The e-NC Initiative, a statewide effort to connect all North Carolinians to the Internet, has received a donation of 100 color printers from Lexmark International to help outfit sites where citizens can get free computer and Internet access.

The announcement came last week during a luncheon at the Sheraton Capital Center Hotel to recognize 81 North Carolina counties and the Eastern Band of the Cherokee as official e-communities, which are rural counties actively working to bring high-speed Internet access and training to their areas.

Lexmark, a developer, manufacturer and supplier of printing solutions, is donating 100 of its Z53 Color Jetprinters to e-NC through its Print Art Educational Program, a national, philanthropic initiative to expand and enrich the art and cultural education resources in select school districts and communities. As part of the program, each printer will be accompanied by a “Print Gallery” CD-ROM.

“Lexmark’s donation is a great example of the public and private sectors working together for the good of communities,” James Leutze, chairman of the Rural Internet Access Authority and chancellor of the University of North Carolina at Wilmington, said in a statement. “Computers and the Internet are an incredible way for people to experience the world, and access information and services, whether they live in urban centers or far-flung, rural areas.”

The printers and associated materials will be distributed to communities across the state, including the 64 counties awarded grants from e-NC in late July to build or expand public access sites. The donated materials also will be used to help create four pilot public access sites in Kerr Drug store locations in Bryson City, Kinston, Tabor City and Windsor. The four pilot sites are being developed through a partnership between e-NC, Kerr Drug, HP, Sprint and Dnet Internet Services.

To attain the distinction of being named official e-communities, counties had to successfully complete an extensive technology planning process and have worked to galvanize community support for and involvement in the digital economy.