The time and money was running out on the Rural Internet Access Authority. Legislation signed by Governor Mike Easley keeps the RIAA alive in the form of an e-NC initiative, but no state funding was included.

The lack of funds hasn’t stopped Jane Patterson, who has run the RIAA since it was launched three years ago to foster the spread of high-speed bandwidth connectivity across the state, from establishing a high-profile agenda.

“We’re very pleased that we can continue to work for getting rural areas connected,” Patterson tells Local Tech Wire. “We will target a new area now — distressed areas in urban communities.”

The original mandate for the RIAA expires Dec. 31.

Patterson, who served as a top science and technology advisor to former governor Jim Hunt, points out with great pride how the RIAA has stitched together projects from Maneto to Murphy to get more people and businesses trained and onto the Internet at high speed.

“The June report from the Federal Communications Commission showed that North Carolina had moved to 14th place from 34th in broadband,” she says. “That’s a hell of a job in two years.”

Seeking federal funds

Patterson says the RIAA and eNC supporters, such as recently retired UNC-Wilmington Chancellor James Leutze, knew the state could provide no money in the new authorization bill. “But there was no money,” she adds. The project has received no state funding, although Patterson says the General Assembly has been supportive in several other ways.

The RIAA was launched with funds provided by MCNC, the $30 million coming from profits of the sale of a technology spinoff known as Cronos. Over time, the RIAA looked for other funding sources, such as grants and federal research money.

“We know there’s tons of federal money out there,” Patterson says. “We could use federal money to support activities all across the sate.”

Finding funds is essential she believes “to keep in operation for the next year. That would really help us solidify some of the initial gains we have made.”

Patterson says she hopes to stay on in her role at eNC but adds, “If the new board wants me.”

The legislation requires an 18-member board to oversee eNC operations. Six come from the House, six from the Senate, and six from the governor. There also will be an ex officio board of six people from various state agencies.

Leutze’s term as chairman of the RIAA board expires in December.
“He’s indicated he probably will not seek another three-year term,” Patterson says. She adds that she will miss working with Leutze. Both share a deep, intense commitment to high tech. “He has been terrific,” Patterson says. “We also had a great board, and we have good volunteers across the state.”

ENC has enough funds left from the original MCNC windfall to run the operation through the end of the year. In that time, work continues on a variety of projects. Two new reports deal with an updated survey of the state’s technology and also on the potential economic impact of grid computing.

Several projects also continue to be rolled out with the support of eNC funds. The RIAA has produced a wide variety of wireless, DSL and other broadband and training initiatives. Patterson also has high hopes for the group’s Leg Up” project, which is designed to assist local governments in providing transactional applications over the Net.