ASHEVILLE, N.C. – The Mountain Area Information Network (MAIN) wraps up a year-end online and on-air fund drive New Year’s Eve as the nonprofit Internet service provider (ISP) sets its sights on a new year of efforts to extend broadband Internet services to underserved areas of Asheville and western North Carolina.
“Our region has an historic opportunity to realize a vision for long-term economic prosperity that is home-grown and independent of the ebbs and flows of Wall Street,” said Michelle Smith, a MAIN board member and fund-drive chair. “Since 1996, MAIN has been a national leader in creating locally accountable media infrastructure, including Internet access, to meet the needs of Main Street instead of Wall Street,” she said.
Smith called MAIN “a remarkable success story” because it survived a decade in which the independent Internet service provider (ISP) sector was virtually eliminated. “MAIN not only survived, we also built a radio station, helped countless citizens, businesses and nonprofits with their Internet needs – and we are playing a growing role in shaping state and federal Internet policies,” she said.
While many policymakers assume that only large national corporations can build and operate broadband networks, MAIN has shown that local and regional broadband networks are not only possible, they are more cost-effective. “The big telephone and cable providers are investing in expensive monitoring technology to track how their subscribers use the Internet,” said MAIN founder and executive director Wally Bowen. “Local nonprofit networks have no need for these technologies. That’s one reason our networks are more cost-effective to build and operate.”
Bowen says local broadband networks have other advantages: they don’t outsource jobs, and they keep Internet dollars in the local economy. “We also promote what economists call ‘social capital‘ formation, which means that our IT staff is available to share their expertise in the community as mentors for our youth and as technical advisors for local entrepreneurs,” Bowen said.
On Thursday, Dec. 17, MAIN unveiled a plan for the nation’s first “community cloud computing” platform for advanced online tools and applications. “Most small businesses and nonprofits aren’t aware of, or can’t afford, some of the powerful new tools – such as cloud services and virtualization – now used by many Fortune 500 companies,” said Bowen. “MAIN is ideally positioned to provide cloud computing services that are customized for our local and regional economy.”
Virtualization enables a single computer to function like multiple machines, helping businesses and nonprofits save on hardware and energy costs. Cloud computing allows a user to operate software and services from remotely hosted computers rather than on the user’s own machine. MAIN’s partner in the project is Red Hat, the Raleigh-based open-source software company and global leader in cloud computing design and implementation.
MAIN is leading a coalition of local agencies and nonprofits to prepare a federal broadband grant proposal – to include the cloud computing project – to expand public-access to the Internet and provide training for underserved citizens in public housing and in the city’s homeless shelters. MAIN also has a pending $2.5 million stimulus proposal to expand broadband access in underserved areas such as Graham County, Mt. Mitchell State Park, and Asheville’s public housing neighborhoods. The stimulus program, however, has been temporarily suspended as federal officials seek guidance from a new national broadband strategy.
“This is a difficult time for nonprofits and not a good time for fundraising, as so many of our neighbors are struggling,” said Bowen. “Internet access is essential for surviving in today’s economy. You can give a fish to a hungry person, or teach them how to fish. Our work does the latter by empowering those who are at-risk to help themselves.”
The fund drive features radio interviews with area citizens whose lives have been impacted by MAIN, as well as musical guests including Jen & The Juice, Galen Kipar, Dawn Humphrey, and members of Larry Keel and the Natural Bridge. Listen and donate online at www.main-fm.org or call 828-258-0085. END