Key Takeaways from May 5 Broadband and Beyond Webinar: Accessing Free and Low-cost internet

IEI is partnering with the Roanoke Electric Cooperative on a series of three “Broadband and Beyond” webinars which aim to educate and provide resources about the digital divide during COVID-19.

The first webinar in the series was held on Tuesday, May 5 and explored how to access free and low-cost internet and devices. Our guest speakers included Amy Huffman of the North Carolina Broadband Infrastructure Office, part of the Department of Information Technology, and Dr. Eric Cunningham, Superintendent and Dr. Tyrana Battle, Assistant Superintendent of Halifax County Schools. 

Key takeaways:

  1. Schools are innovating. Superintendent Cunningham says the “carpet was pulled out from under them” on March 16th when schools went remote, but despite the circumstances, Halifax County schools are working hard to ensure that all students have access to WiFi. Much of the county is in an internet desert, so in partnership with Roanoke Electric, the school system set up WiFi hotspots in seven school parking lots. These ‘Park and Learn’ lots are open from 9am-8pm and allow students and families to access the internet. Dr. Battle also explained that many students may not have a computer or laptop, however, most students have access to a smartphone. Teachers are using software and videos that are easy to access and use on smartphones. 
  2. Resources are available. Want to know where to find free and low cost internet? Look no further than this continually updated map from the Broadband Infrastructure Office. As Amy Huffman explained, you can type in your zip code and see what internet discounts are available in your area and where to access public WiFi hotspots. 
  3. Funding is coming to a community near you. On May 4, Governor Roy Cooper passed House Bill 1043 that appropriates $1.57 billion of the $3.5 billion in federal coronavirus funds from the CARES Act. Several of the provisions are connected to digital inclusion including: 
  • $1,000,000 to install extended reach mobile Wi-Fi gateway router devices in school buses. 
  • $11,000,000 to provide community and home mobile Internet access points. $30,000,000 to purchase computers or other electronic devices for use by students and $5,000,000 for devices for use by school personnel. 
  • $9,000,000 for the Growing Rural Economies with Access to Technology (GREAT) Fund to support building broadband infrastructure in Tier 1 counties.

A full list of digital inclusion-related appropriations can be found HERE.


Join us for the next two webinars:

  • Public WiFi: Challenges and Opportunities (May 12)
  • Telehealth in Response to COVID-19 (May 19)

More information can be found HERE.