October 4, 2000

Nonprofit Internet network serves WNC

By Harrison Metzger
Times-News Staff Writer
October 1, 2000

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Henderson County residents will have the choice of a new local Internet access when the Mountain Area Information Network establishes local dial-up access Monday.

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 Horticultural Association.

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 number.

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 citizens.

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.

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