Broadband internet access in Buncombe County and NC

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Broadband Availability Map. Blue counties have more access, red counties have less access. | Graphic courtesy of the NC Department of Information Technology

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Chances are you’ve heard the phrase “digital divide” when it comes to access to high-speed internet in NC – especially since the beginning of the pandemic, when schools and many jobs went remote.

What is the digital divide? The phrase is defined as “the gap between those who have access to technology, the internet, and digital literacy training and those who do not,” according to the NC Broadband Infrastructure Office, which formed to help NC achieve digital literacy. Their goal is for every NC household to have broadband service by June 2021.

For reference, a recommended broadband speed for Netflix is 3 Mbps (Megabits per second) for standard and 5 Mbps for HD. A single person using streaming services needs a speed of about 25 Mbps. 59.4% of state households subscribe to at least 25 Mbps download and 3 Mbps, according to the Federal Communications Commission.

Across the state

While the digital divide affects populations of all ages across the state in both urban and rural areas, we’re digging into broadband challenges here in WNC.

In Buncombe County

  • According to the state’s Broadband Indices, .19% of Buncombe County residents had no available internet providers in 2017.
  • .24% only had a DSL option.
  • That’s better than surrounding counties. In Jackson County, for example, 6.77% of residents had no internet providers, and over 50% had DSL-only options.
  • In the last Census, over 30% of households in Buncombe County had no internet subscription.

The pandemic has highlighted the crisis caused by the digital divide, especially for school-age children. While many public schools have fiber connections through nonprofit MCNC, they don’t provide the “last mile” of connection to households. So what are schools + NC doing to address the gap?

Poll

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