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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."

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Updated Aug 25, 2020 - Axios Events

Watch: The future of employability in North Carolina

RNC week: On Tuesday, August 25 Axios Cities author Kim Hart and Axios politics and White House editor Margaret Talev hosted a conversation on North Carolina's broadband access and economic recovery amid the coronavirus, featuring Reenie Askew, Charlotte's chief information officer, and Thomas Parrish, North Carolina's acting secretary and state chief information officer.

Thomas Parrish discussed bridging the digital divide in North Carolina, focusing on current investments in Wi-fi hotspots. The state is allocating $30 million to distribute 100k hotspots with continuous high speed and unlimited data for all students in the state.

  • On investing in the future of connectivity: "If you look at Europe...these countries are investing billions of dollars in their infrastructure to make sure people are connected...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."
  • On internet access in rural communities: "We're trying to leverage as much of the existing infrastructure as we can...working with local businesses, working with nonprofits, working with other departments like our Parks System...to get that connectivity out to our rural communities."

Reenie Askew focused on how internet connectivity is critical for education and workforce development, highlighting a city government partnership with school districts, nearby community colleges and other businesses to provide 15 spaces for public WiFi.

  • On the importance of providing free public Wi-fi: "If you have to make a decision between taking care of your expenses and food, education, and Internet — Internet would not be at the top of the list."
  • On the connection between accessible Internet and education: "The educational divide increases if we don't have the ability for everyone to be able to not just connect, but do it effectively from home. And so if we're unable to do that, then students who don't have access fall further behind and that we don't need to have."

Thank you Microsoft for sponsoring this event.

Updated 53 mins ago - Politics & Policy

Coronavirus dashboard

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What we overlooked in the switch to remote learning

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America’s rapid and urgent transition to online school has come with a host of unforeseen consequences that are only getting worse as it continues into the fall.

The big picture: The issues range from data privacy to plagiarism, and schools are ill-equipped to deal with them, experts say.