In North Carolina alone, nearly 5 million residents don't have access to high-speed Internet. According to a July 2007 study, 30 percent or more of the state's population in 21 rural counties did not have high-speed Internet connectivity. In many cases, telephone and cable companies have refused to provide service to people living in the remote and rural areas of the state, while some people are simply priced out of buying expensive broadband service.
It's becoming increasingly clear, however, that Internet connectivity is key to a sound economy and could help revitalize local communities hit hard by the economic downturn. North Carolina is the second-largest textile employer and the third-largest apparel employer in the United States, and it has suffered numerous plant closures over the last decade. The state has continued to hemorrhage jobs in the face of our current economic recession, losing 34,900 jobs in December 2008 alone. Over the past year, 120,200 jobs have vanished, and the state's unemployment rate is high at 8.7%.
Replacing these lost jobs with opportunities offered by the Internet - home-based businesses, telecommuting, and bringing current businesses into the digital age - could help save America's economy, and stabilize the lives of people floundering in places like North Carolina.
The e-NC Authority, a state initiative to expand Internet access, has been sounding the alarm about the digital divide since 2001:
"There is a critical need for broadband expansion in North Carolina. As the world economy becomes increasingly globalized, access to broadband infrastructure is vital in order for communities to remain competitive. The rural areas of North Carolina are being left behind."
Free Press traveled across the state in February to meet people trying to raise families, go to school, start and maintain businesses, and participate in the global economy using antiquated dial-up service and unreliable satellite Internet connections. Their stories are a testament to why high-speed Internet is vital for America's future, and why our leaders in Washington should be approaching broadband expansion with the same urgency and commitment given to past projects like highway expansion, rural electrification and clean drinking water.
Click on the links below to read and watch the stories of seven North Carolinians and learn how high-speed Internet access could improve their communities and change their lives.