RALEIGH, N.C. — Jane Patterson has been at the forefront of efforts to bring Internet and videoconferencing since before most people had ever head of the former or thought the other would ever be affordable, let along work technically.

So it should have come to a surprise to no one on Thursday night when Smith’s efforts at the e-NC Authority paid off with one of the North Carolina Technology Association’s prestigious “21 Awards.”

As a technical and science advisor to Governor Jim Hunt throughout Hunt’s domination of North Carolina politics in the 1990s, Smith tirelessly and resolutely led efforts to build what came to be known as the North Carolina Information Highway. Among the first such broadband efforts in the country, Patterson sought to create a network for use by schools to offer distance learning through videoconferencing.

When the Internet moved out of government labs and college classrooms to become a business and entertainment tool, Patterson pushed state government and agencies to embrace it. Her efforts augment those by people at such organizations as MCNC to put North Carolina on the technology map.

In 2000 and 2001, she worked with the North Carolina Rural Center and convinced MCNC to funnel $30 million into an effort to spread broadband access across every of the state’s 100 counties. While the Triangle, Triad and Charlotte had plenty of high-speed connectivity, many smaller cities and especially rural areas did not.

The resulting agency, now known as e-NC, has turned that $30 million in seed money and other grants plus contributions from the private sector to lift North Carolina to 11th place among the 50 states from 43rd, based on statistics compiled by the Federal Communications Commission.

The e-NC has also helped create a series of job centers built around telecommuting.

This week, e-NC is hosting a conference in Chapel Hill on municipal broadband efforts, which could be another tool for spreading the Internet broadband wealth to more people.

So here’s a deserved tip of the hat to Patterson and e-NC for their efforts. The NCTA’s selection of e-NC as its “Top Government/Not-For-Profit Of The Year” is truly well deserved.