Aug 25, 2020 - Technology

North Carolina officials: Pandemic underscores the need for broadened internet connectivity

Rennie Askew, chief information officer, City of Charlotte, North Carolina

Photo: Axios

The coronavirus pandemic has emphasized the need for connecting underserved communities to the digital world, Thomas Parrish, the acting chief information officer of North Carolina's Information Technology Department, said on Tuesday at an Axios virtual event on the Future of Employability.

Why it matters: Countries around the world have been investing in connectivity, Parrish said, and the U.S. is now starting to realize that broadening internet access is "now something we can no longer afford to miss."

  • "If you look at Europe ... these countries are investing billions of dollars in their infrastructure to make sure people are connected," Parrish said.
  • "I think what we're finally seeing in the United States and in North Carolina is that we need to make that investment, because if we're connected, that means we're ready for tomorrow."

Zoom in: The majority of people in the Charlotte-Mecklenburg area who aren't connected to the internet do not have enough money to do so, Charlotte chief information officer Reenie Askew said during the event.

  • The city is "bridging the digital divide" by partnering with the school district, nearby community colleges and other businesses to provide 15 spaces for public WiFi, Askew said. The city is looking to speed up that initiative, since it is using federal funding from the CARES Act, which expires in December, Askew said.
  • Askew said the city is also trying to revamp its retraining program to prepare people for jobs that will be needed after the pandemic.

Worth noting: Parrish said funding for increased internet access should prioritize children, many of whom are going to school remotely because of the pandemic. The funding should then target the elderly, since health care is moving toward the digital landscape, Parrish said.

  • Parrish said he hopes lawmakers in Washington can "put party politics aside and understand where we are today."

Watch the event.

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