Access Charlotte Pilot Summary

What is Access Charlotte?

Access Charlotte is a pilot project offered by the City of Charlotte through the Innovation & Technology department to help residents get connected to the internet. It leverages partnerships with affordable housing providers and anchor institutions serving areas with low digital connectivity. It also supports countywide digital navigation resources offered through CharMeck 311.

Internet Access Bridges Digital Divide for Charlotte Residents - Transcript

“Internet access today is foundational for learning, working, interacting with the government and other family members. It’s foundational to everyday life.”

Thanks to the city’s Access Charlotte program residents within the Renaissance West community are now able to have free internet available from their homes.

“Internet is a critical because you need it for literally everything. Kids have homework they have to do on the internet. Kids have to watch videos. How you going to do it if they don’t have access to the internet.”

Residents like Jasmine Harris are one of many that met with digital navigators who helped them acquire this service.

“This is a great program not only for our residents but for us because we are helping and aiding in making Mecklenburg County more digitally equitable.

Digital navigators are not only helping the young, but older residents like Katherine Howze who needs internet access to help with her research.

“When I didn’t have it I was always intrigued by going to the library and getting help from the library in order to access the internet before I got internet in my home.”

Along with free internet, the program also provides residents with the necessary resources to thrive digitally.

“When we provide someone with internet access, we’re also able to provide folks with training on how to use a computer to make sure if they want to connect with loved ones or don’t know how or don’t have the internet we can give them both the internet and a fully featured device they can use to connect with loved ones or even more forward into workforce development.”

It’s a small resource, residents say they are grateful the city is able to provide.

“I don’t have to go to the library. I can always just get on my computer and research and search anything whatever subject matter may come up or whatever questions I might have…I can do it in the privacy of my own home.”


The first phase of the project launched during the peak of the COVID-19 pandemic and ran from 2020-2022 and tested out public Wi-Fi solutions at 20 sites serving up to 1,700 households. The current, second phase of the project that runs through June 20, 2025 focuses on households having their own, private and individualized internet accounts in their homes and when they are on the go around Spectrum hotspots. It will serve up to 8,000 households and has a large focus on outreach and communication to support free account sign up while also identifying related needs and solutions such as computers, digital literacy, and other opportunities to benefit from the internet connection. This project is part of the Smart Charlotte Program’s digital inclusion effort.

City Provides Free Wi-Fi to 5,000+ Households Through Access Charlotte Program - Transcript

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Access Charlotte started in 2020 during the height of the pandemic


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folks didn’t have access to hardware, didn't have access to proper Internet.


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Students were using their phone to be able to access


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do schoolwork.


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Access Charlotte kind of filled that need to touch base into some of those who


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live in the affordable housing communities to be able to access hardware, digital, online resources and


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My name is Jamar Davis. I am the Access Charlotte coordinator for the Innovation and Technology Department.


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my role primarily is around managing the needs of the Access Charlotte program,


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being a part of this team has been essential in seeing how intricate and important data is to this work that we do under Access Charlotte.


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As we've gone into phase two of this program, starting off from phase one, where there was access to public Wi-Fi


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Phase two really puts us into a space of touching over 60 properties versus phase one was 14, and now we're going from 1800 households to about 8000 households to impact


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Thanks to our partners over at the Center for Digital Equity.


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they have ramped up their


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workforce to provide access to Charlotte Digital Navigators to appoint them directly under Access Charlotte


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to connect the residents to hardware, digital resources and other small technical support opportunities.


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thanks to our partners at the Mecklenburg County Library


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they're open to provide opportunities of learning. Goodwill also provide opportunities of learning for folks to be able to connect and elevate to improve their status in terms of work,


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using E2D, which is a nonprofit company,


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around eliminating digital divide by connecting residents to computers in


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other hardware.


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also through 311, they can call 311 as simply as if


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they were to


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call to schedule trash pickup, they can call in and ask for a digital navigator


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I consider myself lucky? My mom came from City


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for me. I had Internet at 13 years old,


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so when the numbers came back around about folks not having access to


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internet and not even have access to hardware and there being a space for that here in the city,


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I've had friends whose parents have benefited from this opportunity just for me, just spreading the word around, Meck Tech Connect and providing hardware,


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or just me saying if you're a parent, if you're a parent, or if your cousin or your niece lives in these areas, guess what?


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Internet's coming.


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It feels


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wonderful to feel to get to that point of knowing that Internet, especially Internet, is almost a utility rather than


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something of luxury.

How did Access Charlotte start?

The digital divide in the city of Charlotte was magnified due to the COVID-19 pandemic. As a result, the need for remote work, virtual learning, and virtual social connection grew significantly. Access Charlotte launched in October 2020 as part of the city’s commitment to improving the quality of life for residents. This technology investment of $3.25 million from CARES Act funding worked to advance digital equity and inclusion. This initial investment served 14 housing properties serving 1,700 households, 2 community centers, and 4 public spaces were set up with open Wi-Fi during the peak of the pandemic. A digital navigation program was also initiated through a partnership with CharMeck 311 and the Center for Digital Equity (CDE). This service provides outreach, training, technical support, digital literacy and technology-focused workforce development opportunities.

