Editorial: Broadband access could hold economic key for N.C.

August 26, 2010 - When running for governor in 2008, Beverly Perdue often spoke about modeling her approach to the office after O. Max Gardner, her favorite political figure in North Carolina history. He led the state through the onset of the Great Depression, investing public money in infrastructure to create jobs and cultivate economic development, actions that offer Perdue some useful lessons.

Surely Gardner would have shared Perdue’s enthusiasm for North Carolina winning federal grant funding for a dramatic expansion of broadband Internet access through the state’s rural corners. That investment in cutting-edge infrastructure holds tremendous potential for education and commerce, and could prove to be a transformational moment for the North Carolina economy.

Last week, Perdue announced that the state received $115 million through the federal Recovery and Reinvestment Act to bring high-speed broadband Internet access to rural communities throughout the state. When added to previous broadband development grants received through that legislation, North Carolina has collected more than $255 million for Internet development through two rounds of funding.

In this case, the money was awarded to MCNC, a nonprofit organization founded in 1980 that helps build partnerships between educational institutions, research facilities, government entities and businesses. Backing the federal money is $24 million from the Golden LEAF Foundation, created to oversee the distribution of money from cigarette companies to tobacco-dependent communities. There could hardly be a more appropriate investment for the foundation than the development of an infrastructure with so much promise to transform rural areas of North Carolina once reliant on tobacco cultivation for income.

Part of the excitement surrounding this award is its scope, since MCNC intends to develop broadband access in 69 counties, including Pitt. The governor’s office says those improvements will connect 170 institutions to faster, reliable service, affecting about 5.1 million residents and 160,000 businesses. Installation will create an estimated 1,000 jobs, good news in this economy.

Source: The Daily Reflector