Bridging the Digital Divide in West Virginia’s Black Communities

The Importance of Broadband Equity and Taking Action

“Social Media Senator” photo By Chris Gosses

To build a brighter future for Black communities in West Virginia, t he state’s Broadband Equity, Access, and Deployment (BEAD) Program and the Digital Equity Act (DEA ) must incorporate all federal broadband funding programs, including the FCC’s Affordability Connectivity Program and Emergency Connectivity Fund, as part of a collective solution to the many digital inequities faced by Black people in the state.

Federal funding can end the digital divide.

The BEAD and DEA plan aims to close the broadband availability gap by developing a Five-Year Action Plan and Statewide Digital Equity Plan. However, it remains to be seen how West Virginia broadband leaders will ensure their plans include Black and Brown digital equity organizations, such as Black Churches for Digital Equity.

Crystal Good, Founder and Publisher of Black By God and the self-proclaimed ” Social Media Senator for the Digital District for West Virginia, ” has been a vocal advocate for broadband and digital literacy in the state. “As a Digital Senator in WV, my constituents have to write me letters,” she says, highlighting the urgent need to address the digital divide in the state, particularly in Black communities.

Good also reminds that West Virginia has two seats open on the 100% white male Broadband Board: One for Rural Business User in Congressional District 1 and another for a Rural Business User in Congressional District 2.

West Virginia has the lowest broadband coverage rate in the United States, with just 68.6% of residents having access to broadband at speeds of 25/3 Mbps or higher. The COVID-19 pandemic has further exacerbated the digital divide, highlighting the challenges under-connected communities face.

*West Virginia Black Broadband Facts

Kanawha County (Streets within Census Block: W. Washington St. and Patrick St.)

55% Black Census Tract

2,194 Residents

44% Black residents without a laptop or desktop

66% of Black residents are not using the internet at broadband speeds

1.4% Black Residents without access to broadband of any type

Kanawha County (Streets within Census Block: 1st Ave and Fairlawn Ave.)

54% Black Census Tract

4,748 Residents

44% Black residents without a laptop or desktop

60% of Black residents are not using the internet at broadband speeds

5% Black Residents without access to broadband of any type

McDowell County

35% Black Census Tract

867 Residents

42% Black residents without a laptop or desktop

95% of Black residents are not using the internet at broadband speeds

7.3% Black Residents without access to broadband of any type

The 24868 zip code is the 3rd largest population of Black people in West Virginia, but only 73 of 1,537 signed up for the Affordability Connectivity Program (Norfolk, VW). Similarly, the 24853 zip code has the 4th highest percentage of Black people in West Virginia, but only 40 of 982 signed up for the program (Kimball, WV).

Fortunately, the Biden-Harris administration has allocated $42.45 billion to expand high-speed internet access across the United States through the Broadband Equity, Access, and Deployment (BEAD) Program. In addition, West Virginia has applied for $5 million in initial planning funds to develop a Five-Year Action Plan.

Black West Virginians are encouraged to participate in the planning process by taking the survey and attending listening sessions. It is crucial for West Virginians, particularly those in Black communities, to take part in these efforts to bridge the digital divide and provide equal opportunities for all West Virginians to thrive in an increasingly digital world.

These efforts will enable West Virginia to receive historic funding to strengthen digital equity programs throughout the state and help achieve the connectivity our communities deserve.

Get involved with Black Churches For Digital Equity and join the effort to bridge the digital divide in West Virginia’s Black communities, ensuring everyone has access to the opportunities and resources they need to succeed in an increasingly digital world.

TAKE THE SURVEY.

Next West Virginia Listening Session

April 13, 2023

1:00 PM: Tucker County Listening Session at Canaan Valley State Park – Conference Center, 230 Main Lodge Rd, Davis, WV 26260

Questions for WV Broadband leaders:

[State Broadband Officer] Who is the “Administering Entity,” aka the designated entity that will lead the implementation of the DEA planning process and its implementation for West Virginia?

[State Broadband Officer] How will your office ensure you include organizations like NAACP, Black Churches for Digital Equity, Black By God, etc.. in their BEAD & DEA plans?

[City Digital Inclusion Officer] How are you connecting with the state to ensure its focus on supporting Black and brown digital equity organizations?

[State Broadband Officer] Congress’ Outline of the Eligible Use of Funds As a Prioritization of Funds includes Connecting Community Anchor Institutions (CAIs) that do not yet have gigabit service. Given their work in the community for digital inclusion and their historic role as trusted partners, will churches and other faith-based institutions be included in this?

[State Broadband Officer] Will you create a statewide task force to support BEAD and DEA planning?

[City Digital Inclusion Officer] Will the city create a city-wide digital equity task force to support the State’s BEAD and DEA work?

[City Digital Inclusion Officer] Will your office highlight Black Churches 4 Digital Equity Churches as one of your digital equity partners in your BEAD and DEA plans?

*Data pulled census blocks from Microsoft’s Digital Equity Platform that consists of the following data sources: 2019 American Community Survey 5 Year Estimates, FCC 14th Broadband Report, Broadband Now, Microsoft Data

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