How is Access Charlotte scaling?

The city improved and scaled Access Charlotte based on what was learned during the first phase. The current phase uses a wraparound approach with funding from the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA). The City of Charlotte and Spectrum have collaborated to provide free in-home internet for 2 years that will serve up to 8,000 households. It serves over 50 housing communities and the single-family neighborhoods that are part of the West Boulevard Library’s Meck Tech Connect Program. It also provides common area Wi-Fi at 15 community spaces with an aim to support both digital literacy and Affordable Connectivity Plan enrollment, and by early 2024 also provide Wi-Fi at the 4 public spaces previously served.

The city also used ARPA funding to expand the Digital Navigation program. The CDE hired two digital navigators to specifically serve the Access Charlotte-appointed neighborhoods. They serve residents through multiple channels such as CharMeck 311, the CLT+ app, a webform on the CDE website, media campaigns and direct engagement events. The digital navigators will help meet additional digital needs such as acquiring computer devices through the nonprofit organization Eliminate the Digital Divide (E2D), digital literacy training, Spectrum account registration assistance, Affordable Connectivity. Program (ACP) enrollment and additional technical support. This is also funded through ARPA and provides 3 years of service.

A related project, Learn2Earn, is being pilot along West Boulevard building from the city’s partnership with the Charlotte Mecklenburg Library around the Meck Tech Connect program. This pilot explores the idea of providing both digital literacy and computers to compliment the internet service being offered in the area.

Transcription: Stakeholders Collaborate with City of Charlotte to Bring Access Charlotte to Life

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Hello, I'm Lynn Dodson and I’m with Spectrum. I'm Vice President of Sales for the Community Solutions Team.


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we're excited as a company to be participating in the program. You know, we're a very large company, but we have a large local footprint. So we have a 100 ... thousands of local


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employees here. And I think we're all excited to be part of the program and to support the program.


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Our broadband infrastructure is already in all the buildings. So we'll be able to move quickly to access, activate services for the residents and start the digital adoption.


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public private partnership is a great way to get the underserved community access quickly. Our partnership with Access Charlotte is just that, you know, we intend to quickly roll out our program to all the underserved and be able to access the services for the residents.


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I think we all found during the pandemic how important connectivity was. And I think we saw a lot of folks who were left behind during that time. And I think this was a great opportunity to get access to Access Charlotte and Spectrum for all those folks who can really use the connectivity.


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Partner Liaison Analyst at 311 is someone who we talk with the back end departments. We're in constant communication with the back end departments about the new policies, about the processes that they have. Making sure that we have the information updated


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for our agents so that they can provide seamless and excellent customer service and so that they're also following the things that the back end departments want done.


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we also have partnered with several outside organizations such as the CDE, the Center for Digital Equity. So we actually take calls for them and we refer them over to their digital navigators program, which kind of ties in to Access Charlotte, which is why we're so excited that they included 311.


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when people call in, they are in need of something, whether it's “I need to know about financial assistance” or “I need to know about tech help”. So when they call in and we're like, hey, did you know, we have this program here in Charlotte and we can


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bridge that divide where there's people who don't have Internet access, who don't have access to to laptops and things of that nature.


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And so by us teaming up with Access Charlotte, as well as the CDE, it allows us to make our community stronger, which is part of our part of the 311 mission, like we want to strengthen the community, make it a strong community, one interaction at a time.


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I'm Emery Ortiz. I am the chief strategy and innovation officer for the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Library.


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right now we are focusing a lot on digital equity work and just the various resources that we can bring to the community in that way.


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public libraries have been at the forefront of digital equity work for decades, and we really appreciate the chance to collaborate with organizations like the Center for Digital Equity in providing our communities with vital resources.


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Access Charlotte is something we're really excited to be a part of. This work is, you know, vast and none of us have the capacity to do it on our own.


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So again, going back to that collaboration, we want to help be information centers for Access Charlotte, making sure our citizens know how they can get connected, where services are available, and also be a provider of resources in terms of technology.


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digital access is such an essential component to everyday life. Now that the equity piece of that we do not want to leave anyone behind, we want everyone to have the same opportunities as everyone else. And so digital equity is a key component to that.


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with the access that Access Charlotte will provide, that Internet connectivity piece will be there for so many of our citizens and which is absolutely critical where other organizations like the CDE and the public library can fill in is with the hardware, the technology, with the resources and with guided, you know, digital literacy and information courses to really help, you know, someone get from point A to point B in that journey.


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This is really valuable work and it's really rewarding to see the benefits that the community receives from having enhanced access, more device connectivity, more resources spread throughout the community.


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Through our laptop distributions, we've heard stories of grandparents being able to speak to their grandkids that live far away now that they have access to Facebook or to Zoom, you know, we've heard from people who have new job opportunities because they have access to technology.


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So seeing that direct positive impacts that we're able to have is just the most rewarding thing about my position.


