North Carolina nonprofit ISP applies for broadband stimulus grant

The Mountain Area Information Network (MAIN), a non-profit Internet service provider based in the beautiful town of Asheville, North Carolina is banding together with a group of fiber optic broadband providers to apply for a broadband stimulus grant. Wally Bowen, executive director of MAIN, says that they are teaming up with ERC Broadband, Pangaea and BalsamWest FiberNet to put together a regional plan that includes a fiber network (to handle high-bandwidth, data-hungry applications), middle-mile and last-mile networks.

BalsamWest Fibernet is a fiber provider that was founded by Drake Enterprises and the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians. It has 300 miles of underground fiber that serves ten counties in Georgia, North Carolina and Tennessee. Pangaea is an Internet service provider run by e-Polk, Inc. (a non-profit) that owns a fiber network serving Polk and Rutherford counties in western North Carolina. ERC Broadband is a part of the Education and Research Consortium of the Western Carolinas, Inc. (ERC), a non-profit organization that, in April 2003, opened its first Point of Presence (POP) in Asheville, NC. The POP is connected to Tier 1 and Tier 2 peering gateway nodes in Atlanta and Raleigh. Using a $1o million grant from the Library of Congress, ERC Broadband expanded the network to operate a redundant N x OC-48 SONET optical backbone in Upstate South Carolina and Western North Carolina with two rings in Asheville, a connection in Washington (MAE East), and gateways in Charlotte, Raleigh/Durham, and Atlanta. Through a network of seven POPs, ERC Broadband provides dedicated, low latency, IP connectivity to Tier 1 ISP NAPs in Washington and Atlanta.

MAIN already delivers Internet access to Asheville, but Bowen wants to extend wireless broadband coverage to include low-income households in this community. He would like to see other rural communities in North Carolina deploy networks similar to the MAIN network in Asheville. Indeed, Bowen has written a how-to manual for organizations that want to deploy a wireless broadband network using broadband stimulus money based upon his experience running and growing MAIN.

It’s important for small organizations such as MAIN to band together with other groups, especially fiber providers, because the NTIA and RUS grant application process is very burdensome. I noted in my How to Get a Grant Guide that the data collection requirements put small non-profits at a huge disadvantage. So the only way they can gain access to federal grant money is to team up with other small groups and larger organizations.

Related articles:

How to get a grant under NTIA and RUS: guide available for download

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