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As life becomes increasingly ‘online’, the Forsyth County Digital Equity Plan seeks to bring digital access to more families

Community Foundation

WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. (WGHP) — Whether it’s paying bills, applying for a job or socializing with friends, much of life happens online.

But internet access is a real challenge for some people in Forsyth County.

The “Forsyth County Digital Equity Plan” is the framework for a solution.

Organizations across the county, including the Winston-Salem Foundation, worked with a consulting firm to collect data and feedback. It found households that struggle with internet access often can’t afford the price of the service or the technology to use it efficiently.

  • 10% of households in Forsyth County do not have Internet access.
  • 17% of homes do have Internet access but they only have one device.
  • More than half the time, that device is a cellphone.

Lakisha Jordan is the executive director of WinstonNet, the organization that serves as the lead agency of the plan. She says in our connected world, not having access to the right tools puts some of our neighbors at a distinct disadvantage.

“It’s very hard to apply for a job, it is very hard to attend college or classes, it’s very hard to do the basic things that individuals do in life with the desire to advance. When we think about healthcare and having your one-on-one visits with your doctor online, it is challenging to do things when you only have a cell phone,” Jordan said.

Forsyth County’s poverty rates are significantly higher than state and national averages.

Margaret Robinson is a digital equity plan committee member.

She says the mission is personal because she saw firsthand how the COVID-19 pandemic deepened the digital divide.

“While working at a tax credit affordable housing community during the pandemic there were several families in my community who did not have access to internet. As the schools continued to work through the pandemic — the process of virtual learning — the students were falling behind. So to me, it was very important to help educate the families and support them when trying to get their kids enrolled in their assignments and getting them logged in,” Robinson said.

The next step is securing funding so that recommendations to close the gap can be implemented, which includes meeting with internet service providers to discuss how to make service accessible to everyone.

The committee also wants to make sure certain nonprofit organizations and agencies have “digital navigators” in the community to educate people on how to use the technology.

You can see the Forsyth County Digital Equity Plan at fcdigitalequity.org.

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