is a multiracial rural county in North Carolina where the digital divide reflects and perpetuates structural racism. Seventy-eight percent of non-Hispanic white residents have in-home broadband compared with 68 percent of Black residents; additionally, many people only have low-speed broadband, which does not provide the full benefits of connectivity. Access to in-home high-speed broadband is deeply tied to social determinants of health, and new state and federal grants offer unprecedented investments in broadband infrastructure in Rockingham County. However, little data are available about how access to broadband and existing programs differs by race. By using new data about infrastructure coverage and enrollment in internet subsidy programs, the North Carolina Budget and Tax Center (BTC) plans to develop a clearer picture of racial disparities in access and build racial equity criteria into broadband and digital inclusion projects. NC 100, a local advocacy organization and member of a statewide digital equity working group, will support BTC in this work.
BTC will analyze data on race and broadband access from the American Community Survey, Federal Communications Commission, North Carolina Division of Broadband and Digital Equity, and Affordability Connectivity Program. BTC and NC 100 will share project updates with the statewide digital equity working group, giving community members an opportunity to provide feedback on the analysis and final products to make them actionable for Rockingham Digital Inclusion Coalition members.
The coalition—which includes representatives from the county Department of Health and Human Services, educational institutions, hospitals, and community organizers—will serve as the primary audience for these analyses. BTC will share the project findings in research summaries, data visualizations, and spreadsheets for the coalition members. These products will support the coalition in developing successful plans and funding applications that expand broadband access for Black communities in Rockingham County. In the near term, this includes targeting existing digital skills-building programs; improving outreach for the Affordability Connectivity Program; and working with the state Office of Digital Technology to identify key projects for new state funding, which will become available in late 2022. The project will also support the coalition’s ongoing work to advocate for equitable distribution of North Carolina’s federal funding from the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act and to direct applications for competitive federal funding to Rockingham County.