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e-Polk to add 58 miles to broadband network

November 13, 2006 – the Tryon Daily Bulletin –

e-Polk Inc. will receive a grant of $400,000 from Golden Leaf Foundation to provide broadband services to Rutherford and Polk County schools, it was announced this week by e-Polk president Jeff Byrd of Tryon. e-Polk, a non-profit corporation, operates the 10-mile PANGAEA fiber optic network in Polk County.

The Golden Leaf grant, which Byrd said should be contracted in a few weeks, will be the fourth grant received by e-Polk since its incorporation in 2003, bringing total grant dollars received by e-Polk to $1.2 million. e-Polk is currently administering a $600,000 contract with Northland Communications Corp. to expand its PANGAEA fiber optic network to 44 miles, adding 34 miles to the current footprint. This expansion should be completed by early 2007, Byrd said.

With the Golden Leaf money, e-Polk plans to add an additional estimated 24 miles of fiber in Polk and Rutherford counties, an expansion which will make PANGAEA a 68-mile network by the end of 2007.“The Golden Leaf project will provide fiber optic broadband services to most of the schools in both counties, and will enhance the learning experience for each child,” said e-Polk board member and project administrator Keven McCammon of Rutherfordton. “The original grant request was for $600,000 and we were pleased to receive $400,000, the largest awarded this year by Golden Leaf. High speed connectivity to the far reaching schools will be the difficult part of the project; however, we want every school and every child to have the opportunities that this fiber connectivity will bring.”

The project does not stop at fiber, McCammon said. The Golden Leaf grant funding will also help to establish a professional development program for teachers that could become a model for 21st century classroom instruction techniques. Budget and implementation plans are under way and more details will be available soon.

e-Polk first won a $375,000 grant from the Rural Internet Access Authority (now the E-NC Authority) in 2002 and built seven miles of fiber optic network from Tryon to Polk County High School. In 2005, Polk County government provided $70,000 to extend the network to the new Polk County Middle School campus in Mill Spring. CooperRiis Healing Farm paid to have the network extended another mile to its facilities on Hwy. 108 east of Hwy. 9 at that time. e-Polk currently serves Polk County Schools, Polk and Tryon governments, Isothermal Community College, Polk County Public Library, Polk County Health Department, two Internet Service Providers and a dozen area businesses.

Last year, Advantage West- North Carolina, the Western North Carolina Regional Economic Development Commission, awarded e-Polk $417,000 to extend its network to the new Foothills Connect Business & Technology Center in Rutherfordton. With the assistance of Northland Communications, Rutherford County government, Polk County Schools and Foothills Connect, e-Polk was able to contract for a $600,000 34-mile expansion, running from Lake Lure down Hwy. 9 past Sunny View and Polk Central schools and east on Sandy Plains Road to Hwy. 221 in Rutherford County, following Hwy. 221 to downtown Rutherfordton. The Golden Leaf grant will allow e-Polk to expand the PANGAEA fiber optic network to serve most of Rutherford County’s 20 school facilities.

In addition, e-Polk has a memorandum of understanding with DukeNet Communications, a Duke Energy company, to partner with DukeNet to expand the PANGAEA network to the new North Carolina state data center planned near Ellenboro, in eastern Rutherford County. The Golden LEAF Foundation, a nonprofit corporation, was created in 1999 to receive one-half of the funds coming to North Carolina from the master settlement agreement with cigarette manufacturers. In turn, the foundation is helping North Carolinians make the transition from a tobacco-dependent economy through grants and investments that will positively affect the long-term economic advancement of the state. It gives priority in its grantmaking to tobacco-dependent and economically distressed counties.