ASHEVILLE – The first phase of a federally funded fiber-optic cable network designed to bring affordable, high-speed Internet access to Western North Carolina is now in place, a development hailed by Western Carolina University Chancellor John W. Bardo as “a seminal event in the region’s history.”
Worley, Bardo and Taylor
Bardo, who chairs the Education and Research Consortium of Western North Carolina, served as moderator for a Tuesday, May 6, press conference held by U.S. Rep. Charles Taylor in the Federal Building in Asheville. They were joined by Asheville and Buncombe County officials to unveil the initial step in the development of high-capacity “information pipelines” expected to attract the emerging high-tech industries of the 21st century to WNC.

Bardo and Taylor compared the coming of high-speed Internet access, with its virtually unlimited bandwidth capacity, to such developments as the railroad, the interstate highway system and airports – historic events that had far-reaching impact on the region’s economy.

“This day, it’s like we are driving the golden spike when the railroads came together,” Taylor said. “We are now hitched to the world.”

With the opening of the 1,600-square-foot “MetaPoP” (or a Major Point of Presence on the Internet) linking WNC directly to the Washington, D.C., area, the region will soon have the same type of “Tier 2” Internet access as Charlotte, Raleigh and the Research Triangle Park. With federal funding obtained by Taylor, the ERC is building a fiber-optics network that, when complete, will stretch from Cherokee County in the west to Mecklenburg County in the east, and extend to Upstate South Carolina.

“What we will have is a virtual Tier 2 region, not just a Tier 2 city. That is a very, very important difference in what’s going on in Western North Carolina. It is going to make this region a much more attractive destination for a variety of new businesses looking for a place to locate,” Bardo said.

“We already have the wonderful quality of life of the mountains. We already have the values and the work ethic of the mountain people. We have the ease of access, and we don’t have to spend three hours stuck in gridlock like some of our more urban counterparts. Now, with the increase in the quality of education programs, with the addition of engineering programs at Western and the University of North Carolina-Asheville, and with the coming of high-speed, high-capacity access to the Internet, the entire region is poised to prosper as never before.”

Much of the network, with state-of-the-art electronic equipment enabling simultaneous transmission of voice, data and video signals, is expected to be complete by the end of the year. The high-capacity information pipelines will advance several other initiatives under way at Western, including the Adventure of the American Mind program to train teachers in using the digitized resources of the Library of Congress, and the university’s high-tech partnerships with the University of North Carolina-Charlotte, Clemson University, University of Southern California, Stanford University, Furman University and UNCA.

Taylor established the ERC in 1997 to help WNC find ways to participate in the knowledge-based economy of the 21st century.

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Last modified: Wednesday, May 7, 2003
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