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IEI Announces New Grant Program to Fund Digital Inclusion Plans Across NC

Seth Ervin took the stage at the ReCONNECT to Technological Opportunity forum on February 10 and painted a picture of today’s technological world. 

“It’s a world barreling towards progress without thinking about who’s being left behind, and progress at any cost always costs more than you think,” he said. “It’s a land where the Food Lion application is no longer available in paper, and it’s a land where the urgent care line is hidden behind an internet connection.”

Ervin, the chief innovation officer for the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Library and the current convener for the Charlotte Digital Inclusion Alliance (CDIA), represented one of five communities being uplifted at the forum for their work in digital inclusion. The Institute for Emerging Issues (IEI) dedicated an entire forum to the issue of technological opportunity because of the increased urgency of closing the digital divide for a more vibrant North Carolina for all.

Participants at the Feb. 10 ReCONNECT to Technological Opportunity forum work together on a digital inclusion plan during a breakout session.

And now, in the wake of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19), the world has only become more reliant on technology and an internet connection. Our schooling, our jobs, our health care, and our social lives have all been forced online—and those without access to affordable internet, devices, or the ability to use them are increasingly being left behind. COVID-19 is exposing the digital divide in North Carolina and its consequences for all of us.

In response, IEI has partnered with the Broadband Infrastructure Office (BIO) at the NC Department of Information Technology to create a new grant program called “Building a New Digital Economy,” or BAND-NC. With support from the John M. Belk Endowment, Atlantic Telephone Membership Corporation, Roanoke Electric Cooperative and North Carolina Electric Cooperatives, BAND-NC will provide at least $300,000 in mini-grants to communities across the state.

The program will support thirty $5,000 “rapid response community innovation grants” this summer, a series of workshops led by IEI and BIO to help communities develop their digital inclusion plans this fall, and another thirty $5,000 “implementation” grants in 2021. 

“The global pandemic has made it painfully obvious how critical it is for every family to have access to these services, and communities have been working hard to find emergency fixes,” said IEI Director Leslie Boney. “We hope these grants can help fill some of the final emergency needs, but more importantly we are looking for communities interested in developing long-term solutions. This funding, matched with other support from government and other private investors, can be the start of those solutions.”

Learn more about the BAND-NC grants and apply today. Applications are accepted on a rolling basis until August 31, 2020.