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Hunt's Plan To Offer Internet Access To Rural N.C. Helps To Bridge Digital Divide

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WILSON — Rural North Carolina may be peaceful, but its future is threatened by lack of high-speed, affordable Internet access. The state and telecommunications companies hope to solve the problem with Governor Hunt's announcement to offerInternet access to all rural areas by 2003.

BellSouth, GTE and Sprint have already signed on to the plan to bridge the digital divide between city streets and rural roads.

"Right now there are some pockets of inner cities that aren't served," says Leslie Boney, director of theNorth Carolina Rural Prosperity Task Force. "There are some pockets of rural areas that are underserved and what they're committing to is to deploy it statewide as soon as possible."

John Hackney III runs a family-owned insurance agency and uses the Internet to communicate with policy holders and companies. However, the company is expanding to other parts of the state.

"If there are ways to do connecting to other offices by using the Internet, and we can do that cheaper than what we can do with dedicated or private lines now, then that will help us a lot," Hackney says.

Costs for new services have not been determined, but Boney says speed has.

"We're talking 128k for residents and 256k for businesses," Laney says.

Speed and capacity could create opportunities for Computer Central, a small business in Wilson, by providing Internet access.

"We're always toward the last of the line to get faster service because of the area we're in," Joyner says. "A lot of the businesses would like to see faster service and maybe be online more."

The goal is to have affordable, high-speed access available statewide in three years.

Rural areas across the United States need to work to build the digital divide.

Fifty-six percent of the cities with a population of over 100,000 people have high speed, DSL Internet access. Only five percent of cities with fewer than 100,000 people have DSL service.

The gap is bigger when it comes to cable modem access.

Sixty-five percent of cities with a population of over 100,000 people have cable modem access compared to 5 percent of the population in small towns.