Editor’s note: Tommy Jacobson is MCNC’s vice president of Network Initiatives and NCREN chief architect.

RESEARCH TRIANGLE PARK, N.C. – The first 100 miles of conduit that will house the new fiber for the Golden LEAF Rural Broadband Initiative (GLRBI) is in the ground.

The first phase of the project began in November 2010. Since then, construction crews from Fiber Technologies and Globe Communications have worked diligently to place conduit through mountains and rock, across and under lakes and rivers, and worked through unusually cold weather. The progress on the project is impressive given that North Carolina experienced record-breaking cold temperatures in December and early January.

The arrival of warmer weather in recent weeks has helped increase the pace of the broadband expansion of the North Carolina Research and Education Network (NCREN).

The last two months have been active as more than 25 percent of the overall construction for the first round of the project is now complete. Even more segments will begin construction in the next four-to-six weeks as final permits and encroachments are received from various government agencies. Fiber that MCNC previously owned between Raleigh and Wilmington was placed into service in February, and is one of the first federally-funded broadband projects in the country to activate lines with funds received through the grant.

Primary vendors currently supplying goods/services for the project include: Cisco Systems, CommScope, Comtech, Fiber Technologies, Globe Communications, Kimley-Horn and Associates, and ONUG Communications.

Heading into the second phase of the project, we anticipate a favorable environmental assessment for Round 2 from the National Telecommunications and Information Administration in the next few weeks. We also are currently reviewing construction bids for this second phase with a vendor decision expected within the next month – hopefully construction can begin in May or early June.

Broadband undergirds the communication infrastructure of everything we do today. Through public-private partnerships and dedicated workers, we are pleased at the rate this new network is progressing. There is a sense of urgency to complete the project before the summer 2013 scheduled completion date because we want to begin using the enhanced NCREN to serve the rapidly growing broadband needs of our students, public health facilities, and healthcare providers.

The GLRBI is a $146 million expansion of NCREN that includes more than 2,000 miles of new fiber traversing 69 counties. Currently, Round 1 work is being performed in southeastern and western parts of the state. The Round 2 construction is much larger and will encompass seven routes in North Carolina divided into these identified segments: North Central; Northeast; Outer Banks; South Central; Central; Northwest; and Graham.

This new network has the potential to serve more than 1,500 anchor institutions, and through private-sector partners, approximately 180,000 businesses and more than 300,000 underserved families.

In addition to our website that is chalked full of project information, maps, video and photos, you also can follow the progress of the GLRBI at www.twitter.com/GLRBI or www.facebook.com/GLRBI.

(Editor’s Note: This update/report on miles is based on conduit placed in the ground as opposed to fiber miles. Fiber is generally one of the last work steps, and only takes a fraction of the time of physical conduit installation.)

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