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NC Works to Boost Broadband Access to Support Rural HIE Connectivity

Efforts to improve broadband access are underway in North Carolina to help rural providers connect to the state-designated HIE.

Three business units within the North Carolina Department of Information Technology (NCDIT) are collaborating to improve health information exchange (HIE) connectivity for rural healthcare providers through increased broadband access.

The NCDIT Division of Broadband and Digital Equity aims to drive high-speed Internet access across the state, especially in rural areas lacking access.

Reliable Internet access is critical to meeting the state mandate to connect to the North Carolina HIE, NC HealthConnex, for providers treating patients who use state funds such as Medicaid to pay for their care.

Governor Roy Cooper has invested more than $1 billion in federal funds from the American Rescue Plan Act to close the digital divide across the state.

The NCDIT Broadband Infrastructure Office (BIO) is administering several grant programs using the funding to bring high-speed Internet access to underserved and unserved areas. Internet Service Providers (ISPs) may apply for these grants when available. However, the first step is verifying that the area lacks access.

The Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC) National Broadband Map program initially estimated a little over 250,000 locations in North Carolina were unserved (lacking access), and almost 300,000 were underserved (lacking high enough access speeds). However, the FCC encouraged states to challenge these numbers with their own maps.

North Carolina has been investing in Geographic Information Systems (GIS) technology for decades through the NC Center for Geographic Information and Analysis (CGIA) and the NC Geographic Information Coordinating Council (GICC).

The Division of Broadband and Digital Equity, with the help of CGIA, challenged the FCC estimates with 115,000 additional locations that lacked Internet access or adequate speeds. The additions will affect eligibility for broadband deployments and funding, officials noted.

“We’re getting funding from the federal government because we have made these investments in GIS,” Colleen Kiley, GIS coordination program manager for the CGIA, said in a press release. “The positive return on investment is not just monetary, but also an improved quality of life for our citizens. Having that data infrastructure in place for something like this paid off immensely for NC.”

“Our job at CGIA is to make sure that there is no duplication of effort and that accurate, up-to-date geospatial data exists to support the citizens of North Carolina,” Kiley added. “This project is a prime example of doing that, recognizing that we’ve got these datasets that can be used to get services to the citizens exactly where needed.”

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