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Governor Calls for Improved Cybersecurity, Broadband Access in North Carolina

At the 18th edition of the North Carolina Digital Government Summit, Gov. Roy Cooper revealed a new partnership with the National Governors Association and discussed the importance of broadband access.

RALEIGH, N.C. — Reciting a familiar litany of devastating recent cyberattacks, Gov. Roy Cooper took aim at improving his state’s cybersecurity and broadband access in opening remarks at the 18th North Carolina Digital Government Summit (DGS) in Raleigh.

Cooper, who was elected in 2016 and spoke at last year’s DGS for the first time, pointed out two North Carolina counties, Mecklenburg and Davidson, were hit by cyberattacks in recent months — along with the cities of Atlanta, Denver and Orlando — and said cybersecurity remains a priority for his administration.

But help could be on the way. North Carolina was selected in June as one of four states to partner with the National Governors Association (NGA) on a “state cybersecurity program,” the governor said.

The initiative, NGA’s Policy Academy on Implementing State Cybersecurity, will partner NGA with Indiana, North Carolina, West Virginia and Wisconsin to assist the states in modernizing cybersecurity plans and infrastructure.

NGA will “provide states with technical assistance to implement and operationalize cybersecurity planning,” it said in a news release.

“We want to become a model state for cybersecurity and we want to keep working for the private sector to strengthen our cybersecurity efforts. Government has a lot of information. We need to keep it safe and people rely on us to do it,” Cooper said at the summit.

North Carolina Chief Information Officer Eric Boyette told Government Technology state participants will include members of the Department of Public Safety, National Guard, the State Bureau of Investigation; the state’s Homeland Security teams and cybersecurity leaders.

“We’re working together to focus on policy and just achievements that we can work on independently and as a group,” he said.

Cooper said Boyette and Secretary of Public Safety Eric Hooks will play what he called “a significant role” in the effort.

The governor said North Carolina has had some other technology successes lately, pointing out the state has improved Internet at its schools and made strides connecting people to health care via telemedicine. But it's a problem, he said, that hundreds of thousands of households still lack access to high-speed broadband.

During a recent visit to Madison County, the governor said, a county planner revealed more than 23 percent of respondents to a survey indicated they had no access to broadband; while another 60 percent said their broadband “wasn’t really reliable.”

His Hometown Strong initiative, which Cooper described as an “action team,” will likely take aim at some IT issues, since the state’s Department of Information Technology is one of 12 state agencies participating. The effort is designed to connect rural counties — six, so far — with higher-level services they lack.

Broadband, the governor said, is an enabler service and will close the “homework gap” that leaves students in households without high-speed Internet unable to complete assignments; and serve as an economic development tool.

The General Assembly, he said, did not fully fund a $20 million ask for expansion projects in his second budget, allocating just half that; and he called on private-sector attendees to “work with government to make this happen.”

“When I talk to businesses and try to get them to expand, that is one of the infrastructure issues that they care about, including a good workforce that is well-trained,” Cooper said, ending his remarks to around 300 attendees by emphasizing that "broadband access and cybersecurity are two areas where I would encourage you to work, and work with my Department of IT.”

Theo Douglas is assistant managing editor for Industry Insider — California, and before that was a staff writer for Government Technology. His reporting experience includes covering municipal, county and state governments, business and breaking news. He has a Bachelor's degree in Newspaper Journalism and a Master's in History, both from California State University, Long Beach.