November 21, 2000

Internet group offers help for nonprofit Web pages

By Pete Zamplas
Times-News Staff Writer
November 15, 2000

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The Mountain Area Information Network will let nonprofit groups in Henderson County build free Web sites and apple growers and other business people to find markets through local discounted Internet service.

MAIN, a nonprofit itself, has operated five years and last month expanded its Internet cooperative to Henderson County. It now serves about 4,000 subscribers in 14 mountain counties.

The service is needed in rural areas lacking a big customer base, resulting in many counties having little local dial-up access and instead costly long-distance service, MAIN's Executive Director Wally Bowen said. Previously, Henderson County MAIN subscribers had to use a long distance Buncombe County number. Bowen spoke Tuesday to nonprofit representatives and others in the Henderson County Public Library.

MAIN is the only Internet cooperative he knows of that has survived without getting government money beyond a startup grant, he said.

Free Web sites for locally based nonprofits is a key, and MAIN can help design them if needed, Bowen said. Groups do not have to be tax-registered groups, but should demonstrate their authenticity, he said.

"If you're a legitimate group of citizens doing good in the community, we want to help you," Bowen said.

Social justice, social action and cultural awareness are among group categories. The Environmental and Conservation Organization of Henderson County is among the first groups in the area to have a Web site through MAIN.

ECO Executive Director Mary Jo Padgett said, "They've helped us, and we wanted to help them get going."

MAIN has set up free Internet use in more than 60 area public libraries and community centers.

The group also targets homebound people who lack computers. Pathways for Independent Living trains the people on refurbished machines donated from an area technician and given to the people, Bowen said. MAIN then provides them with free Internet access.

MAIN's Web site, www.main.nc.us, lists Asheville-area events and weather plus the links to area businesses and community groups. Modem speed is 56K. Subscription fees are $150 a year, but are free for nonprofits and discounted for financially needy and disabled people.

Apple growers can reach restaurants and roadside stands to market their produce, Bowen said. Blue Ridge Web Market categories are arts and crafts, lodging, health, farm and garden, general store and services for hire. Each group's menu has a brief description of each business, and the linked pages show product photos, other data and order forms. Bowen hopes to add credit card purchasing within six months.

MAIN will apply for a license for an FM station next spring from among signals opened for community stations. Although the station would only broadcast about seven miles, MAIN can relay its signal through a "webcast."

For further information, call 255-0182 or log on to www.main.nc.us.

Contact Zamplas at Pete.Zamplas@hendersonvillenews.com.

Copyright 2000 Times-News