WEB-IT needs help before feds pull plug

Published 12:00 am Saturday, April 10, 2004

Ohio University Southern's Jim Crawford is issuing an SOS for help from local businesses before "a once in a lifetime opportunity" slips away.

Because time is running out to get at least six more businesses signed up for the WEB-IT program, OUS has decided to make a great deal even sweeter, Crawford said.

"The city and our population are in risk of losing a wonderful federal program that would provide wireless, high-speed Internet access and web page design all because we may be unable to sign up 10 businesses by the end of April, which is required to keep the grant," said Crawford, director of OUS' Center for Innovation and Leadership.

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WEB-IT - wireless, e-commerce, broadband, Ironton, technology - is a partnership between Motorola, Ohio University Southern, Connectlink of Chesapeake, the Appalachian Regional Commission and the Governor's Office of Appalachia.

The program offers high-speed, wireless broadband connection and e-commerce services that start with a Web-site and extend to business-to-business connections and access to appalachianauctions.com, an auction site like e-Bay that is managed by the university.

The university has until April 30 to get 10 businesses up and running or the ARC will pull the grant funding. So far, only

four businesses have signed up: Unger's Shoes, Meehan Steel, the Ironton Tribune and John D. Davis Family Dentistry.

The cost for the service was originally set as a one-time fee of $299 for a Web-site, a $1 per year equipment lease and free installation. Businesses would also have to pay $79.99 per month for the Connectlink service and $25 for Web-site maintenance.

Now, OUS is going to use a grant through the Ohio Board of Regents to provide the next six businesses a tremendous deal. All of the services will be $320 for a full year for instead of more than $1,200. In addition, a computer will be provided at a 75 percent discount - $175 instead of $700.

"If this does not work, I give up," Crawford said.

The university is currently gearing up an active marketing campaign that includes fliers, door-to-door and phone calls. It has been somewhat surprising how little interest has been shown, he said.

"I guess I would say it has been challenging because the opportunity is so good. It can put the community in such a condition to be at the front of the pack instead of the back in the 21st century," Crawford said. "Really, it is a once in a lifetime opportunity. We just need to get businesses to find their own interests served by moving forward with technology."

Mark DeFalco, manager of the telecommunications initiative through the ARC, said last month that if it is properly utilized the program could help level the playing field for Appalachian counties that struggle to compete in the job market with the larger cities.

Applications for the programs are now being accepted at the Connectlink office in Chesapeake or OUS' Center for Innovation and Leadership office at 1508 S. Ninth St. The University has enough equipment to connect at least 34 businesses, possibly more if businesses are in the same building, Crawford said.

Unless local businesses step to the plate quickly, the ARC will pull the plug on the program.