Verizon Jumpstarts Distance-Learning Opportunities For Adults in West Virginia

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Verizon will offer more than $1.6 million in grants over the next two years to help jumpstart a sophisticated distance-learning network in West Virginia.

The Digital Bridge project, which will link most of the state's libraries, community colleges and workforce training offices, will significantly broaden educational opportunities for adults. The Mountain State has 176 libraries, 12 community colleges and 17 Workforce Investment offices.

The announcement came today in Charleston at a joint news conference conducted by Verizon West Virginia President Gale Given and West Virginia Gov. Bob Wise.

Gov. Wise called the project "an excellent example of public-private cooperation in an area that is critically important to West Virginia's future. Digital Bridge is an innovative approach to adult workforce training," Wise said. "It is an essential component to the restructure of the state's economy."

Given called Digital Bridge "one of the most important economic development programs that Verizon has undertaken in West Virginia.

"We're not just building a high-speed network here," she said. "We're helping develop life-long learning tools that will nurture the future of West Virginia and its citizens."

West Virginia's Community College System is currently establishing four ACT centers in the state. These centers will be able to offer more than 3,000 quality courses and various assessment tools for workforce training using Verizon's distance learning network.

Libraries, community colleges and One-Stop Centers will collaborate to design and test a more effective, customer focused workforce-training model.

"Libraries are a vital resource for local communities," said U.S. Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.), "and I am excited to see them at the center of this new approach to workforce training."

As part of this initiative, 176 libraries, many in rural areas, will receive new equipment that will dramatically increase the speed of their current Internet connections.

Verizon's total commitment of $1,628,000 to the project will be made between now and the first quarter of 2004. A total of $536,000 is budgeted for this year. Most of Verizon's grants are earmarked for the purchase of equipment, such as servers, routers and online content integral to using the distance-learning network.

The Digital Bridge project was reviewed and authorized by the State Telecommunications Users Council and then by Verizon. The West Virginia Public Service Commission established the council to review and recommend public-sector projects for Verizon grants. The $1.7 million annual grant pool is part of Verizon's Incentive Regulation Plan, which was approved by the PSC from 2001 through 2005.

Verizon Communications (NYSE:VZ) is one of the world's leading providers of communications services. Verizon companies are the largest providers of wireline and wireless communications in the United States, with 135.1 million access line equivalents and 30.3 million Verizon Wireless customers. Verizon is also the largest directory publisher in the world. With more than $67 billion in annual revenues and approximately 241,000 employees, Verizon's global presence extends to more than 40 countries in the Americas, Europe, Asia and the Pacific. For more information on Verizon, visit www.verizon.com.



David Lieving, director of the Governor's Workforce Investment Division: "This will greatly increase access to high quality content and assessment tools. This initiative provides West Virginia a unique window of opportunity to share limited resources and implement more customer-focused, flexible workforce training."

Jim Skidmore, vice chancellor for community and technical college education: "More than ever before, educational attainment equals opportunity. The e-learning tools and training models being developed and tested in this project will have a long-term positive impact on West Virginia's future."

J. D. Waggoner, secretary of the West Virginia Library System: "This initiative will touch all West Virginians. It will enable local libraries to be a full partner in workforce training and enhance the role of our libraries as vibrant neighborhood learning resources."