PITTSBURGH—The Appalachian Regional Commission (ARC) and the Claude Worthington Benedum Foundation have given researchers at Carnegie Mellon University's Center for Appalachian Network Access (CANA) $250,000 to implement two new wireless broadband networks linking isolated rural towns in Appalachia to the rest of the world via high speed wireless Internet connectivity.
The first project is taking place in Glenville, W. VA., a town of 2000, located in the central part of the state some 160 south of Pittsburgh and 85 miles north of Charleston. Like many small, rural communities, it is under-accessed by commercial Internet providers. Residents and businesses must depend on slow, costly dial-up service to connect to the Internet.
CANA was co-founded earlier this year by Bruce Maggs, associate professor of computer science, and Pittsburgh investment banker John Whitehill. Its purpose is to bring the Internet to Appalachian communities like Glenville and raise the literacy and economic profile of the region.
Broadband connectivity allows high-speed transmission of large amounts of data, including multimedia and video. According to Maggs, who is leading the effort, this new high-speed connectivity should have a lasting impact on Glenville's economy.
"Wireless Internet means that geographic isolation can no longer keep rural communities from conducting commerce with the greater world." said Maggs. "Our project in Glenville is a prime example of how technology can be used strategically to bring together public and private institutions to add tangible value and quality of life enhancements to communities,"
For two week in July, Maggs, Whitehill and others from Carnegie Mellon's School of Computer Science, the H. John Heinz III School of Public Policy and Management and the business school collaborated with members of Glenville's business, educational and government sectors on the campus of Glenville State College (GSC). They began the ongoing project of building the new network and, according to Maggs, they should have the first subscribers on-line within two to three months.
"We see great opportunities for schools, hospitals, and other nonprofit institutions, along with private businesses," said Whitehill. "Once we have Glenville fully operational, we are planning to replicate this concept in other rural communities throughout Appalachia."
The project generated huge enthusiasm in Glenville, a town of 2000. Maggs, Whitehill and their implementation team were named honorary citizens of West Virginia by the state's Governor Bob Wise. They held a town meeting in Glenville to explain the project to the entire community.
"The resources aren't there for small communities to do these projects on their own," explained Glennville State College Interim President Robert Freeman. "GSC is excited to partner with Carnegie Mellon in this wireless implementation. This is a project that will touch everyone in this community."
The new broadband network is a continuation of several technological and educational initiatives started by Larry R. Baker, associate vice president of technology at Glenville State College who leads the effort for the Glenville community.
"I have been delighted with the commitment and excitement for the project that has been demonstrated by our political, community, and college leaders," Baker said. "Members of the community and the college will continue to look for additional partners as we continue to implement the project."
Maggs said CANA hopes to replicate the Glenville project in an appropriate community in Southwestern Pennsylvania--possibly somewhere in Fayette County. He explained that while CANA initially seeks to demonstrate how wireless broadband telecommunications can promote competitiveness in rural communities, they want to serve as a regional resource, helping to deploy additional networks in underserved rural areas throughout Appalachia by providing technical, operational and educational support.
Congress established the Appalachian Regional Commission in 1965 to support economic and social development in Appalachia, a 200,000 square-mile region from the spine of the Appalachian Mountains in Southern New York to Northern Mississippi. The ACR programs include parts of 13 states, and all of West Virginia.
The Claude Worthington Benedum Foundation is located in Pittsburgh and makes grants in West Virginia and southwestern Pennsylvania.