MAIN returns to the airwaves with new frequency, 103.7 FM

June 25, 2013 by Wally Bowen

For the first time in its 10-year history, the radio station operated by the nonprofit Mountain Area Information Network (MAIN) can be heard north of Pack Square thanks to a new frequency, 103.7 FM, granted last February by the Federal Communications Commission.

The station, known as MAIN-FM, is now heard throughout the greater Asheville area in a 10-mile radius from its downtown transmitter location. Before the frequency change, the progressive news and music station could only be heard in parts of West Asheville and small areas south and east of downtown.

The 100-watt, low-power FM station first went on the air in October, 2003, only to discover that restrictive FCC rules limited its broadcast signal to one watt. Congress ordered the FCC to loosen restrictions on LPFM stations with passage of the Local Community Radio Act in 2010. The FCC’s new rules took effect last January.

“This power increase has been a long time coming,” said MAIN executive director Wally Bowen. “But it’s worth the wait. The difference in our signal is like night and day.” The progressive news and music station can now be heard in Weaverville to the north, Warren Wilson College to the east, Enka-Candler to the west, and Fletcher to the south.

Bowen said the power increase is critical to MAIN’s goal of creating a new business model for journalism by enabling citizens to spend their Internet dollars to support local news and information. MAIN has operated as a non-profit Internet service provider since 1996, hosting personal and small business websites and delivering wireless broadband service in Buncombe, Madison, Yancey and Mitchell counties.

MAIN-FM is the only local station with a live broadcast of Democracy Now!, the one-hour daily news program anchored by award-winning journalist Amy Goodman. Democracy Now! airs weekdays at 8 a.m., with re-broadcasts at 6 p.m. and midnight.

The station also features the Thom Hartman Program, one of the nation’s top progressive talk shows. The program airs live each weekday from 3 to 6 p.m. on MAIN-FM 103.7.

“Syndicated programs like Democracy Now! and Thom Hartmann are critical to our mission because Asheville’s citizens deserve to be part of live national conversations about politics and public affairs,” said Bowen. “But our ultimate goal is to bring more local voices to the Asheville airwaves.”

Local shows include “Asheville & the Arts,” “Our Southern Community,” “Veterans Voices for Peace,” “Drop Beats, Not Bombs,” and “Jazz Unlimited.” The MAIN-FM 103.7 schedule can be found at: http://main-fm.org/schedule

MAIN-FM is currently seeking proposals for news and public affairs programs on topics that are unique to Asheville, such as local food, sustainability, alternative medicine, and the environment. Program proposals may be submitted at: volunteer@main.nc.us. END

Last-mile broadband crisis hobbles WNC economy

June 13, 2013 by Wally Bowen

Western North Carolina is facing a “last-mile” broadband crisis according to preliminary data from a study mapping high-speed Internet access across the region. “Last-mile” refers to service at individual homes and small businesses.

The study, conducted by the nonprofit Mountain Area Information Network (MAIN), found that only 15 percent of respondents enjoy Internet access that meets the Federal Communications Commission‘s minimum speeds of 4 megabits per second (Mbps) download and 1Mbps upload.

Almost half the respondents – 48 percent – report no broadband access via a cable or digital subscriber line (DSL). The most common form of broadband reported was DSL from incumbent telephone companies Frontier or AT&T; it was cited by 37 percent of respondents. No DSL user reported an upload speed that
met the FCC’s minimum of 1 Mbps.

Fifteen percent reported using cable broadband service. Cable subscribers were the only respondents whose broadband service met or exceeded the FCC’s minimum standard for both upload and download speeds.

“This data confirms our worst fears,” said Wally Bowen, executive director of MAIN. “Reports of sub-par DSL, plus those reporting no access, comprise 85 percent of responses; that’s a huge majority reporting inadequate broadband access.”

Bowen called the results “preliminary” due to the relatively small study sample, but he said it tracks with data released May 13 by the FCC ranking North Carolina last among the 50 states in residential broadband availability (Table 13).

Christopher Mitchell, a broadband advocate with the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, called the findings “disturbing” because inferior access handicaps efforts to build sustainable local economies.

“Such a slow upload speed prevents people from being productive at home in a digital economy that values working remotely,” said Mitchell. “Slow upload speeds make video-conferencing difficult if not impossible. That puts the rural entrepreneur at a competitive disadvantage.”

