More than 82 percent of households in North Carolina have access to high-speed Internet access, according to a new report from the e-NC Authority.
However, much work remains to be done in providing more North Carolinians with the opportunity to use broadband, said Jane Patterson, the e-NC executive director. The group is seeking passage of legislation in the General Assembly for $7.5 million in funds to offer as incentives to broadband providers to expand their networks.
"We’ve gone without extra incentives, and without those we have gotten stuck and are not able to move as fast," Patterson said. "That’s why we went to the legislature and asked for the $7.5 million."
e-NC intends to target growth efforts at 26 counties where broadband access remains below 70 percent. Among the targeted counties are Franklin, Person, Chatham, Vance and Warren.
"With the incentive money in the bill we can get some of the bigger companies to go into those tougher areas," Patterson said. "The cable and telephone companies have been very supportive of the bill."
If the legislation is passed, the state funds would have to be matched, Patterson said. She also said the money is a one-time appropriation. e-NC was founded in part with $30 million from MCNC, the former Microelectronics Center of North Carolina. The money was part of a financial windfall gained through the sale of a spin-off company based on technology developed at MCNC. The last of the MCNC funds was allocated to e-NC in December of 2004.
The House version of the bill was approved on Wednesday by the Science and Technology committee. The Senate bill remains to be considered by appropriations committee, she added.
e-NC also would not expire, or "sunset", as a state-supported agency as scheduled on Dec. 31 of this year if the bill is approved.
Broadband net access through either cable or digital subscriber line service is a choice for 70 percent or more of the residents in 74 of the state’s 100 counties as of Dec. 31, 2005, e-NC said. That’s up 64 from counties in 2004.
Overall broadband access actually dipped slightly to 82.01 percent from e-NC’s previous annual report, which found that 82.33 percent of homes had the choice of using the Internet at high speed.
North Carolina ranks 11th nationally in terms of high-speed access lines used for Internet access with 1,238,000, according to 2005 figures from the FCC.
In central North Carolina, 70 percent or more of households in Wake, Durham, Orange, Johnson, Harnett, Lee, Cumberland, Sampson, Hoke, Moore, Halifax, Nash, Edgecombe, Wilson, Wayne and Granville counties can utilize broadband.
Person County moved up one category from 2005, with 50-69.99 percent of households able to use broadband. Franklin, Vance and Chatham counties are in the same category.
The only county where less than 50 percent of homes can use broadband is Warren.
Statewide, broadband reaches less than 50 percent of homes in five counties. That’s down from nine in 2004 and 25 in 2002.
The number of counties where 50-69.9 percent of homes could reach the Internet fell to 21 counties in 2005 from 27 in 2004.
"We believe the e-NC Authority’s efforts to help Internet service providers offer affordable access have substantially contributed to the progress indicated over the years in this study," said Oppie Jordan, chair of the e-NC. "In addition to charting North Carolina’s progress, this report also helps us identify areas still in need. We hope to continue to work with public and private entities to ensure every household and business in the state is offered high-speed Internet access at a reasonable price."
e-NC figures do not take into account broadband services available either through wireless or satellite delivery.
The e-NC is a state-supported organization charged with the mission of spreading broadband access in North Carolina. When the organization was formed in 2000 as the Rural Internet Access Authority, high-speed Internet access was available to less than 30 percent of households in the state.
A copy of the report can be downloaded at the e-nc.org website: .