Local News

During Clinton Visit, Hunt Announces Deal to Bring Internet Access to All of NC Within 3 Years

Posted April 25, 2000 7:00 a.m. EDT

— President Clinton's Wednesday visit to Columbus County was the setting for an announcement by Governor Jim Hunt that all of North Carolina will have Internet access within the next three years.

"By brokering this agreement," Hunt says, "North Carolina is leading the nation in bridging the digital divide."

As part of the deal, BellSouth, Sprint and GTE agreed to provide local dial-up Internet access from every telephone exchange within one year.

The three companies say they will also work with the state to provide affordable, high-speed Internet access to all North Carolinians within three years.

Clinton told the Whiteville crowd of 5,500 how important it is to bring high-speed Internet access to small-town America.

"It collapses time and distance. Therefore, for the first time in my lifetime, we have a chance to move more people out of poverty, unemployment and lack of access to businesses more quickly in rural America, isolated inner cities and Native American reservations than at any time in the history of this country," Clinton says.

The deal will allow rural parts of the state to have Internet service at a cost and speed comparable to the state's urban areas.

Bringing high-speed, affordable Internet access to rural North Carolina was one of the recommendations included in theRural Prosperity Task Force'sfinal report, presented to Hunt earlier this year. Erskine Bowles, head of the task force, helped negotiate the agreement.

Hunt says high-speed Internet access is the only way to close the digital divide.

"Just as we got telephones, electricity and paved roads, which have made our lives so much better, today we have got to have high-speed, affordable access to the Internet," Hunt says.

Whiteville residents have seen industries leave and unemployment rise. They hope that digital opportunity will bring new opportunity.

"Little towns need the Internet," says Whiteville resident Vivian Gore. "Everybody is going to it, and we need it."

The agreement, and the Internet access it provides, is just what Ben Frink needs.

Frink is the president of Remote Data Systems Inc., a company that makes electronic devices to monitor wetlands.

RDS currently sells equipment to 26 states. With an affordable, high-speed Internet connection, the company could go global, Frink says.

Clinton came to Whiteville to visit RDS, as part of his New Market Initiative. The Initiative stresses bringing economic development to underserved areas of the country.

Clinton arrived in Columbus County just after 12:15 p.m. on Marine One. He left the area shortly after 5 p.m. to travel to Little Rock, Ark.