RALEIGH – NC State University’s Institute for Emerging Issues will soon host the fourth installment of its ReCONNECT NC series, a three-year initiative to address solutions to North Carolina’s most pressing issues. The ReCONNECT to Technological Opportunity Forum, held February 10 at the McKimmon Center in Raleigh, will tackle the topic of broadband access and adoption—exploring how communities across North Carolina can leverage high-speed internet for economic improvement.

The full-day event will include panels discussions, presentations, breakout sessions and networking. Organizers are expecting a turnout of around 400 participants.

Institute for Emerging Issues Director Leslie Boney says he and his team chose the broadband theme to spark conversation on how community organizations and leaders can help their constituents better understand how to leverage the benefits of high-speed internet across North Carolina. While the push for statewide broadband access is ongoing, it’s also important for citizens across the state to understand its benefits.

Boney says, “We’ve had a lot of attention to making broadband available to people across the state, and there’s still more important work to be done there. But broadband is just a tool, and if we don’t know how to use it—for businesses to build new markets, for kids to do their homework, for their parents to get new skills, for seniors to improve their health, for farmers to grow more—we won’t be taking full advantage of it.”

The rural-urban divide plays into this challenge. According to the Federal Communications Commission’s 2019 Broadband Deployment Report, 94.8% of the population in North Carolina uses high-speed internet (fixed 25 Mbps/3 Mbps speeds). But most of that adoption (99.8%) is only happening in urban areas. Only 84.8% of the state’s rural population is using broadband.

The ReCONNECT Forum will go deep into the sources of this challenge and where to go from here. Boney added that the goal of the event is “to figure out how people across the state, especially those in our rural and under-served urban areas, can benefit from and leverage this technology.”

The keynote speaker is Larry Irving, president and CEO of the Irving Group and former administrator of the National Telecommunications and Information Administration. In 2019, Irving was inducted into the Internet Hall of Fame for his early work in researching the “Digital Divide” and advocating for equal internet access across socioeconomic populations.

An early fighter of ‘digital divide,’ Larry Irving is first African American to join Internet Hall of Fame

Irving’s keynote will focus on how North Carolina can prepare for the future of internet-based technologies.

North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper will also deliver an address via video, introduced NC Department of Information Technology Secretary and CIO Eric Boyette.

Here are some other highlights on the agenda:

  • A “story slam” featuring true stories about how internet access has affected people in North Carolina, particularly within education, agriculture, health and small business.
  • A presentation on the challenges of broadband access and adoption in North Carolina, and how the state compares with national data.
  • An engaging talk on what North Carolina might look like in 30 years, when universal access to high-speed internet is achieved.
  • A panel on digital inclusion best-practices, both national and state-wide.
  • Breakout sessions with panels on agriculture and natural resources, health, education and small business. Attendees can also participate in a workshop to develop their own “digital inclusion plan” to implement in their communities.
  • Stories from community programs that are working to leverage high-speed broadband for economic growth: Digital Durham, Charlotte Digital Inclusion Alliance, RIoT and the City of Wilson, Land of Sky Regional Council and Wilkes Community College.


More ReCONNECT coverage:

Survey: Rural and urban Americans are more similar than they think

Community initiatives share a vision for North Carolina at IEI Forum

Institute for Emerging Issues ReCONNECT Forum aims to promote economic opportunity & job growth in NC