Determining the state of broadband in a local community can be challenging for professional who conduct surveys and develop feasibility studies. Finding out the same information on a state level is an even more complex task. Nevertheless, North Carolina is tackling the job and earlier this month, the N.C. Department of Information Technology (NCDIT) shared data indices that shine a light on the state of broadband access, adoption, and how the digital divide plays out across the state.
It’s More than Mapping
In December 2019, we spoke with Jeff Sural, Director of the Broadband Infrastructure Office for the North Carolina Department of Information Technology, who discussed their work in mapping and examining the Office’s attempts to gather a more accurate picture of how and where people in the state use and access the Internet.
Listen to them discuss the project here. They talked as part of our special series on North Carolina connectivity that we’re creating in collaboration with NC Broadband Matters:
The indices look at county-level data and reveal a variety of factors. Some results are a stark reality that the digital divide has widened as technology in some regions has advanced — such as indicators that show people have only DSL service and no Internet access at all juxtaposed against those communities where a majority of folks subscribe to available fiber optic connectivity.
These indices were designed to create a more accurate picture of broadband access and adoption. Because broadband access and adoption are each important but distinct, two indices were designed.
1. “Broadband Availability and Quality Index,” and
2. “Broadband Adoption Potential Index.”
Together, 19 variables—eight in the broadband availability and 11 in the broadband adoption—create the indices. And the indices are available at both the county and census tract level—a feature we believe can help communities both understand how their community or county relates to the rest of the state, and zero in on individual communities so solutions can accurately reflect their individual needs.
A Closer Look
The NCDIT announced the release of the data at the recent ReCONNECT to Technological Opportunity Forum from the Institute for Emerging Issues. While he was there, Christopher had the opportunity to interview Roberto Gallardo, Ph. D., from Purdue University, who developed the indices.
One of Gallardo’s key maxims for communities is that “you don’t know what you don’t know.” In order to make the policy changes and targeted investments to shrink the various digital divides, detailed data and deep analysis is the way to develop unique solutions for unique communities.
Listen to the conversation between Christopher and Roberto here:
NCDIT Secretary and State Chief Information Officer Eric Boyette, who announced the indices at the forum said:
“One of our goals is to create a better picture of North Carolina’s broadband access limitations and opportunities. We are working toward ensuring all North Carolinians have access to affordable, reliable high-speed internet service.”
Sural noted that, with better data to help the state better understand what the current situation is, North Carolina will be “better equipped to work with communities and our public and private partners to address these challenges.”
Amy Huffman, digital inclusion and policy manager for the state Broadband Infrastructure Office, noted that the indices are the beginning to the state’s ability to measure benchmarks as they work toward digital inclusion:
“These indices will give us great benchmarks for measuring change over time in broadband access and adoption and help us assess our progress in closing the digital divide.”
The North Carolina Broadband indices are available online and the NCDIT hopes that state and local leaders will make use of the tool. The information can help better understand the current state of broadband in their community, assist in visualizing ways to improve challenges and take advantages of opportunities, and in developing solutions.
Federal level mapping has been criticized in the past as heavily leaning toward overstating coverage, and states like North Carolina are taking matters in their own hands to gather the correct data. As other states begin to recognize and support broadband expansion efforts, North Carolina’s work can help them realize that the presence of infrastructure is only one ingredient required to develop a universal adoption recipe.