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April 27, 2000: Working to Expand High-Speed Internet Access in Rural America

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Wednesday, April 26, 2000


"We're here to tell you we believe that in rural North Carolina and in rural America, Internet access ought to be just as likely as telephone access…You ought to be able to use it in the fastest possible way…And if you can, it'll mean more jobs, more businesses, higher incomes and more opportunity."

President Bill Clinton
Wednesday, April 26, 2000

Today, as part of his Digital Divide New Markets trip, President Clinton visited Whiteville, North Carolina, where he highlighted the importance of providing broadband (high-speed) Internet access to rural communities. The President pointed out that in order to fully participate in the digital economy, rural communities like Whiteville need access to advanced telecommunications services. The President announced key public- and private-sector initiatives; held a roundtable discussion with high-tech CEOs, small business owners, and elected officials, including North Carolina Governor Jim Hunt and members of Congress; and spoke to the people of Whiteville about expanding digital opportunity to rural communities.

Broadband is Critical for Rural Economic Development. Telecommunications companies are beginning to provide broadband Internet access that is 10 to 100 times faster than today's Internet. This high-speed access is important to rural Americans for economic opportunity and lifelong learning and to rural businesses to provide distance learning to their employees, communicate electronically with their customers and suppliers, and participate in the rapidly growing business-to-business electronic marketplace.

Rural Communities Lack Affordable Access to Broadband. Despite the rapid expansion of the digital economy, many rural areas still face barriers to information technology:

  • Lack of High-Speed Service. More than 56 percent of cities with populations over 100,000 had DSL (high-speed Internet access), compared to less than 5 percent of towns with populations less than 10,000.

  • High Cost of Internet Service. High-speed Internet access used by business costs seven times more in Whiteville ($21,000 per year) than in urban areas like Raleigh ($3,000 per year).
A new report released today by the Departments of Commerce and Agriculture entitled “Advanced Telecommunications In Rural America” concludes that rural areas are lagging behind urban areas in the availability of broadband.

Key Initiatives Will Bring Digital Opportunity to Rural America. President Clinton recently issued a National Call to Action with the goals of providing 21st century learning tools for every child in every school, and creating digital opportunity for every American family and community. Today, the President announced several public- and private-sector initiatives aimed at reaching these goals by bridging the digital divide in rural America. Some of the highlights include:

  • Three major telecommunications companies have agreed to provide high-speed Internet access to all businesses and citizens of North Carolina within three years;

  • The Rural Utilities Service will expand its $670 million telecommunications loan program to companies that provide high-speed Internet access to rural communities;

  • QUALCOMM will invest $1 million in high-speed Internet in Whiteville and seven other rural communities;

  • MCI/WorldCom will commit $2 million to rural America for wireless broadband access; and

  • The National Science Foundation has pledged $10 million for research and development for the next generation broadband technologies in rural America.

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