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Unreliable internet connection keeps family from doing basic tasks, Charlotte father says

According to data, nearly 55,000 households in Mecklenburg County still don’t have access to the internet.

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — According to data from Digital Charlotte, roughly 55,000 households in Mecklenburg County still don’t have access to the internet. A Charlotte father believes it’s an issue that families should not have to deal with.

“Especially with the pandemic, I mean when it comes to your kid’s education or eating, most people are going to choose their kid’s education,” Andrew Smith, who lives in north Charlotte, said. “I think that there needs to be another way.”

Smith knows the struggles of not having a reliable internet connection firsthand. He said the internet at his home on Rachel Street in Charlotte goes out almost every night, keeping him from doing the most basic tasks.

“Whenever I went to look at my bank information to transfer some money, I can’t get on the internet to even transfer the money,” Smith said.

The digital divide in Mecklenburg County is an issue Bruce Clark with Queens University has studied intensively. Clark is the executive director of Digital Charlotte, and since the pandemic shed light on the issue, he’s working with Charlotte leaders to use local and federal funds to help families.

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“If technology is changing everything we do and we as a community are not preparing residents for that change, then eventually we’re going to have to deal with the pain of not being ready,” Clark said.

Last month, Charlotte Mayor Vi Lyles announced a Racial Equity Initiative Plan which will allocate $58 million from public and private sources to bridge the digital gap.  

That money will fund resources and technology like laptops so families can access the internet.

PREVIOUS COVERAGE: Charlotte officials make $250 million pledge to make city more equitable

In addition to that, the new federal infrastructure law includes $65 billion for improving internet access, but Clark said it will require Charlotte to be proactive.

“Most of those are grants that we have to apply for so unless we’re coming together -- unless we have shovel-ready projects -- we’ll be at the back of the list,” Clark said, adding that Charlotte agencies are working together to access the grants.

But there are options available to families today. The Emergency Broadband Benefit, which will soon become known as the Affordable Connectivity Program, gives a $30 subsidy so low-income families can pay for the internet.

The federal program will receive $14 billion in additional funding from the Infrastructure law, but only 19% of eligible families in Mecklenburg County are taking advantage of the program.

“People need the internet to find jobs, to communicate with their children,” Clark said. “Everything today requires it. If you can’t afford it, that means you can’t fully participate in our society.”

Contact Indira Eskieva at ieskieva@wcnc.com and follow her on Facebook and Twitter and Instagram.

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