02/01/07 — Legislator seeks high-speed access

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Legislator seeks high-speed access

By Matthew Whittle
Published in News on February 1, 2007 1:47 PM

Even though the North Carolina General Assembly is still the process of organizing itself, legislation is beginning to be introduced and on Tuesday, Rep. Russell Tucker, D-Duplin County, co-sponsored a bill to help continue to bring high-speed Internet access to rural counties, including Duplin.

"Duplin County has about 65 percent of its folks connected or able to be connected to high-speed Internet access," Tucker said. "We're low on the totem pole.

"I wanted to sponsor some legislation to give some incentives to high-speed Internet companies to come into rural and less populated areas."

The legislation would provide about $15 million over the next two years -- $7,500 in 2007-08 and $7,500 in 2008-09 -- to the e-NC Authority for use as incentive grants for high-speed Internet providers.

E-NC is the initiative led by the Rural Internet Access Authority charged with connecting all of North Carolina to the Internet. Since its creation in 2001, e-NC has provided about $898,000 to Duplin County for various Internet access projects.

According to the bill, the grants would be given on a competitive basis and would require a 100 percent match from the winning companies. The hope is that such incentives will make it more cost-effective for companies to provide access to those areas sparsely populated with customers.

The goal is to connect at least 70 percent of the population in each county to high-speed Internet access by 2009.

Such high-speed Internet access, Tucker explained, is necessary for several reasons.

"It's important for educational purposes," he said. "If our children don't know how to use the Internet, they're not going to be prepared to go into college or into the workforce.

"It's also important for business. If you have a small business in the rural area of Duplin County, you can't sell your stuff without high-speed Internet access. It's necessary in developing industry and small business."

The bill, which is currently sitting in the House Committee on Rules, Calendar and Operations until the rest of the committees can be formed, must be approved by the whole House, the whole Senate and signed by the governor.