It’s High Time for High-Speed Internet Access in Rural North Carolina
North Carolina’s busiest cities are full of people in offices using the Internet to do their jobs or connecting with friends and family through the Web on smartphones.
In some parts of the state, however, these scenes sometimes are few and far between. That’s because access to high-speed Internet is not as prevalent in rural North Carolina.
“Our role is to assist the state’s ongoing efforts to provide farmers and rural residents with access to high-speed Internet,” says Larry Wooten, President of North Carolina Farm Bureau. “The Internet allows them to compete by providing a way to engage in global commerce and access medical and educational resources.”
Many Internet users in rural areas are limited to dial-up access as their only option. In rural areas where high-speed Internet is available, the cost is often prohibitive. Access to modern, affordable broadband services has the potential to correct this inequity.
One of the strongest allies on this issue has been the e-NC Authority, which germinated from legislation adopted in 2000. The e-NC Authority finds and advocates for solutions to ensure that all North Carolina residents and businesses increase adoption and usage and have equal access to affordable, high-speed broadband.
The agency, contained within the N.C. Rural Economic Development Center in Raleigh, also is responsible for mapping and tracking broadband availability and providing technical assistance for local initiatives to support technology-based economic growth.
Under the direction of a 15-member committee, the organization develops applications and promotes the benefits of broadband investments around commerce, education, healthcare, agriculture and government services to demonstrate greater economic opportunities.
“Through our work, we are helping to build sustainable economies in both rural and distressed urban counties,” says Jane Smith Patterson, the e-NC Authority’s Executive Director.
“Research generated from within the e-NC Authority is shining a light on consumer trends, the need for greater bandwidth and how the state should plan for its technological future in order to be economically competitive,” Patterson adds. “Stepping forward, we are excited as we collectively reach for the ultimate goal: universal broadband on a state and national level.”
Just one example of the benefits came a year ago. North Carolina received $14.1 million in federal funds that went to Tri-County Telephone Membership Corp. to expand broadband service in Beaufort, Hyde and Washington counties.
In total, North Carolina has received $270 million in funds for broadband access.
“Increasing broadband access in rural North Carolina will create new jobs up front and provide a boost for local economies to create even more jobs and a better quality of life in the near future,” Gov. Bev Perdue says.
Bottom line: How valuable is high-speed Internet access? Mark Wells of the Rockingham County Business & Technology Center put it this way: “Broadband is this generation’s electricity or postal service. Without it, people are not afforded the opportunity to participate in our modern economy, and thus have little to no ability to attain economic prosperity—the American dream.”