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I'm Natali Betancur and the Deputy Director at the Center for Digital Equity with Queen's University of Charlotte.


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we bring together the public sector, the private sector, nonprofit organizations and community members to co-create solutions that ultimately help our community members thrive in today's modern culture.


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the Center for Digital Equity has a critical role in the Access Charlotte program. And what we're going to do is really bring a holistic approach to getting community members connected.


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we're not only looking at getting individuals and households connected to the Internet, but also do they need a device that they can utilize that Internet on?


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Digital equity is is no longer a luxury, right?


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Having access is not a luxury. Having access in today's society is as necessary as your electricity and as your water.


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access itself is critical to thrive in today's modern society.


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as an immigrant myself, I think I firsthand experience the immense amount of barriers around not only access, navigating and language and all of these different barriers.


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it's on a personal level, I feel very invested in this, but it's also as a team, our mission is to make Mecklenburg County the most digitally equitable community in America.


How is Access Charlotte funded?

The City of Charlotte allocated $10 million toward digital inclusion that the Smart Charlotte Program is implementing. The current contract with Spectrum is for $3,199,800 for internet services and $890,000 to the Center for Digital Equity at Queens University for digital navigation services. Approximately $600,000 is set aside for staffing to help implement this service and other digital inclusion efforts. The city is currently working with partners to expand support around digital literacy, computers, and public Wi-Fi and improve digital service tools to better serve residents.

What areas does the Access Charlotte pilot cover?

The City of Charlotte, Spectrum and the Center for Digital Equity's Digital Navigation team will provide service to 58 sites.

Properties covered in the Access Charlotte Pilot Program.

Help for residents who live outside of the Access Charlotte Program properties.

Digital Navigators:

This partnership provides one-to-one dedicated technical support for residents via phone, in-person assistance, web-conferencing, or a combination of those services to help residents learn basic digital skills, find affordable computing devices, and get connected to affordable home internet.

To schedule your free appointment with a digital navigator, submit a ticket, or to have a ticket submitted for you call 311.

Affordable Connectivity Program (ACP):

This program helps reduce the overall cost of broadband service and connected devices for residents in eligible households.


Transcription: Digital Navigators Serve the Community and Help Residents Meet Digital Needs


Denya Isabelle-Davis: My name is Denya Isabelle-Davis.


Naimah Martin: Naimah Martin.


Denya and Naimah: And I'm a digital navigator with the


Center for Digital Equity.


Denya Isabelle-Davis: So as a digital navigator, it is my duty


to connect community members to different digital resources in


the community. That could be the affordable connectivity program,


which will offer them $30 off of their internet service. It could


be digital literacy skills through Northstar or through


Mecklenburg County Libraries or other resources that we have.


Naimah Martin: Also with devices, we partner with the


Charlotte-Mecklenburg libraries, and other nonprofits within the


community. Also, we ensure that if they need any assistance with


their product, or the device that they received, that they


get assistance with that.


Denya Isabelle-Davis: I've always been in the business of


helping people. That's one of my passions in life and being able


to do that from a digital standpoint, because we're in


such a modern world, like it, it just made sense for me to be


able to still assist individuals in the community.


Naimah Martin: I thought this was a great opportunity to be


able to help residents within Mecklenburg County, become, you


know, more familiar with digital services here. Because


technology is forever changing. And we want to make sure each


resident is aware and they know what to expect with the new


technologies that emerge every day.


Denya Isabelle-Davis: This is something that Charlotte hasn't


done before. And so just being at the forefront of it being you


know, the pilot of it, and being able to let these community


members know that, you know, there is a world outside of what


they may be used to. So helping them to get connected to these


digital resources outside of them getting access to this


internet service. It makes me feel like I'm doing something,


I'm doing my part in society.


Naimah Martin: It means a lot because I'm giving back to the


community, I'm able to, you know, help others and just show


them that there's different opportunities within technology,


things that they can learn to do with within themselves and with


their families.


Denya Isabelle-Davis: I'm hoping that the community will


understand that, you know, we are transitioning to a really,


really highly technical world. And so that they know that they


won't be left behind there is someone in their corner that is


there to assist them every step of the way.



What about residents that are not at an Access Charlotte served property?

We encourage residents to call 311 to request a digital navigator to assist with signing up for the Federal Government’s Affordable Connectivity Program (ACP). Residents will have the opportunity to choose an Internet Service Provider (ISP) that best fits their area of coverage and receive up to $30 off their internet bill, if eligible.

Outreach, Data, and Post-Pilot Considerations

The digital navigation service and onsite enrollment drive help connect residents with resources and identify additional digital inclusion needs like hardware or digital literacy training. To maximize the impact of this service, the city is leveraging its partnership with Spectrum to assess outreach and engagement efforts.

This project is currently limited to the APRA funding timeline and spending parameters. From this pilot, the city aims to forge innovative solutions working with partners in the community around longer-term solutions and sustainable illumination of the digital divide. This includes working with affordable housing property owners and their managers, working with public and private sector partners, and supporting upward mobility of residents around access and benefit of digital connectivity.


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