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By RICK SMITH, Local Tech Wire editor

RESEARCH TRIANGLE PARK, N.C. – North Carolina could soon have a fiber optic highway that virtually encircles the state.

A map prepared by MCNC shows how it would expand the if it receives $78 million in additional funding as part of the federal Broadband Technology Opportunities Program.

Golden LEAF has pledged $24 million for the expansion proposal that seeks to build on the initial BTOP funding that MCNC was awarded earlier this year.

The proposed additional expansion would take fiber access to 69 counties with 1,300 miles of new fiber and trading or swapping for another 500 miles, according to MCNC Chief Executive Officer Joe Freddoso.

Local Tech Wire and asked Freddoso to explain in more detail the map and MCNC’s plans.

It appears your team is proposing a fiber ring that basically encompasses the entire state.

Yes. There are some areas we miss when you combine the round 1 BTOP award with the round 2 proposal — the doughnut hole in the Southeast for the first round for example.

But even these counties will have middle mile fiber closer to them than any publicly available source of information regarding middle mile fiber MCNC has seen. We were constrained by matching funds and had to look at the proposal from several perspectives to determine the final build areas.

Also, MCNC did an exhaustive search to make sure we did not overbuild existing fiber assets. This search was only as good as the information provided to us by companies who hold the fiber assets.

MCNC executed over 500 miles in swaps and trades with existing fiber owners in the round 1 project and the round 2 proposal as evidence that we did extensive diligence to avoid overbuilding. These swaps represent a quarter of the network’s coverage.

Bottom line, this network will bring middle mile fiber to the vast majority of counties in the state. Through our private wholesale partners, FRC/PalmettoNet in round 1 and others in round 2, MCNC hopes that wholesale prices will drop and make it easier for last mile incumbent providers, telephone co-ops, independent telcos and cable operators to build more last mile coverage.

MCNC had contact with six last mile providers in round 2 who have interest in using the private wholesale part of the middle mile. If the proposal is funded, these six private carriers could really expand broadband service offerings for consumers and small businesses in these areas of rural North Carolina.

Can you tell me the significance of the Optical Transport Nodes?

The diagram shows spacing that will keep the signal strong through the entire fiber run. These are also points of interconnect and where the MCNC electronics will be placed.

Will community anchor institutions (CAIs) be access sites as well for possible commercial leasing of fiber strands or will these commercial access points be limited to Interconnection Points?

Selected CAI sites will be set up as neutral co-location sites managed by MCNC. The National Telecommunications and Information Administration has very strict open interconnect provisions in the Notice of Funds Availability. These neutral colocation sites are part of the open interconnect strategy.

We must allow access to colo space at below current market rates and at the same time show a sustainable financial model for operating the network long term that includes operation of the optical network and refresh of MCNC’s portion of the equipment. Right now MCNC’s projected price for co-location space is about half of what MCNC has been charged in these areas.

First round funding plans

In January, MCNC won $28 million in funding to expand NCREN by 494 miles and reach 37 more counties. Additional fiber-optic rings will be built to boost capacity. Upon completion, NCREN will stretch more than 1,100 miles.

MCNC and its partners will contribute $11.7 million in matching funds and in-kind services to the project.

Working with private sector partner FRC/PalmettoNet, a provider of fiber network services in the Carolinas, MCNC is seeking the money to add some 600 miles of fiber-optic cable to enable high-speed Internet access in many of North Carolina’s counties that have limited or no access.

MCNC pledged $4 million from its endowment, as well as $3 million in equipment it has already purchased for network expansion, toward the effort. FRC/PalmettoNet also has said it will invest $4 million.

(Editor’s note: A special thanks to Noah Garrett for preparing the maps for Local Tech Wire.)