Vanessa Clark, a McDowell County resident who still uses dial-up, suspects that the lack of broadband access has hurt her property value. “Perhaps moving might be the best option but who wants to buy a home in an area with such limitations?”

The study uses FCC maps predicting broadband availability to let Internet users in 16 mountain counties compare their actual experience with the FCC data. The FCC maps are based on data provided by cable and telephone companies.

Of 240 respondents, 115 reported no access to broadband via cable or DSL at their home or business. The majority of these reports confirm the FCC maps predicting no wireline access. However, 13 respondents citing “no access” reside in locations where the FCC maps said wireline broadband should be available.

Sixteen percent of the “no access” group reported using satellite or fixed wireless broadband services.

“Given the small sample, we need more people to visit the website and document their broadband experience,” said Bowen. The study website is: http://www.main.nc.us/bbmap

Participants in the study are also encouraged to share their stories about inadequate broadband access. http://www.main.nc.us/bbmap/tell-your-story

Residents in the following counties are eligible to participate in the ongoing study: Buncombe, Cherokee, Clay, Graham, Haywood, Henderson, Jackson, Macon, Madison, McDowell, Mitchell, Polk, Rutherford, Swain, Transylvania, and Yancey.

The study is funded by the Rural Policy Action Partnership, which includes the Institute for Emerging Issues at NC State, the Center for Rural Strategies, and the Kellogg Foundation. END

MAIN awarded $10,000 grant for civic mapping website

September 25, 2012 by Wally Bowen

ASHEVILLE – The nonprofit Mountain Area Information Network (MAIN) has been awarded a $10,000 Rural Digital Advocacy grant to build an online mapping and data visualization website for nonprofit organizations in Western North Carolina.

Awarded by the Rural Policy Action Partnership, the grant was one of six national awards to organizations to demonstrate the use of digital tools for rural advocacy and policy change. The partnership includes the Institute for Emerging Issues at NC State, the Center for Rural Strategies, and Network Impact, with funding provided by the Kellogg Foundation.

The project, entitled “Mapping Our Issues: Data Visualization Made Easy for Rural Activists,” has two phases. In phase one, MAIN will build a web-based mapping and data-visualization tool to enable WNC residents to document the availability, cost and performance of broadband Internet access in their locale. The tool will allow residents to compare their broadband experience with availability data provided by incumbent telephone and cable companies to the Federal Communications Commission.

In a report published Aug. 21, the FCC estimates that more than 48,000 residents of 16 mountain counties live beyond the reach of broadband lines from a cable or telephone provider. The number of WNC residents without broadband is even higher when cost and affordability are factored, the report said.

Phase two of the project will provide training for rural activists in how to use digital mapping and data-visualization to deepen public understanding of their issues. This training will initially focus on staff and volunteers from four local nonprofit partners: Appalachian Sustainable Agriculture Project, Canary Coalition, Disability Partners, and the Western Region Education Services Alliance.

“Digital mapping and data visualization have long been used by Fortune 500 companies and government agencies to promote their issues and policy solutions,” said Wally Bowen, the project director and founder of MAIN. “With advances in open-source software, it’s now possible for grassroots organizations to harness the power of digital mapping and data visualization,” he said.

Digital mapping, often called GIS for “geographic information systems,” has been around for more than 25 years. GIS can map everything from the spread of communicable disease or environmental pollution to the geographic distribution of tax breaks and campaign donations. Open source GIS is free software developed and refined over time by programmers from all over the world.

“Sets of data can be dry and intimidating,” said Bowen. “Data visualization brings out the story hidden in data, and GIS can relate that story to a specific place on the map.”

“There are tons and tons of public data available on any issue you can name,” said Neil Thomas, an Asheville-based GIS consultant. “GIS and data visualization allow you to analyze and present this data in ways that inform citizens and advances the public discussion around critical policy issues,” he said. Thomas’ firm, Resource Data Inc., is a consulting partner for the “Mapping Our Issues” project.

The project’s technical director, Richard Civille, calls open source GIS “the most important innovation in nonprofit technology since the advent of social media” to boost public understanding of critical issues and to empower public participation. “Like social media, these tools can be used for crowd-sourcing to create and present local data about local issues,” he said.

