Nonprofit Internet network serves WNC
By Harrison Metzger
October 1, 2000
County residents will have the choice of a new local Internet access
when the Mountain Area Information Network establishes local dial-up
MAIN is a nonprofit Internet cooperative with about 4,000
subscribers in 13 Western North Carolina counties, including Polk
County. Previously Henderson County residents who wanted to
subscribe had to use a long distance Buncombe County phone number.
The cooperative focuses on providing an online "community" for
the region, hosting Web sites for more than 250 nonprofit groups,
said Wally Bowen, MAIN's executive director.
MAIN's own Web site, www.main.nc.us, includes an automated
community calendar, weather and ozone forecasts and links to local
businesses and community groups. There's even a live Web camera
looking out on Cold Mountain and Shining Rock Wilderness Area with
links to a U.S. Forest Service site on air quality issues.
"We have created this Web site that is a rich stream of local
news and information basically putting people in closer touch with
the world around them in the mountains as well as the world at large
through the Internet," Bowen said.
Several local nonprofit groups already have Web sites hosted by
MAIN, including the Environmental and Conservation Organization, the
Mineral Museum, Downtown Hendersonville Inc. and the Blue Ridge
MAIN started business in 1995 with a grant from the U.S.
Department of Commerce. Its mission was to provide Internet service
to under-served groups in a dozen WNC counties.
In far western Graham County, one of the poorest counties in the
state, the group established public access terminals. It now
provides service to about 400 subscribers there, offsetting the cost
with its service to more populated areas.
The network's success has garnered national attention. MAIN was
recently featured in a national publication of the Commerce
Department titled "Community Connections: Preserving Local Values in
the Information Age."
One special feature of MAIN is its Blue Ridge Web Market, an
online public market that's free to any local small business, Bowen
said. Businesses can create their own "booths" featuring their half
dozen top products.
More than 100 businesses are already using the service. The Web
market provides links to local businesses from MAIN's Web site,
which logs 75,000 unique visits each month.
"The trick of doing business on the Internet is getting in a high
traffic area, and we have one of the most visited Web sites in the
mountains," Bowen said.
MAIN currently has about 25 subscribers in Henderson County but
hopes to greatly increase that number with the local Internet phone
Internet access through MAIN costs $150 per year ($12.50
monthly), which can be paid in two $75 installments. The cooperative
offers discounted service to about 300 disabled or low-income
More information is available by calling 255-0182 or on MAIN's
Web site. Application forms are available at numerous locations
including county and municipal offices, local library branches and
Blue Ridge Community College.