Groundbreaking for fiber-optic network
By Joanie Morris
For the Salisbury Post
KANNAPOLIS — The rest of the world should now prepare for North Carolina.
Thanks to a series of grants totaling $104 million, the second phase of the Golden LEAF Rural Broadband Initiative will bring 1,200 miles of broadband infrastructure throughout North Carolina.
At a groundbreaking ceremony Friday, officials from federal and local governments across the state, as well as the Golden LEAF Foundation and the president and chief executive officer of MCNC spoke about the opportunities that would be had in North Carolina.
The “virtual” groundbreaking included a teleconference between the North Carolina Research Campus and three other sites across the state — Elizabeth City State University, the University of North Carolina at Pembroke and the Asheville-Buncombe Technical Community College.
At the beginning of the ceremony, David H. Murdock, owner and chairman of Castle Cook Inc. and chairman of Dole Food Co., spoke about the opportunities for scientists at the campus to communicate their findings to the world at a much higher rate.
“To realize we can talk to the world right from here is exciting,” said Murdock. “We have not only become a scientific center, but a great brain center for the world.”
After the broadband infrastructure is laid, officials say it will greatly increase the capacity of the North Carolina Research and Education Network (NCREN) which brings broadband service to universities, hospitals, schools and libraries across the state.
The teleconferencing event showcased how the North Carolina Research and Education Network works, linking sites via real-time video. When the new lines are laid, the capacity will be much higher than four sites, with the capability to link as many as 100 or more sites together.
It will affect children and families across North Carolina, officials say, even though it will not be available directly to homes.
Imagine students at schools across the state being able to be taught by a teacher at the N.C. School of Science and Math, or a cancer patient in Ashe County being helped by the best cancer doctor at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill or Duke University.
“It’s being able to do those things,” said Joe Freddoso, president and chief executive officer of MCNC. “It’s kind of like we’re building the highway of the future in rural North Carolina.”
MCNC is a private, nonprofit organization that runs the North Carolina Research and Education Network. The organization secured two grants through the U.S. Department of Commerce’s Broadband Technology Opportunities Program (BTOP) to fund the infrastructure. Broadband Technology Opportunities Program funds make up $75.75 million of the funding for this phase; MCNC raised $28.25 million privately, including $24 million from Golden LEAF Foundation.
The total project includes more than 2,000 miles of broadband infrastructure to be outfitted through 69 counties in North Carolina.
“The great work being done here … is going to be able to be shared over the world,” said Freddoso.
Freddoso said MCNC has had conversations with the city of Salisbury, distributor of Fibrant cable and Internet service. While the new fiber optic infrastructure will not provide service directly to customers, MCNC will offer wholesale broadband to companies like Time Warner Cable and municipalities that run their own services, like Salisbury.
“Our presence by nature will make the market competitive,” said Freddoso.
Salisbury and other cable and Internet service providers generally buy their broadband access from other companies. These are called middle mile networks. The providers are called last mile networks.
“Our goal with this project is to work with private sector and municipal programs … to make that wholesale market more competitive. It will raise that capacity of service and it will hopefully lower your costs,” Freddoso said.
N.C. Sen. Fletcher Hartsell, R-Cabarrus/Iredell, referred to the campus as ground zero during the ceremony.
“This is literally the site of the largest number of jobs lost in a single day in North Carolina,” said Hartsell, referring to the closing of Pillowtex in 2003.
He calls the research campus “phoenix,” rising up out of the ashes of Pillowtex. The real-time gathering of information that will be available thanks to the broadband infrastructure will accelerate sharing across the world, he added.
“This initiative will not just create jobs but it will create learning jobs,” he said.
U.S. Sen. Hagan, D-N.C., called the initiative exciting.
“There are a lot of children accessing this in North Carolina who are going to benefit for the rest of their lives,” said Hagan. “We are coming together truly for the family and students and jobs of North Carolina.”
In all, 179, community anchor institutions will be directly connected to the infrastructure across 69 counties.
“It’s going to make a huge difference, not only to my kids, but yours and each of our partners across North Carolina,” Hagen said.
U.S. Rep. Larry Kissell, D-8th, warned during the groundbreaking ceremony that while this is a great accomplishment, it’s not over yet.
“We’ve got to keep pushing until it’s in all our counties, not just one and done,” said Kissell.
To view a complete video of the virtual groundbreaking ceremony, visit www.mcnc.org .
Joanie Morris is a freelance reporter for the Salisbury Post. She can be reached at 704-797-4245 or email@example.com