Civille noted, however, that grassroots organizations still face a “learning curve” in using GIS and data visualization. “It’s important to find local technical volunteers and partners who can help, and nonprofit leaders need to understand these new opportunities and challenges, and embrace them,” he said. Civille is a co-founder of Navigating Our Future, a nonprofit developer of civic IT infrastructure based in the San Juan Islands of Puget Sound, WA.

Bowen called the “Mapping Our Issues” project “an important step in MAIN’s mission of supporting local journalism and citizen voices” through the local ownership of media and IT infrastructure.

The project builds on Civic Navigator, a prototype GIS website launched earlier this year by MAIN, Navigating Our Future, and two other community media organizations, Access Humboldt in California and Chittenden County TV in Vermont. That effort recently took second place in the Knight Foundation’s Civic Data Challenge.

The “Mapping Our Issues” website is expected to launch by mid-October. MAIN’s Civic Navigator website is available at: http://www.main.nc.us/civic/

For more information, contact Wally Bowen at 828.255.0182 or e-mail: mapping@main.nc.us. For information on becoming a technical volunteer for “Mapping Our Issues,” please visit: http://www.main.nc.us/mapvol END

Amy Goodman in Asheville — Friday, Sept. 7

August 31, 2012 by Wally Bowen

[Please note that advance ticket sales at Malaprops and online will end at noon Friday, Sept. 7. Tickets will be available at the door.]

Print Printable Flyer

Amy Goodman - The Silenced Majority

Award-winning journalist Amy Goodman will speak in Asheville on Friday, Sept. 7 to benefit the nonprofit Mountain Area Information Network (MAIN).

The 7 p.m talk will be held in Ferguson Auditorium on the campus of Asheville-Buncombe Technical Community College. Admission is $10 for adults and $5 for students. Advance tickets available online and at Malaprops Bookstore. Proceeds go to MAIN’s “Take Back the Media!” capital campaign.

Following the talk, Goodman will be signing her just-released book, “The Silenced Majority,” with co-author Denis Moynihan. The book examines the power of ordinary people to change the media based on accounts documented during populist uprisings from Fukushima to Tahrir Square and Occupy Wall Street.

Goodman is the host and co-founder of Democracy Now!, the daily news show broadcast on more than 1,000 radio and TV stations around the world. The program is heard locally each weekday at 8 a.m. on MAIN-FM 103.5, the low-power community radio station operated by Mountain Area Information Network. MAIN-FM also re-broadcasts Democracy Now! at 6 p.m. The video edition of Democracy Now! airs weekdays at 10 a.m. on the Blue Ridge Community College education access TV channel, BRCC-TV, in Henderson County.

Goodman’s talk in Asheville will be her first following Democracy Now!’s coverage of the 2012 Democratic and Republican national conventions. In 2008, Goodman and two Democracy Now! producers were among a number of journalists arrested during the opening day of the GOP convention in St. Paul, MN.

Goodman and Democracy Now! filed a civil lawsuit against the local police and the US Secret Service. The suit was settled last October for $100,000 plus an agreement by the police departments to train their personnel in the First Amendment’s protections of journalists and a free press.

“We are thrilled to host Amy Goodman the day after the Democratic Convention concludes in Charlotte,” said Wally Bowen, founder and executive director of MAIN. “With the unprecedented flood of corporate money into our politics, truly independent journalists like Amy Goodman are more important than ever before.”

The nonprofit Democracy Now! does not accept advertising or corporate underwriting, making it one of the only independent national news programs in the United States. Its awards include Best Investigating Reporting from the Society of Professional Journalists, the George Polk Award for Broadcast Reporting, and the Alfred I. DuPont-Columbia Award for Excellence in Broadcasting.

MAIN-FM is the only radio station in the Asheville area that broadcasts Democracy Now! live each weekday morning. Bowen said Amy Goodman’s talk coincides with a major power increase for MAIN-FM, which had been forced to broadcast at reduced power since going on the air in 2003. The FCC recently relaxed the rules over opposition from commercial broadcasters. The date for MAIN-FM’s power increase is pending FCC approval.

