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The Daily Tar Heel

State Struggles to Bring Equal Access to Rural Area

But for countless others in the state, access to the World Wide Web is extremely limited -- dividing many rural communities from technologically rich areas like the Triad and Triangle.

Many states across the nation struggle to provide equal access to technology for all of its residents.

In North Carolina, the digital divide, as this phenomenon is known, poses a problem for those needing to meet daily personal and business needs and for N.C. leaders hoping to unify the state.

The Digital Divide

The state's digital divide entered the national spotlight when former President Bill Clinton visited the town of Whiteville last April and stressed the importance of investing funds to improve technology in rural areas.

"We believe in rural North Carolina and rural America (that) Internet access ought to be just as likely as telephone access," Clinton said during his visit, according to an article from USA Today. "You ought to be able to use it in the fastest possible way, and if you can, it'll mean more jobs, more business, more income and more opportunity."

A 1999 study released by the U.S. Department of Commerce ranked North Carolina 46th in the nation in providing Internet access to its citizens.

The report, "Falling Through the Net: Defining the Digital Divide," reported that only 19.9 percent of the state's households are connected to the Internet.

State officials say they are working to ensure efficient technology access and opportunities for all residents.

The N.C. Senate established the N.C. Rural Internet Authority last year to improve Internet access in the state during the next three years.

Charlie Clark, network access technologist for the authority, said the group's first goal is to ensure that all North Carolina residents have dial-up access to Internet Service Providers (ISPs) by August of this year.

The authority also wants residents to have access to high-speed Internet connections by December 2004.

Clark said the authority is contacting all ISPs and telephone companies with customers in the state and will provide residents with the names of ISPs within their local calling plans.

He also said a lack of education in rural areas about the Internet and other technology partly contributes to the digital divide and said the authority hopes to reduce those gaps.

Clark said the digital divide causes problems for communities when businesses want to move to the state.

"When companies or industries or businesses look to relocate to an area, they look at how educated the work force is," he said. "If they're up to speed with the technology that is available, they would be more appealing."

Clark said he believes the authority will help make all communities statewide more equal in terms of Internet access. "Ultimately, the reason behind all of this is to lessen the digital divide and give the rural areas the same advantages as the urban areas."

Bridging the Gap in Education

N.C. leaders say they are looking to public education to help bridge the state's digital divide.

Reid Hartzoge, assistant press secretary for Gov. Mike Easley, said the governor also hopes to continue efforts made by former Gov. Jim Hunt to reduce the technology gap.

"The governor has made it his priority to see that every child has access to a good, quality

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