How can North Carolina become a true Gigabit State?
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Editor's note: Joe Freddoso is chief executive officer of MCNC, which operates the state-wide North Carolina Research and Education Network, or NCREN. WRALTechWire asked Freddoso for his analysis of where North Carolina stands in terms of broadband access and what impact a Google Fiber deployment would mean to the state.
RESEARCH TRIANGLE PARK, N.C. – Last week, Google Fiber brought added attention to broadband infrastructure in North Carolina’s largest metro areas. The announcement that Charlotte and cities/towns in the Triangle have made the short list for Google Fiber’s next set of service areas was welcome news to many.
The announcement by Google Fiber is an affirmation of Charlotte and the Triangle’s status as areas of the country where demand for faster broadband service exists. Google won’t invest in areas where they believe demand would be weak.
Many attributes of North Carolina’s major metro areas will drive demand for Fiber-to-the-Home (FttH) services and gigabit speeds. The presence of our universities, colleges and community colleges; the number of people involved in advanced research in diverse areas such as health care, drug development, gaming, educational technology, finance, clinical trials; and the vibrancy and growth in population of our urban areas all are attractive to any broadband provider, not just Google Fiber.
Let’s project for a minute that Google Fiber, the great North Carolina Next Generation Network effort or some other collaboration realizes success. And, as a result, the Triangle and/or Charlotte have extensive FttH options.
Does this make North Carolina the Gigabit state?
Undoubtedly, this would be a historical occurrence. There will be huge advantages for residents in the Triangle and Charlotte.
More work from home will be possible – a productive way to avoid driving during winter storms and a great way to avoid congested roads at rush hour. These urban areas will be hot beds for deployment of telehealth technologies making doctor visits a click of the mouse rather than a sickly drive to an office to gather with other sick folks. Downloading the next season of “House of Cards” will be like making microwave popcorn rather than preparing a five-course meal.
The True "Holy Grail"
Again I ask, is this the “holy grail” for North Carolina? Is access to gigabit service in our urban areas enough?
I would argue strongly that we are not the Gigabit state until affordable options for scalable broadband service expand into rural North Carolina. This isn’t a “nice to have” anymore but a necessity.
The N.C.General Assembly passed Session Law 2013-12 last session requiring a transition to all digital content materials in public K-12 education by school year 2017-2018. When this takes effect, all students in K-12 will either own or have access to an Internet-enabled device through which they access their course content. All students will require some form of broadband access both in school and after school to access content materials.
North Carolina is in the best shape of any state I know of to tackle this challenge, but we still have a long way to go. Ninety-four percent of our 2,331 K-12 public schools have fiber connections, 100 percent of our districts have broadband connections (scalable to not 1 gigabit per second or 1G but 10G). However, our in-school building broadband infrastructure is inadequate in the vast majority of our school buildings and many of our children in both urban and rural school districts lack broadband access at home.
A Long Way to Go
While we are pursuing FttH in our most desirable broadband markets, we need, as proud citizens of the Old North State, to address scalable broadband access for all North Carolina school children at home and in the classroom regardless of their location.
Homework that involves interactive HD video or streaming video or interaction with peers doesn’t happen at the less than 1 megabit per second download and ¼ megabit per second upload speeds that are often all that is available in rural areas. It happens at speeds 10 times as fast on networks that are not bogged down with other traffic. The public sector and private sector must come together to address this need. Our children’s competitiveness in the global market is at risk.
MCNC owns fiber statewide, beyond our needs for NCREN. This fiber is being shared with private-sector service providers to introduce more robust broadband service to rural areas of the state. We need to speed up this process of introducing better rural broadband service, and Session Law 2012-13 gives us a deadline.
Without broadband, moving to all digital content in K-12 threatens to create a digital divide in every classroom in the state without improved home broadband offerings for all students.
Addressing this issue is truly North Carolina’s opportunity to be the Gigabit state.
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