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Community network meeting set for 3 p.m. March 2 at ICC-Polk

CONTACT: Wally Bowen, 828-255-0182

A community meeting to introduce the Mountain Area Information Network (MAIN) in Polk County is set for 3 p.m. Thursday, March 2 at the Polk campus of Isothermal Community College.

As a not-for-profit community network, MAIN provides a wide array of community and economic development services, including low-cost dial-up Internet access and free Internet access at more than 60 WNC libraries and community centers. MAIN began offering dial-up Internet access in Polk County last December. MAIN currently has 3,800 subscribers in 13 mountain counties.

MAIN also provides free web-hosting for all local not-for-profit agencies and organizations.

"MAIN is very similar to the rural electric and telephone cooperatives of the 1920s and 30s," said Wally Bowen, executive director of the community network. "By keeping our fees low, we're able to provide Internet access to rural citizens who otherwise could not afford access. And our free service at public libaries and community centers gives access to citizens who cannot afford their own computer," he said.

One of MAINs most important roles, Bowen said, is providing free websites to all local non-profit agencies and organizations. This local content is the lifeblood of our community network. Thats why we work so hard to recruit, train and match volunteers with local non-profits to assist them in creating their own website, Bowen said.

Representatives of local non-profits as well as potential web-page volunteers are especially encouraged to attend the March 2 meeting at ICC-Polk.

Approximately one out of 10 MAIN subscribers becomes a community network volunteer. "We could not provide the technical support to our subscribers -- as well as the free websites for non-profits -- without the great work of our volunteers," said Bowen.

For example, our Help Desk is run almost entirely by volunteers. Its inspiring to see how much they enjoy helping their neighbors or their favorite non-profit solve problems and communicate on-line, Bowen said. MAIN was recently cited as an example of innovative use of telecommunications to bring communities closer together in the 11th annual Innovation Awards competition of the National Association of Development Organizations (NADO) in Washington, D.C.

MAIN's service in Polk County is supported by a $15,000 start-up grant from the Polk Community Foundation for initial hardware costs. Improved Internet access at Polk County Library and the Polk campus of Isothermal Community College is another by-product of MAIN's presence in Polk County. A wireless network, linked via a tower on Tryon Peak, will enable ICC-Polk, the public library and MAIN to share the benefits and the cost of a single, high-speed link to the Internet.

By pooling resources, all three organizations are sharing this high-speed bandwidth, which -- individually -- none of us could afford, Bowen said. Unlike other WNC counties, Polk County's telecommunications services originate in South Carolina, which often results in higher costs.

MAIN is also bringing economic development efforts to Polk County such as the Blue Ridge Web Market, which allows local small businesses to market goods and services online. "The Blue Ridge Web Market is an old-fashioned public market. The only difference is that it exists entirely on the World Wide Web," Bowen said. Details on how Polk County businesses can participate will be presented March 2.

Economic development is also be served by a public-private partnership between MAIN and NewEra.Com, a WNC-based firm offering commercial high-speed wireless access to the Internet. This service is available to businesses and individuals within line-of-sight of Tryon Peak.

"MAIN has sub-contracted with NewEra for two reasons: part of MAIN's mission is to promote economic development, and we believe this wireless service will be valuable to local firms and agencies needing higher-speed access than MAIN can provide. Secondly, MAIN will receive a small percentage of the wireless revenue, which we hope will help sustain our overall effort in Polk County," said Bowen.

For more information about wireless Internet access, call NewEra.Com at 828-258-8562, or visit their website at MAIN was originally funded by a two-year "demonstration" grant from the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA), an agency of the U.S. Department of Commerce.

Polk is the first WNC county added to MAIN's service area since the community network began operation in early 1996. In addition to Polk, MAIN serves the counties of Mitchell, McDowell, Yancey, Madison, Buncombe, Haywood, Jackson, Swain, Macon, Graham, Clay, Cherokee and Qualla Boundary. For more information about MAIN, call 828-255-0182 or visit MAIN's website at . Registration forms for MAIN's dial-up Internet access service are also available at the Polk County Library and Isothermal Community College.


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