Editor’s note: LimeLight is a new feature from WRAL TechWire offering another means of publishing noteworthy news. Be sure to check out more LimeLight worthy news at this link.

RALEIGH –  COVID-19 has exposed the digital divide in North Carolina and its consequences for all of us. Students and adults who don’t have access to the internet, don’t have a computer or laptop, or don’t know how to use them – for education, work, health or connection – are at an impossible disadvantage.

Digital Inclusion – creating opportunities for everyone to access and be able to use affordable internet and devices – is more important than ever.

What is BAND-NC?

In response to this need, the Institute for Emerging Issues at NC State (IEI) in partnership with the Broadband Infrastructure Office at the NC Department of Information Technology, and with principal support from the John M. Belk Endowment¹, is addressing the digital divide across NC through a new program called “Building a New Digital Economy” (BAND-NC). BAND-NC will provide mini-grants to communities across the state who want to implement digital inclusion plans, begin a digital inclusion planning process, or who are looking to meet immediate digital needs.

WRAL TechWire LimeLight Logo


Grantees will be invited to join technical assistance workshops to learn more about digital inclusion and how to build county-wide digital inclusion plans.

A second round of funding to support continued planning and digital inclusion plan implementation will open in July 2021.

The ultimate goal of the program is to make North Carolina the first state in the nation where every county has a digital inclusion plan in place.

¹ Additional support comes from the Roanoke Electric Cooperative, North Carolina Electric Cooperatives, Duke Energy, Corning Optical, Google Fiber, PNC Foundation, and ATMC.

How can the BAND-NC grants be used? ²

We plan to distribute grants to 30+ counties this spring and summer. These $5,000 mini-grants are available to fund local digital inclusion including:

  1. Digital Inclusion Plan implementation (Priority): Counties and communities that have already completed or drafted a digital inclusion plan can apply for funds to implement a portion of their plan.
  2. Digital Inclusion planning: Counties and communities that want to begin developing a digital inclusion plan can apply for planning funds.
  3. Community innovation funds: We know there are a lot of unmet digital needs in North Carolina. These funds can be used to support any kind of digital inclusion projects that meet unmet needs. Note: we have a funder that specifically wants to fund grants coming from Smart Start/Partnership for Children organizations, so please indicate if you are representing one of these organizations.

² This grant should not replicate existing funding for but to help fill in the gaps and meet unmet needs.

Who Can Apply? 

Nonprofits, government institutions, schools/colleges and universities, and churches are eligible to apply for a BAND-NC grant. All applicants should apply on behalf of a county (or a group of counties). Regional entities, such as Councils of Government, can apply on behalf of multiple counties, though the funds cannot exceed $5,000 for any one county, and they must include individual counties in their planning efforts. Applicants should include a list of community partners who are either involved in the project and/or actively supportive of the project and digital inclusion more broadly.

Community Innovation grants are limited to one per county, so counties that received BAND-NC funding in 2020 are not eligible to apply. However, 2020 BAND-NC grantees are eligible to apply for implementation or planning grants.

While not required, we highly encourage communities to identify other funding sources to further leverage the $5,000 rapid response grant.

Details and Application Instructions HERE

Have questions about digital inclusion, BAND-NC, and/or the application criteria? Attend the Informational Webinar on Thursday, March 18 at 1 p.m. hosted by IEI and the North Carolina Broadband Infrastructure Office.