WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. — WinstonNet, which already operates a variety of technology projects in Winston-Salem and across Forsyth County, is looking for a vendor, or vendors, to build and operate a wireless broadband network across the county.

The project is called Wireless Winston.

The non-profit organization, which includes 10 members from government and education sectors, unveiled a request for proposal (RFP) for a network on Monday. It has scheduled a meeting with interested vendors for May 23 and set a deadline for proposals of July 7.

“Part of our strategic plan has always been looking for the next step and wireless and mobility are what is coming,” Lynda Goff, executive director of WinstonNet, told WRAL Local Tech Wire. “We had noticed many cities across the country and, really, around the world were being very proactive in determining what a network would look like, and by doing this together we can create what we want to have happen.”

The city of Winston-Salem already operates a wireless fidelity (WiFi) broadband network along 4th Street in the downtown area. Winston-Salem is one of the partners in the WinstonNet effort.

WinstonNet retained Civitium, a consulting firm working with other metropolitan areas on WiFi projects, to help prepare the RFP. Civitium is based in Alpharetta GA.

“We are really excited about this,” Goff said. “We’re hoping to get some great vendors in bidding on the project. — Sure, we’d love to have Google and EarthLink come in and work with us. Wouldn’t that be cool? We’re also asking all the local vendors to participate, including BellSouth, Time Warner, and Clearwire.

EarthLink and Google partnered to win an RFP for a wireless network in San Francisco. That project will include free access to lower-speed service.

Providing broadband service to low- and moderate-income families, or “digital inclusion” as Goff described it, is an essential part of the Wireless Winston project.

Other priorities include: promoting jobs and economic development; lowering bandwidth costs; improving capabilities for a mobile workforce; enabling telemedicine and patient monitoring; and reducing or avoiding telecommunications costs.

Clearwire, which is building a series of wireless networks covering metropolitan areas across the U.S., chose Winston-Salem and the Triad as one of its first markets.

WinstonNet has a variety of assets on which to build a network, including more than 20 miles of fiber backbone, a “gigapop” or network access point for bandwidth, and more than 44 community computer labs. The labs are located in city recreation centers, libraries, churches and a homeless center.

“The fiber is already laid, and I’m sure that makes the project more attractive to vendors,” Goff said. “Now we’re looking for some sort of mesh network to drape across the city and county.”

The members of WinstonNet include:

  • City of Winston-Salem
  • Forsyth County
  • Forsyth Technical Community College
  • North Carolina School of the Arts
  • Salem Academy and College
  • Wake Forest University
  • Wake Forest University Health Sciences
  • Winston-Salem Chamber of Commerce
  • Winston-Salem/Forsyth County School
  • Winston-Salem State University
  • While WinstonNet can’t negotiate on behalf of those entities, such as for rights to place antennas on city-owned property, Goff said the organizations have spent the past several months building a consensus in support of the project.

    Several businesses have also signed a memorandum of understanding in support of the project. The list includes: Aladdin Travel; Allegacy Federal Credit Union; BB&T; Flow Motors, Inc.; Novant Health; Reynolds American, Inc.; Sara Lee Corp.; Wachovia; and the law firm Womble, Carlyle, Sandridge and Rice.

    For the specifics of the RFP, see: