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MeckTech Connect – Community Internet Network

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MeckTech Connect – Community Internet Network

Charlotte Mecklenburg Library

Digital Equity and Citizenship | 2021 | Honorable Mention

Innovation Summary

During the pandemic, Charlotte Mecklenburg Library’s Innovation team challenged itself to take a greater leadership role in community internet access after all twenty of its branches closed on March 18, 2020. Charlotte Mecklenburg Library was able to secure $492,000 via an IMLS grant to pilot a new community network in the West Boulevard area.

Problem Statement

Statistically, internet access in Mecklenburg County is 100% achieved. Internet adoption, however, lags behind in communities that have historically follow the larger socio-economic trends of segregation, the digital divide following just one aspect in a larger, systemic trend of economic, transportation and food insecurity. It was our intent to use this network project to learn about the barriers in this specific community to understand why adoption rates are so low (45%), so that a better alternative can be built.


Innovation

  • Comprehensively canvasing and engaging the community to understand their experience with the digital divide.
  • Using the project as an onramp for local talent: We’ve hired four Entry Level WiFi Technicians to help build out our network in partnership with our technical partner, Open Broadband. In addition, we hired an employee success manager charged to help these technicians successfully transition into a professional setting.
  • Providing 821 households with free internet, a free device and digital training.

Progress

We expect to achieve the following outcomes:

  • Begin onboarding our first customers to the network in December of 2020, providing them with up to three free years of broadband support, reaching a minimum of 821 households in the West Boulevard Corridor
  • Providing targeted online and in person digital literacy training
  • Designing and piloting a new service model at our West Boulevard branch to better reflect the technical and technological support that is needed in this community