The MAIN connection
When the Mountain Area Information Network was founded back in 1994, only two Western North Carolina counties had commercial Internet service. Today, MAIN provides reliable, low-cost Internet service to some 5,000 subscribers in 14 counties.
The nonprofit also offers other services, such as the Blue Ridge Web Market (which gives hundreds of small businesses a place to advertise their goods or services online for free) and the Latino Digital Literacy Project (helping one of WNC’s fastest-growing populations access the Internet). In addition, MAIN is the driving force behind WVPM, the region’s new low-power FM radio station, which broadcasts local news, views and music on-air in the Asheville area and via Webcast throughout the region.
The Rural Internet Access Authority recently awarded MAIN two grants to expand its services.
A $15,000 grant will allow the group to upgrade its Blue Ridge Web Market site to include free e-commerce capability. The upgrade will enable any independently owned small business in the region to set up an online shop, display a catalog of goods or services, and take orders and payments online — all for free.
The Web site, says Bowen, will meet a critical need for local entrepreneurs in a global economy. “E-commerce has great potential to help grow small businesses, especially in rural areas.”
A recent study by the research firm eMarketer predicts that consumers will spend $17.8 billion online during the last three months of 2003, a 29 percent increase over the same period last year.
Until now, notes Bowen, “Taking advantage of e-commerce has … been expensive and technically challenging. By leveraging MAIN’s established infrastructure and Web traffic, the Blue Ridge Web Market allows even the smallest home-based enterprise to reach thousands of potential online customers without having to invest in an expensive, high-maintenance Web site.”
A separate $230,000 grant will help fund a phase II expansion of MAIN’s high-speed wireless Internet service in Mitchell, Yancey and Madison counties. Last December, the Authority awarded MAIN a $360,000 grant for phase I of the project.
The grant will also enable MAIN to drop its basic residential rate from $45 to $40 a month and suspend the activation fee for at least six months, reports Executive Director Wally Bowen.
“Our mandate from the Authority is to build a sustainable and affordable high-speed Internet service in these three economically stressed counties,” said Bowen. “This additional funding enables us to extend coverage to more remote parts of these counties and to make the service more affordable, without jeopardizing our ability to sustain operations over the long haul.”
After the six-month grant period, the activation fee — $100 for residential and $200 for commercial customers — may be reduced or eliminated depending on project revenues, he added.
[To find out more about MAIN, visit their Web site (www.main.nc.us) or call them at 255-0182.]
— Lisa Watters