MAIN seeks federal funds to establish community-based cloud-computing in WNC

WNC’s Mountain Area Information Network hopes to garner federal broadband stimulus funds in order to establish what it’s calling the nation’s first open-source “Community Cloud Computing” platform — and what’s more, do so for the benefit of those less advantaged: public housing residents, citizens with disabilities, the homeless, at-risk youth, native American and immigrant communities, elderly and other at-risk residents.

Cloud computing allows users access to increased computer power (software applications, processing power, storage) via the Internet. That power, in this case, would come from Raleigh-based Red Hat, a developer of open-source software and innovator in cloud-computing services, which would partner with MAIN on the project.

MAIN’s preliminary draft planning document indicates that “participating agencies (to date) are:  Housing Authority of the City of Asheville (HACA), Asheville City Schools, Asheville-Buncombe Library System, Asheville-Buncombe County Christian Ministries (ABCCM), Children First, Pathways for Independent Living, Burton Street Community Center, URTV, and Mountain Area Information Network (MAIN).”

The document, which is marked for “draft discussion and planning,” says the project will include “Public Computing Centers …. at the Burton Street Community Center, the ABCCM Job Training Center, Pathways to the Future (citizens with disabilities), and at three (?) public housing neighborhood centers operated by the Housing Authority of the City of Asheville…”, with more sites under discussion

“Most small businesses and nonprofits are not aware of, or cannot afford, some of the powerful new tools – such as cloud services and virtualization – now used routinely by Fortune 500 companies,” the draft says. “Virtualization enables a single computer to function like multiple machines, helping businesses and nonprofits save on hardware and energy costs. Cloud computing also allows a user to operate software and services from remotely hosted computers rather than on the user’s own machine.”

The program would include the following sectors: K-12 education, vulnerable populations, small businesses, web developers, community journalists, environmental and public health organizations.

The document addresses the question, “Why do this in WNC?” by saying, “We may be the only region in the United States with both a nonprofit ‘last-mile’ wireless broadband provider (Mountain Area Information Network, founded in 1995) and several nonprofit ‘middle-mile’ fiber network providers (NC-REN, ERC Broadband, Pangaea, and French Broad Electric Cooperative).”

To learn more about the project or to learn about how to be involved, contact Project Coordinator Wally Bowen at wallyb@main.nc.us.

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About Jeff Fobes
As a long-time proponent of media for social change, my early activities included coordinating the creation of a small community FM radio station to serve a poor section of St. Louis, Mo. In the 1980s I served as the editor of the "futurist" newsletter of the U.S. Association for the Club of Rome, a professional/academic group with a global focus and a mandate to act locally. During that time, I was impressed by a journalism experiment in Mississippi, in which a newspaper reporter spent a year in a small town covering how global activities impacted local events (e.g., literacy programs in Asia drove up the price of pulpwood; soybean demand in China impacted local soybean prices). Taking a cue from the Mississippi journalism experiment, I offered to help the local Green Party in western North Carolina start its own newspaper, which published under the name Green Line. Eventually the local party turned Green Line over to me, giving Asheville-area readers an independent, locally focused news source that was driven by global concerns. Over the years the monthly grew, until it morphed into the weekly Mountain Xpress in 1994. I've been its publisher since the beginning. Mountain Xpress' mission is to promote grassroots democracy (of any political persuasion) by serving the area's most active, thoughtful readers. Consider Xpress as an experiment to see if such a media operation can promote a healthy, democratic and wise community. In addition to print, today's rapidly evolving Web technosphere offers a grand opportunity to see how an interactive global information network impacts a local community when the network includes a locally focused media outlet whose aim is promote thoughtful citizen activism.

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