By WRAL Tech Wire

KITTY HAWK, N.C. – MCNC has announced another key milestone on the Golden LEAF Rural Broadband Initiative.

Northeast Rural Broadband, World Fiber Technologies, and MCNC said Tuesday that the conduit and fiber-optic installation along five bridges in northeast North Carolina associated with the second phase of the $144 million project is now complete.

The current statewide expansion of the North Carolina Research and Education Network (NCREN) is funded by federal and matching funding through the Broadband Technology Opportunities Program (BTOP) and is being built by MCNC, a Research Triangle Park non-profit that operates the network.

After a competitive bid process, World Fiber of Alpharetta, Ga., was awarded a $2.1 million contract in November 2011 to attach conduit and install fiber-optic cable within the conduit along the Virginia Dare Bridge (U.S. 64 Bypass over Croatan Sound); U.S. 17 over Chowan River; U.S. 94 over Intracoastal Waterway; Washington Baum Bridge (U.S. 64 Bypass over Roanoke Sound); and the Wright Memorial Bridge (U.S. 158 over Currituck Sound).

MCNC successfully applied for encroachment permits from the N.C. Department of Transportation (NCDOT) to allow for the installation on all five bridges. Extensive daily coordination with NCDOT related to lane closures and management of traffic was a key component to completing this project quickly and before peak tourist season on the Outer Banks.

“The impact of the MCNC projects on the future of rural North Carolina will be significant, particularly in eastern North Carolina, where this infrastructure is sorely needed,” commented Gene Conti, N.C. Secretary of Transportation. “This fiber will mean better access to education, more efficient and effective health care, and economic opportunity for our citizens.”

Using fiber manufactured by CommScope in Hickory, N.C., World Fiber placed 12 miles of 288-strand fiber-optic cable along the five bridges. The bridge hanger support materials were custom manufactured in the U.S. to ensure proper fit. This also was an opportunity to follow the “Buy American Clause” stimulating the economy through local material procurement and production.

“It’s vitally important to World Fiber to promote economic growth while also connecting rural communities with state-of-the-art fiber-optic cable that makes the transfer of Internet, video, voice, and data communication less expensive and more reliable,” said World Fiber President and CEO Mark Battle.

The first phase of the GLRBI was complete on April 27 and included 904 total miles, of which 414 was new construction in western and southeastern North Carolina. Round 2 encompasses 1,700 miles overall, of which 1,338 miles is new construction.

In eastern North Carolina, the fiber loop will run from Roanoke Rapids east to Dare County and then back to Rocky Mount. Initially, the fiber will link area schools, colleges, libraries, and other community anchor institutions in facilitating improved Internet access and more capacity for online learning. A portion of the fiber will be available for use by local service providers to improve connectivity in the area.

Northeast Rural Broadband is working with GLRBI fiber marketing partner ECC Technologies and stakeholders in each county of the region to use the new capacity to expand access for unserved and underserved households and to maximize the economic development potential of the fiber loop.

“Improving Internet access for the education, health care, and other community anchor institutions served by NCREN is our main goal with the project,” said MCNC President and CEO Joe Freddoso. “We also are working with local leaders like Northeast Rural Broadband and for-profit broadband service providers to extend robust broadband access to areas of the state lacking the broadband infrastructure to scale to their future needs.”

“This is an opportunity for northeast North Carolina to make an economic and social jump forward,” added Paul Tine, board member of Northeast Rural Broadband.

The next step in the project will be to link the bridge installations with the fiber installed underground.

The entire GLRBI project is on track to be completed by first quarter of 2013 and operational by summer 2013.