If you are thinking Equal Access seems like a rather broad topic, you are probably right. We included it in our list of Legislative Agenda “asks” as there are a few issues with one thing in common – lack of access to fundamental amenities. Specifically, we are talking about broadband, public transportation and housing. All three have great discrepancy from town to town and county to county across the state and all three are also fundamental to the modern livelihood of North Carolinians.

Rural Broadband Access

For those of us living in North Carolina’s metropolitan areas, we have come to expect easy access to high-speed broadband. Every coffee shop we walk into has free Wi-Fi, most shopping malls actively encourage you to log in for a better shopping experience, and none of us think twice about logging onto the internet at home, school or work. But not all North Carolinians enjoy that same access.

As Connecting North Carolina, a statewide broadband plan put together by the Broadband Infrastructure Office – NC Department of Information Technology, highlights: “But the value citizens reap from broadband is directly tied to whether they have access to it, can afford to purchase a subscription, see a need for adopting the technology, or have the existing capabilities to use the technology. Without reliable and consistent access to next generation broadband speeds — the situation for over 738,306 NC households — the utility of the internet drops significantly for both the individual and their community. And when people do not adopt high-speed broadband because they cannot afford a subscription, do not see its relevance to their daily lives, or are not digitally literate they lose broadband’s potential positive impacts.

What You Can Do: Ask you representatives to support legislation to help close the “digital divide” across North Carolina. There have been several bills introduced this session supporting the expansion of broadband in North Carolina –

  • HB 387 and SB 310 (Electric Co-op Broadband Services),
  • HB 381 (School Construction & Broadband Investment Act),
  • HB 398 (Growing GREAT-Rural Broadband Funding),
  • HB 431 (Fiber NC Act)
  • SB 645 (Local Gov’ts/Broadband Service Infrastructure)
  • HB 896 (Broadband Access to Rural Areas)

Public Transportation

Many workers across the state rely on public transportation to get them to work, school, doctor’s appointments, and many other basic functions of day-to-day life. While it would be nice to think the systems in place serve these communities well, that is not always the case. In most of North Carolina, bus service is the only public transportation available and even with apps to track the service, it doesn’t run on time regularly enough to be dependable.

Even when the community and politicians come together in support of more expansive public transportation, private roadblocks can throw projects into disarray. As the New York Times reported last month, Duke University recently withdrew its support of a light rail plan between Durham and Chapel Hill.

“Advocates for the train insist that the proposed 17.7-mile service could combat gridlock by linking Durham and Chapel Hill, home to the University of North Carolina, and would provide access to three major hospitals, as well as the historically black North Carolina Central University in Durham.

They also envision the train as a social justice engine, offering cheap, reliable transportation to the working people who scrape by, cooking and cleaning for the legions of college students in the Research Triangle, the area that includes the two college towns and Raleigh, the state capital.”

Other cities have faced similar roadblocks to Duke University’s objections and successfully overcome them. While this particular project is going nowhere now, we can hope that future plans for public transportation expansion can move ahead.

Housing Affordability

People tend to think of affordable housing as a poor person’s problem, with chronic homelessness at the most extreme end. While it’s true these are the most vulnerable and affected populations, housing affordability directly affects a much greater portion of the population, including the working poor and even portions of the middle class. Indirectly, we are all affected by housing affordability, from waiting lists for senior living to rising property tax assessments squeezing middle class homeowners beyond their budgets.

Especially in Raleigh, an influx of higher paying jobs are contributing to gentrification and urbanization for wealthier individuals, and forcing lower income individuals out of the city where access to schools, work, and transportation becomes even more challenging. While high paying jobs can be great for an economy at the macro level, it creates disproportionate obstacles and burdens for individuals.

What You Can Do: We encourage you to revisit the Toolkit we did last year about this topic. The historical understanding and many of the issues addressed remain current. The Toolkit can be an excellent guide in steering your conversations with your representatives:

https://strongernc.org/wp-content/uploads/1-2018-Housing-Affordability.pdf