Built Environment

Rockingham County, NC
United States

NC 100
Social media handle(s)
@ncbudget (Facebook), @ncbudgetandtax (Twitter) NC Budget & Tax Center (Linkedin)

Analyzed data on broadband access for Black and Latinx 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 the forces of structural racism and perpetuates inequities. 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. New state and federal grants offer unprecedented investments in broadband infrastructure in Rockingham County. However, there is limited available data regarding 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 developed a clearer picture of racial disparities in access to demonstrate the value of building racial equity criteria into broadband and digital inclusion projects. NC 100, a local advocacy organization and member of the Rockingham Digital Inclusion Coalition, which also includes representatives from the county Department of Health and Human Services, educational institutions, hospitals, and community organizers, collaborated with them in this work.

The NC Budget & Tax Center analyzed 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 (ACP). They shared project updates with local organizations to give community members an opportunity to provide feedback on the analysis and final products to make them actionable for Rockingham Digital Inclusion Coalition members. The NC Budget & Tax Center shared the project findings in research summaries, data visualizations, and spreadsheets for the coalition members. They are also developing a report to share findings and recommendations for increasing program enrollment for all communities. 

With the data available, the NC Budget & Tax Center analysis did not find racial or ethnic disparities in ACP enrollment, but did show inequities in internet access, and that many people of color who likely qualify are not receiving the benefit. The analysis supported coalition conversations about barriers to enrollment and digital equity and the center will stay involved with the coalition in the coming months. In the near term, local community colleges have agreed to share information about the ACP with students during orientation. The project’s products will also support the coalition in developing future plans and preparing competitive funding applications to expand broadband access in Rockingham County. Finally, 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.