Telecom: Communities Student Paper: Kerner - California Western
Telecom: Communities Student Paper: Kerner

There's Hi-Tech In Them Thar' Hills!  Blacksburg, Virginia On The Cutting Edge

by Tom Kerner

            Blacksburg is a small town of about 35,000 hidden away in the mountains of southwestern Virginia.  Other than serving as home to Virginia Tech, it's pretty much like any rural town.  Country line dancing at the Marriott on Tuesdays and tubing on the New River are still favorite local pastimes, along with cruising Main Street in the pickup to show off the new shotgun rack.  An hour's drive from Blacksburg finds no municipality larger than Roanoke, Bluefield, WV, or Bristol, TN.  Not exactly the sort of place that springs to mind when one thinks about cutting edge technology.

            But now, Blacksburg is home to an unprecedented technological revolution.  Thanks to a joint venture between the town of Blacksburg, Virginia Tech, and Bell Atlantic, the Blacksburg Electronic Village (BEV) is now up and running, and things will never be the same. 

            The BEV concept was born in 1992.  It began as an experiment to determine whether a community could interact via computer and how electronic services could be priced and marketed.  BEV founders hoped that by connecting the local government, businesses and residents, new realms of community interaction and involvement would be explored.

            High-speed T1 lines have been installed, allowing nearly every Blacksburg resident to get on-line and get there fast.  The lines carry 1.5 megabits of information per second, and are linked to most of the town's apartment complexes.  Those whose homes have not yet been connected can get on line for free at the public library, on the Tech campus, or at several commercial establishments.  That's right:  this past fall, Blacksburg, Virginia saw the opening of its first cyberbar.

            In addition to the cyberbar, 47 local businesses were given grants to set up home pages.  These pages are known collectively as the "Blacksburg Virtual Mall."  Now, the whole world can shop at Blacksburg Feed & Seed or Wade's Supermarket with the touch of a button.  And they do.

            Wade's has received orders for "care packages" and flowers arrangements from as far away as Kuwait, Belgium and Korea.  Business has become so brisk there that Wade's has had to hire a full-time data processing manager.  Soon, they promise, locals will be able to do all their grocery shopping on-line, for pick-up or delivery.

the industry before applying for an internship. The Center has enjoyed 100 percent  placement of students in internships.