NC agency expands Internet mandate

North Carolina's Rural Internet Access Authority, official site

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North Carolina's highly regarded Rural Internet Access Authority (RIAA) will be able to develop high-speed Internet access in urban areas statewide, beginning next year.

Gov. Michael Easley recently signed into law a measure that extends the public/private RIAA's mandate for another three years beginning January 2004, under the control of the newly created e-NC Authority.

The RIAA can use its experience with wireless technologies to increase access in urban areas, said Jane Patterson, executive director of the authority. Established telecommunications companies show the same reluctance to provide high-speed services in poor urban areas as they have in remote rural areas, she said, and wireless is often the only technology the RIAA has had available to provide those services quickly.

Fifteen of the state's 100 counties are distressed urban areas, Patterson said. But their access needs can't be addressed under the current authority, she said.

"I think application of the lessons learned developing access programs in rural counties will make development in these urban areas go that much faster," Patterson said. "There's a crying need to get small businesses (in urban areas) online, to improve digital literacy and to build up the infrastructure in those areas."

The e-NC Authority will also begin using the Federal Communications Commission's definition of high-speed access to set the floor level for Internet services in rural and urban areas. Patterson believes that will counter attempts by the telecom industry to throttle back the definition of high-speed service.

"The companies are trying to get even lower speeds into the law," she said. "In the [statute setting up the RIAA] 128 kilobits/sec is the definition of high speed, whereas we actually have 384 kilobits/sec access everywhere now."

FCC guidelines use 200 kilobits/sec or more in both uplink and downlink directions as the basis for defining high-speed access.

The e-NC Authority was needed to describe the RIAA's expanded mission and because the acronym of the current authority could have caused legal problems, Patterson said. The Recording Industry Association of America is known nationally as the RIAA and is a passionate defender of trademark rights. Changing the name of the North Carolina RIAA was considered a prudent protection against potential legal messes, she said.

Brian Robinson is a freelance journalist based in Portland, Ore. He can be reached at [email protected]

About the Author

Brian Robinson is a freelance writer based in Portland, Ore.

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