Thinking broadly

The push to expand broadband Internet access in and around Asheville may be building steam, thanks to federal stimulus money. Mayor Terry Bellamy is meeting with state representatives and looking for ways to use money made available through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act to help make it happen.

In April, Bellamy was invited to attend Innovation Generation, a policy summit in Washington, D.C., whose guest list featured industry leaders, federal representatives and other mayors, touting broadband’s importance in leveling the field in education, technology and industry. Cheaper than laying new cables and other infrastructure, it also has a broader reach.

That means it can help “make sure our children are computer-literate, have access and keep us competitive in education,” notes Bellamy.

Expanded access can help close the “digital divide” hurting lower-income people, says Jennifer Mayer, co-owner of Charlotte Street Computers, and high-speed wireless (such as 3G broadband) would be the quickest way to get it done.

Mayer, who’s working on the mayor’s re-election campaign, is also part of a push to place more computers in Asheville’s community centers. Championing broadband, she maintains, opens the door to improved education and communication in Asheville while making it a more attractive location for businesses.

Bellamy and Mayer aren’t the only ones hitting D.C. on the broadband circuit. Mountain Area Information Network founder Wally Bowen was also in the nation’s capital, emphasizing broadband access at a Media and Democracy Coalition meeting. Right now, he says, Asheville’s access is “pretty dismal,” though the prospects for change seem promising.

“There’s a new FCC and a new administration,” notes Bowen. “We have the opportunity to draft a new broadband policy.”

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