The NC General Assembly is considering several bills that would increase broadband infrastructure across the state. The Provide Affordable Broadband Access to NC (HB 1122) was introduced in the House on May 14 and contains several provisions to increase digital inclusion across the state. It modifies the GREAT grant program and FIBER NC Act (introduced in 2019), and requires health plans to reimburse for telehealth services. It also establishes a pilot Homework Gap grant program to provide Internet access to students and teachers who do not have, or who cannot afford, home Internet service. The program would be administered by the Broadband Infrastructure Office in the NC Department of Information Technology in consultation with the NC Department of Public Instruction. The one-year grant program would provide Local Education Agencies (LEA) to purchase equipment and services for individual student and teacher use, and provide Wi-Fi on school buses. Funds would be allocated in the following ways:
- $4,500,000 to LEAs to purchase mobile hotspot devices, service for the hotspots, and equipment and mobile service to provide Wi-Fi on school buses.
- $250,000 to administer the grant program and conduct research on the size and scope of the homework gap.
- $125,000 to conduct a third-party evaluation of the pilot program and progress made toward closing the homework gap.
- $125,000 for mobile service testing to ensure mobile hotspot devices can provide adequate access for at-home educational needs