Founded in 1995, the Mountain Area Information Network is a nonprofit Internet service provider which hosts websites for citizens, small businesses, and nonprofits throughout western North Carolina. MAIN also offers high-speed Internet access in parts of Buncombe, Madison, Mitchell and Yancey counties. MAIN is pioneering a new business model for journalism by enabling local residents to spend their Internet dollars to support independent news and public affairs programming.

For more information, visit: http://www.main.nc.us or call 828.255.0182. END

MAIN offers mapping tool for activists

July 29, 2012 by Wally Bowen

The nonprofit Mountain Area Information Network (MAIN) has launched a mapping tool prototype for citizens and grassroots groups in Western North Carolina.

For years, big corporations and government agencies have enjoyed the power of GIS and data visualization to shape public policies and public opinion. Until now, the cost and technical complexity of these tools have kept them out of the reach of average citizens.

MAIN is partnering with community media groups in California, Vermont, Washington, and South Carolina to develop this suite of GIS and data visualization tools. In the months ahead, we will be expanding this prototype by adding more WNC counties, new layers of data, and new applications.

MAIN is also seeking funding to provide tutorials in the use of GIS/DV for staff and volunteers with WNC grassroots organizations.

Please visit the link above for a preview of MAIN’s “Mapping Western North Carolina” website. And while you are there, please fill out the brief “Civic Engagement” survey. It’s quick, anonymous, and it could help MAIN and its partners compete for the Knight Foundation’s “Civic Data Challenge.”

Feedback is welcome at: webmaster@main.nc.us

Corporate Corruption & Media Reform

July 12, 2012 by Wally Bowen

Dear Friends of Independent Media:

“The Spreading Scourge of Corporate Corruption” is an article in Wednesday’s New York Times, and it includes this sentence: “Perpetrators understandably do their best to hide the dirty deeds from public view.”

What this otherwise excellent article fails to mention is this:

It’s the job of independent journalism to pull back the curtain and expose the “dirty deeds” of corporate corruption.

Or as Amy Goodman of “Democracy Now!” says, independent journalists “go where the silence is” to report on what government and corporate elites don’t want us to know.

Corporate media produce stories to maintain a politically passive public, activated primarily to shop.

Independent media produce stories to create an informed public, activated to engage in public policy and civic life, even to the point of challenging the dominant corporate order.

Since 1996, only one organization in Western North Carolina has consistently fought BOTH for independent journalism and greater citizen-access to media. That organization is MAIN, the Mountain Area Information Network.

Now, MAIN is at a crossroads. We need your help.

Please support our “Media Independence for WNC” fund drive with a generous tax-deductible donation via our secure server.

Or mail your donation to: MAIN, 34 Wall Street, Suite 407, Asheville, NC 28801.

And check out how your donation will be used here.

For Media Independence!

The MAIN Staff and Board of Directors

PS – Stand by for news of MAIN-FM’s imminent return to the local airwaves with a much-improved signal!

PSS – If you are new to Western North Carolina, check out this “Timeline of MAIN’s Major Accomplishments, 1996-2012.”

Bowen to speak on Internet freedom and spectrum policy in D.C.

May 10, 2012 by Wally Bowen

Local media activist Wally Bowen will speak on the growing shift to mobile Internet access and the impact of federal spectrum policies at two conferences in Washington, D.C. in May. Bowen is founder and executive director of the nonprofit Mountain Area Information Network (MAIN).

On May 16, Bowen will discuss “Civil Rights and the Public Interest in Spectrum Policy” as part of a panel sponsored by the Media & Democracy Coalition and attended by representatives from more than 50 social and economic justice organizations in the Washington, D.C. area.

On May 23, Bowen will participate in a conference entitled “From Broadcast to Broadband: New Theories of the Public Interest in Wireless” sponsored by the New America Foundation, Public Knowledge, and Rutgers University’s Institute for Information Policy and Law. He will take part in a panel discussion on “What is the Public Interest in Wireless.”

MAIN has been providing wireless broadband services in Buncombe, Madison, Yancey and Mitchell counties since 2003. Bowen calls spectrum policy the “civil rights issue of the 21st century.” Spectrum policy, he says, will determine if a handful of corporations controls the Internet, or if community networks will be free to provide alternative Internet access that preserves civil liberties, supports local economies, and empowers grassroots innovation. For more information, visit www.main.nc.us.