RESEARCH TRIANGLE PARK, N.C. – The “Connectivity Project” is funded, and public schools across North Carolina soon will begin to benefit.

The new state budget includes $12 million in recurring funding that is to be used to provide broadband access to K-12 institutions.

While a final backbone provider has yet to be selected, it appears the North Carolina Research and Education Network, or NCREN, is the logical choice. Operated by MCNC, the network provides high-speed bandwidth across much of the state already, linking members of the University of North Carolina system. MCNC also has direct links to other high-speed links such as Internet 2.

After providing $6 million for a pilot study last year, the General Assembly and Gov. Mike Easley decided to make the “Connectivity Project” a reality. Among its biggest backers is Lt. Gov. Beverly Perdue, who is running for governor.

Overseeing implementation of the project will be the Friday Institute with its technology guru, Phil Emer, operating as project lead. Emer, a longtime networking expert, is director of networking and systems at the Institute. The state Department of Instruction is also heavily involved.

“This is great news,” Emer said of the funding. “We are humming right along. We have an approved plan, and now we are prepared to execute.”

The Connectivity Project is designed to make sure all schools have access to the kind of broadband services needed to make interactive online education a reality for all. The plan calls for schools to be linked by local providers to a backbone, such as NCREN. The funding is to help pay those costs as well as help Emer put a team in place to oversee the network’s implementation and operation.

Other key parts of the plan also include coordination of so-called “e-rate” funding from the federal government.