Clicking Back Over the Years – Most Wired Town in America

From Z. Kelly Queijo:

Journey back in time with me, exactly thirteen years ago today, to February 23, 1996, when the headline of USA Weekend magazine posed the question: “This Town is Wired – In Blacksburg, Va., you can buy groceries, hear local bands, chat with neighbors – all online. Is this future what you want?”

We are that future and, thanks to the Blacksburg Electronic Village (BEV) project which officially launched in 1993, our local citizens, businesses, schools, and government were the among the first in the world to buy, hear, and chat.

What began as a public-private partnership involving Virginia Tech, the Town of Blacksburg and Bell Atlantic (formerly C&P Telephone, now Verizon) to wire the town with the necessary telecommunications infrastructure to connect the residents of Blacksburg to the Internet, led the way to many aspects of the World Wide Web that we take for granted today.Celebration

Most Wired Town, Blacksburg, Virginia, thanks to Blacksburg Electronic Village

Got Online Shopping?
Today, over 75% of Blacksburg businesses advertise online. Andrew Cohill, former director of the BEV and now president and CEO of Design Nine, attributes the launch of e-commerce to Doug Mauer, founder of Biz Net Technologies and Brush Mountain Data Center.

According to Cohill, locally-owned Wade’s Flowers and Gifts was very likely the first e-commerce shop in the world and Wade’s Foods supermarket was the first online grocer.

Bill Ellenbogen, founder of Bogen’s Steakhouse and Bar, laid claim to having the first “cyberbar.”

Montgomery County was the first school system in the nation to wire every public school with Internet access. Today, every classroom in every school has high-speed access.

And though Cohill reports that real estate agents swore up and down they would never allow buyers to browse houses online, Raines Real Estate became the first agency in the country to showcase houses for sale on the Web.

It Took A Team
The list of people who made the BEV happen is extensive and includes not just the staff of the teams that managed the day-to-day activities of the project over the years (and those who continue to do so), but also includes government officials, technology leaders, educators, librarians, and even average citizens, young and old, who were willing to embrace new ideas and technology and run with them.

Today, whether wired or wireless, when we access the Internet, shop online, listen to music, or send text or email, we do so because we just happen to live in a small town filled with people who happen to think big.

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Most Wired Town Series

Clicking Back Over the Years – Most Wired Town in America
Most Wired Town: Building Community One Click at a Time
Most Wired Town 2.0 and BEV 2.0: A Meet Point in More Ways than One
Newly Wired Town Gave Rise to New City Media

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Z. Kelly Queijo writes about business and technology, people and their passions.  She is a frequent contributor to Handshake 2.0.

Most Wired Town: Building Community One Click at a Time
Comparing Site Traffic

Comments

  1. Thanks for the recap, Kelly. I knew the general story – Blacksburg was first thanks to BEV – but didn’t know the back story. Kinda cool.

  2. I remember where I was sitting in my living room in Tampa in 1996 when I saw the Sunday weekend magazine featuring Blacksburg, Virginia as the Most Wired Town in America.

    I should have known then that the pride and connection I felt to my town – and my longing to be in the most wired town in America – would lead to my return to Blacksburg exactly a decade later.

    I cannot even begin to express how moved and honored I am to have Z. Kelly Queijo’s beautiful, thoughtful, insightful piece on Handshake 2.0.

  3. Kelly, thanks for this recap. I did not know any of this! Wow, VERY cool indeed!!!

  4. indeed thanks to these pioneers mentioned for their dedication and vision…

  5. Thank you Tyson and Stuart for your comments, and Jeremy as well for the comments and post on NRVLiving:

    http://www.nrvliving.com/2009/02/23/blacksburg-first-and-wire-free/

  6. It’s true that our community here in the New River Valley of Virginia played an important part in the convenience we now have on the internet. But let’s also look at this from a small business point of view.

    While the internet is a necessary part of marketing now, it is not a guarantee for longevity. Several of the specific businesses that started this process no longer are with us or have found that the online venture did not keep them from losing market share in our local economy.

    I just went online to choose a florist in New Orleans last week for a special arrangement for a family member making my decision strictly by comparing websites. Our house was purchased by looking at available properties chosen by many online listings in the NRV, and we generally pull up restaurant menus when going to a new place to eat.

    Definitely decisions are made about your business by your website or lack thereof. But does it bring customer awareness if they don’t know about you?

    In some cases, there still needs to be strong and effective regional cross marketing in selected print and other traditional media to get a company’s message out.

    No one method is complete in itself and businesses who are not aware of this risk losing to competition or economic factors that could endanger their market share.

  7. Excellent wrap-up.
    I wonder what would happen if $$$ conditions were then at start-up as now? Some things you have to do whether the payoffs seem very high or not.
    There is still more that BEV can do, especially as it may see itself at the center of a vast regional social network now under great stress.

  8. Wonderful expansion and follow-up blog post by Andrew Cohill, “Blacksburg Electronic Village: ‘Most Wired Town in America'”

    http://www.designnine.com/news/node/1314

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