An interactive map from NC DIT shows where broadband is available in the state of North Carolina. Map: NC DIT

Last week, I had the opportunity to interview Maggie Woods, digital equity manager at the N.C. Office of Digital Equity and Literacy. We talked about their approach to digital equity and some programs aimed at helping people access digital resources. The following interview delves into the conversation we had by phone.  This interview has also been edited for length and clarity.

Question: Let’s start with how NCDIT defines digital equity.

When we talk about digital equity, we just mean that everyone has the opportunity to leverage the internet and devices to their full potential. Equity is necessary for our society, our democracy, and our economy.

But the way that we get to digital equity is through digital inclusion, which has five key elements.The first element is access to affordable, high-speed internet. There are two key words there: access to physical infrastructure on the ground, and you also have to be able to afford the internet.

The second element is access to a device that meets the needs of the user. Typically, we’re talking about a laptop or a desktop computer. We typically don’t mean a smartphone, simply because it’s really, really hard to do your work on a smartphone. There’s a caveat, though, because every individual and every population is different.

Then, of course, we want to ensure that people have access to digital skills. We think about these skills on a spectrum. So [there are] very basic skills, like how to turn on a computer. But we also want to equip people with the skills that they need to be successful in their everyday lives and to move up the workforce ladder. Do you know how to use Word or Excel? Can you use the database management software? Do you know how to code? Our office wants to meet people where they’re at and ensure that those skills are aligning with what employers need. 

The fourth element is focusing on technical assistance. What happens if your computer doesn’t work? [This element] ensures that people have affordable and high quality technical assistance for their devices. 

Finally, we are talking to the government here. The final element is ensuring that online content is user friendly and easy to navigate, particularly for those with differing abilities, who are non native English speakers, etc. Can they access government services in their language of choice? 

I wondered if you could expand a little bit around this idea of digital literacy. What is digital literacy? How do people skill up? 

There’s actually been a movement away from the term digital literacy. It acknowledges that literacy itself is charged. There’s been a movement more towards talking about digital skills and helping people develop digital skills. And that’s really where you can find digital skills competencies. So if we think about a person with digital skills, they’re able to kind of evaluate, create, and communicate information in a variety of formats online, and they’re able to use diverse technologies appropriately. 

That’s where this idea of resiliency comes in. We know that technology’s changing. [We want to] ensure that people have enough digital knowledge that as technology changes, as you get that update on your smartphone, or a new update on Microsoft Word on your laptop, that is not going to completely throw you for a loop. 

We’re also interested in making sure that people have skills in order to move up the workforce ladder. There are key elements of most jobs that require you to use a computer. That could be long haul truckers who are driving every day. But in order to get their credentialing, continued education and to recertify, they often have to do that online. That’s a key element of their job in order for them to be successful, even if it’s not the main component of their job.

Are there any programs that we should be aware of that are in North Carolina right now?

Northstar is a curriculum based out of Literacy Minnesota, and it’s kind of considered the gold standard for adult literacy in English and Spanish. There’s definitely a way to go to make it more equitable to people who speak [other] languages, but it is a really strong curriculum for basic digital literacy skills.

Can you talk about the holistic approach to digital equity and inclusion? 

I don’t want to minimize the challenge of building infrastructure, because it is a major challenge. But there are all of these other elements of the digital divide. It’s encouraging behaviors that people haven’t used before. It’s developing a skill set that you don’t have, which can be really scary. How do we create culturally appropriate programs for people that need them? 

What are some of the concrete plans that are in the works to address broadband and digital equity in North Carolina?

One of our key office priorities is to ensure that people can afford the Internet. The way we’re doing that is by encouraging people to enroll in the Affordable Connectivity Program, which is a federal program through the FCC that reduces the cost of the internet by $30 a month. North Carolina has some of the highest enrollment rates and we’ve made significant progress. It’s a fairly new program, and we count it as a win that we’ve come so far, but we’ve got a ways to go to ensure that everyone knows about it. 

NCDIT is collecting responses to two surveys for the remainder of the summer. Take a moment to fill them out today.

Your feedback is requested

By Maggie Woods, digital equity manager at the N.C. Office of Digital Equity and Literacy.

NCDIT is collecting responses to two surveys for the remainder of the summer. Take a moment to fill them out today! If you are part of an organization or agency that is interested in digital equity, there are outreach toolkits available, too. 

  1. Please help us spread the word about the Digital Equity Survey. We want to better understand individual challenges to accessing and affording the internet, computers, and digital skills through the N.C. Digital Equity Survey, available at You can access our outreach toolkit (scroll about halfway down the page) for flyers, bookmarks and social media posts. If you would like paper surveys with self-addressed, stamped envelopes, please send a request via email to  We can also send paper copies of the survey that may be collected, scanned, and emailed back to us.
  1. We are also developing Digital Equity Asset Inventory and are collecting information from all organizations across the state that offer services to help people get online. We want to learn about organizations, businesses, and programs that support internet affordability, access to computers and digital devices, digitals skills and literacy, tech support, and free Wi-Fi, so we can publicly publish these assets and identify gaps that need to be addressed in the state’s comprehensive digital equity plan. Please complete the asset inventory survey to let us know about your offerings. The survey may take 10-30 minutes to complete, depending on the number of programs you include. You will be able to download your response for your records when you are finished. And please help us spread the word. If you need language to include in a newsletter or social media, we can provide that. 
  2. You can find more information about the Affordable Connectivity Program here We also have flyers in English and Spanish.

More information from CPP about the digital divide and news information 

In 2022, Carolina Public Press completed the NC Connection research project to better understand how people in rural communities in North Carolina access news and the internet. You can read more about our findings here

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