This article was written for our sponsor, Gig East.  

With almost 5 billion active internet users globally, technology has made the world smaller than ever before. The goal of digital accessibility is to make sure as many people as possible have the access and knowledge to leverage this global potential of technology.

In rural communities across the country, the digital divide — or the gap between those who have access to technology and those who do not — has been all the more prevalent during COVID-19. In Wilson, a partnership between the Gig East Exchange and the Center on Rural Innovation, or CORI, is working to close that gap.

“Access to information in general and resources is very important, especially since we live in a digital age and the digital divide is bigger than it has been. In working to combat that divide, education is so important,” said Justin Cooks, digital jobs training coordinator at CORI. “In partnership with Gig East, we help with digital training programs, literacy and awareness, trying to bring a lot of local opportunities that aren’t necessarily as available to people in rural communities versus individuals in metropolitan or urban communities.”

One of the current projects that CORI and Gig East are jointly working on is getting funds from different training providers and organizations that want to help build up digital skills in rural communities. According to Cooks, the program, dubbed the Future is Digital, helps learners train up in three categories: digital sales, project management and digital marketing.

As the city works to recruit more people for the program, Gig East has reached out to local employers to get these individuals placed at internships. The entire process not only builds up the workforce but also helps people realize what types of local opportunities are available — especially as it relates to starting their own businesses, as well.

“We want to continue to enhance the awareness of these opportunities. We want to continue to enhance these opportunities for entrepreneurs to create new businesses, as well as a lot of the startup companies or startup businesses to get the funds that they need while staying in Wilson,” said Cooks. “Not only are we building digital literacy, but we’re also helping Wilson thrive and become a profitable place to do business.”

In addition to opportunities through CORI, Gig East also offers the RIoT program — an accelerator for startups — and a digital inclusion guide with tips on navigating the internet.

On a city-wide level, the high-speed Greenlight Community Broadband is a stepping stone to greater digital literacy for all. The broadband service is the state’s first community-owned, fiber-to-home network, passing every home and business in the city.

“Having Greenlight here and that level of digital access is the foundation. On top of that, there’s the community collaboration and the partners all coming to the table to address local issues. That group of partners is very diverse and from all different sectors, from business to nonprofit — it encompasses the whole community,” said Lori Walston, communications manager for the Wilson County Department of Social Services. “We’ve come together as a community in so many places, and it’s working well. There’s so much opportunity to bring more resources to a need and to think more collaboratively. We’re putting the city’s and the county’s needs at the forefront of what needs to be taken care of.”

Through programs offered by Gig East with the support of CORI and the city, Wilson is on its way to becoming a hub for digital accessibility.

“Gig East is focused on making sure that the entire community — including people that are underrepresented, disenfranchised or who may not naturally have opportunities — now have those opportunities and know about them,” said Cooks. “We want to introduce everyone in rural communities to the same opportunities that the rest of the country has, and we don’t want the rural communities to continue to be left behind. We’re going to continue to partner with Wilson and Gig East and look for opportunities to enhance this work of getting people trained up and certified in different areas when it comes to digital skilling.”

This article was written for our sponsor, Gig East