The state of North Carolina has established a special commission to bridge the technological gap separating rural and urban communities across the state.
The N.C. Rural Internet Access Commission was established to combat the problem of slow economic development and a lack of Internet access in rural North Carolina.
The 21-member commission will advise and make recommendations to the General Assembly, the governor and the N.C. Rural Redevelopment Authority.
Gov. Jim Hunt appointed UNC-Wilmington Chancellor James Leutze as commission chairman Oct. 18.
Leutze said UNC-system schools would play a key role in linking rural and urban communities and helping find answers to technical problems.
"We're a regional university and have a lot of rural counties around UNC-W," he said. "We've been working with communities to get (Internet) access."
Leutze said all N.C. universities have a responsibility to reach out and help people statewide.
He said he talked with other university chancellors Tuesday about providing the same assistance in other regions across the state.
"Universities (in rural areas) are ideally positioned because they are surrounded by poor communities," Leutze said. "It is perfectly legitimate that universities provide help in this regard."
The goal to bridge the digital divide between rural and urban North Carolina will impact the state's economy and education opportunities, he said.
"We hope to train students in rural schools to level the playing field," Leutze said. "We realize there are two North Carolinas - poor, rural North Carolina and prosperous North Carolina.
"I would contend North Carolina can't exist for long as a society that's half poor, half rich," he said.
Melinda Pierson, spokeswoman for the Department of Commerce, said Leutze was selected due to his interest in the technological advancement of the state and 28 years of experience in higher education.
Pierson said the idea for the commission came from a recommendation by the Rural Prosperity Task Force - a group aimed at improving economic conditions in less-developed N.C. counties.
Leutze said the commission will research how to wire rural areas, what technology to use and how to finance the programs.
He also said statewide Internet access will help rural businesses compete with their computer-savvy counterparts in urban areas like the Research Triangle Park and Charlotte.
Leutze said he hopes competition will secure the future economic development in the state. "We hope it will stem the flow of people moving out of rural communities to urban communities."
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