ARC Telecom Initiative Is Bridging Digital Divide in Appalachia
WASHINGTON, April 27, 2006—Appalachian Regional Commission (ARC) Federal Co-Chair Anne B. Pope unveiled the new Telecommunications and Technology in Appalachia Program and Impact Summary as part of her testimony before a field hearing of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee on ARC reauthorization chaired by Senator George V. Voinovich. The hearing took place on April 20, 2006, in Marietta, Ohio.
Recognizing the importance of telecommunications and technology for the economic future of Appalachia, Voinovich became a principal author of the Appalachian Regional Development Act Amendments of 2002, which reauthorized ARC for five years and created specific authority for a Region-wide initiative to bridge the telecommunications and technology gap between the Appalachian Region and the rest of the United States.
That legislation, passed by Congress and signed into law by President Bush, outlined four broad areas of ARC's work: increasing affordable access to broadband services, providing training and educational opportunities related to telecommunications and technology, increasing the use of e-commerce throughout the Region, and increasing entrepreneurial activities within Appalachia in the technology sector.
According to the impact summary, ARC investments of $32.2 million in more than 250 telecom and technology projects over the past four years have had a significant impact in strengthening and diversifying the Region's economic base. Upon completion, these investments are projected to:
- Create 2,600 new jobs and retain 2,100 existing jobs.
- Provide 21,000 workers with improved job skills.
- Serve 45,000 students with enhanced academic offerings within the Region.
- Complete 65 community and sub-regional telecommunications plans.
- Train 300,000 citizens in telecommunications skills and business applications.
- Deliver more than $2 million in software grants from Microsoft Corporation for organizations providing community access to technology skills and the Internet.
ARC investments in this initiative have leveraged $119.8 million in matching funds, including $6.5 million from other federal sources, $10.3 million in state dollars, $41.3 million in local dollars, and $61.7 million in private dollars—a leverage ratio of almost $4 for every $1 invested by ARC.
Voinovich stated that "Appalachian Ohio—one of the most beautiful parts of our state—is also the most economically challenged. While it is rich in natural resources, it lacks the technological infrastructure to fully compete in the global economy; however, today's burgeoning technology economy offers many new opportunities to the Region. These new advancements will help us bridge the digital divide and grow good jobs close to home, thereby improving the quality of life for Appalachian Ohio and the greater 13-state Appalachian Region."
Pope said, "Our competition is no longer down the street. It's around the world. ARC has had great success helping our businesses, workers, educators, and health-care professionals access and use technology effectively to compete in the new global economy."
"But technology changes rapidly, so ARC will keep pushing to close the gap in access and training between the Region, the country, and the rest of the world," Pope added.