Coordinating Digital Literacy & Community Broadband Services

In early 2017, the County Board of Commissioners included the following in their Annual Goals and Objectives:  “Work collaboratively with stakeholders to explore opportunities to remove barriers, leverage resources and more quickly facilitate buildout of high speed internet connectivity throughout Wake County.”

Wake County is committed to improving access to high-speed internet resources for all of our citizens. We’re working with the towns, cities, our school system and community organizations on projects that provide access to digital literacy resources, computer resources and affordable high-speed internet service to all of our 1 million+ county citizens.

ConnectWake is a clearinghouse of information to connect citizens with the three components necessary for successful use of high-speed internet: internet service, internet equipment and internet training. The County is home to myriad resources that focus on one or more of these service areas. From municipal-led digital literacy classroom training for seniors to low-cost internet service provider offerings for families participating in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP),  ConnectWake provides information in a comprehensive, easy-to-use and carefully-curated format. The site is also responsive in design, since we know that many of our economically-challenged families rely solely on smart phones and tablets for internet access.

County Fiber Map

The County is also in the process of building an interactive map focused on internet connection data for all municipal, education and higher-ed facilities and locations in and around Wake County. Data elements include facility locations, connection type/speed, ISP and costs. This is a secure map that is only open to contributors in the government, education and higher-ed community.  All such contributors to the map have direct and open access to the data. The data in the map and the related enthusiasm has already spawned discussions and collaborations on cost savings, economic development, disaster recovery / redundancy, education and more.  In fact, the map has been so successful that the regional council of governments, representing 38 towns and counties within the region, recently asked Wake County to expand the project into a regional resource.

Legislative Agenda

In addition to providing direct resources for our citizens and municipalities as outlined above, the County is also seeking changes at the state level. Currently, the core population areas of the County have multiple service options, however our more rural areas are lacking in basic high-speed options due to either lack of service provider interest or cost-prohibitive monopolized service. While the County has no intent to become an Internet Service Provider (ISP) for un-served or under-served areas, we are seeking the ability to offer services or tangible assets as incentives in order to attract qualified ISPs to operate in these areas: for example, a public-private partnership that would allow us to leverage County assets (i.e. dark fiber or facility leasing) for high-speed internet coverage/cost/duration options. Currently, the County is prohibited by state laws from pursuing such opportunities to improve service.

Such service is essential for:

  • Improved economic development opportunities for the businesses within the County as well as attracting new businesses to our more rural areas
  • Easier access to job training and job opportunities to improve economic standing of our residents
  • Bridging the “homework gap” for students in the Wake County Public School System
  • More widespread use of “telehealth” option to provide more direct and higher-level health services to rural areas
  • Better access for first responders to public-safety exclusive data and resources (in advance of FirstNet proliferation) in rural areas.