The North Carolina Healthcare Broadband Coalition (NCHBC) is an association of representatives from NC’s healthcare community, public health organizations, and other healthcare-adjacent affiliates. The coalition is staffed by NCTNA in support of our North Carolina Healthcare Providers. The NCHBC is committed to promoting equitable access to resources—specifically broadband connectivity—for healthcare providers and patients in unserved and underserved regions of North Carolina. Through strategic partnerships and pilot project initiatives, we aim to bridge the healthcare gap, end the digital divide, and create a healthier future for all NC residents.
Today, roughly 1.1 million households in North Carolina lack access to high-speed internet. In some cases, the lack of access stems from non-existent connectivity, and in others, available services are far too expensive. This issue was made clear during the pandemic. Unserved and underserved NC residents suffered from an inability to work, to engage in online instruction, and, importantly, leverage all the newly available telehealth services. Simply stated, without adequate broadband connectivity, these individuals are often left behind in the modern world.
The federal and state governments have recognized these gaps and have responded with several programs, the most ambitious being the federal government’s recently passed $1.2 trillion Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act. This Act includes $65 billion for broadband expansion. North Carolina received $1.5 billion in broadband funding and is now working with federal agencies to develop a detailed plan for the allocation of these funds to unserved and underserved residents, small businesses, and community anchor institutions in North Carolina. This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to eliminate the digital divide in North Carolina. Central to the allocation of these funds will be the development of broadband maps to identify the location of unserved and underserved residents and businesses.
With this in mind, NCTNA worked with representatives from all walks of North Carolina healthcare and established the NC Healthcare Broadband Coalition to ensure this unprecedented broadband funding makes its way to true locations of need. The NCHBC’s purpose is to assure that NC healthcare providers and their patients are fully represented and engaged at the state and local levels with other key NC stakeholders in discussions, planning, and allocation of broadband funding for NC. The Coalition works to encourage local participation in the collection of broadband-related data that will be used by the state to identify said underserved and unserved locations, particularly for our healthcare facilities, staff, and patients.
The funding is a “fixed pie”, and those states who are most successful in demonstrating their needs will fare better. Those who don’t will receive less funding, perhaps resulting in continued broadband gaps. This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to eliminate the digital divide. For NC’s healthcare providers, it’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to eliminate a major barrier to the effective introduction and practice of telehealth and to enhance patient access to healthcare. NCTNA and NCHBC recognize that this is our chance. If we miss now, we’ve missed the boat.
For more details on the Federal funding and the work of NC’s Division of Broadband and Digital Equity please visit:
The most pressing project of the Coalition is the mapping of unserved and underserved patients and healthcare facilities as it pertains to broadband connectivity and speeds. Remember, this mapping is crucial for proper allocation of broadband expansion funds. NCHBC is collaborating with the Friday Institute at NC State University, coordinating with and leveraging the Institute’s ongoing Broadband survey project. Essentially, we will be asking NC healthcare providers and their patients to conduct a short and simple speed test (or to call in and let us know they have no Internet connection).
As a first step, the NCHBC has initiated a two-phase pilot project in Halifax County. In Phase I, the Coalition has been working with their healthcare providers to recruit healthcare facilities, staff, and patients to participate in the mapping survey. Phase II is now underway and will incorporate the work of other broadband stakeholders in Halifax to encourage participation in the mapping and survey work. Once the pilot has been evaluated, NCHBC will replicate this effort with Tier 1 counties throughout North Carolina.
The NCHBC Bulletin covers federal and state funding guidelines and activities, mapping status and challenges, digital inclusion activities, and NCHBC activities among other topics. We distribute this information monthly to NC healthcare providers and members of the coalition.
NCHBC has requested that NC healthcare providers visit the National Broadband Map to review their sites on the Map, and if there are inconsistencies, to challenge location and availability information.
NCHBC has initiated phase one of the Halifax Pilot project to survey and conduct speed tests for healthcare facilities and patient sites throughout Halifax County. This is a pilot for similar projects in NC’s Tier 1 counties.
Our partnerships in the healthcare space are strategic, and they allow us to amplify our impact and to receive guidance from individuals with insider perspectives and experience. Members of the NCHBC Steering Committee include the NC Healthcare Association, the NC Community Health Center Association, the NC Health Directors Association, Benchmark, the Office of Rural Health, NC AHEC, ECU Health Systems, UNC Health Systems, NC Council of Governments, and the NC Rural Center.
If you share our vision of equitable healthcare access and broadband connectivity for NC and want to make a difference, we invite you to join the NCHBC in our efforts to end the digital divide. Contact us today using the form below to learn more about NCHBC volunteer opportunities, events, bringing the NCHBC mapping project to your county, or how you can support our advocacy efforts.
Visit our NCTNA blog for NCHBC-related news HERE. Follow @NCTNA on social media for NCHBC updates, and to join the conversation about connecting NC’s providers and patients.
Together, we can make a difference and ensure that this much-needed healthcare funding reaches those who need it most.