MCNC and Merit Network in Michigan were honored as “Champions of Change” at an awards ceremony at the White House on Wednesday, Feb. 15.

Joe Freddoso, president and CEO of MCNC, and Donald Welch, president and CEO of Merit Network, accepted the award on behalf of each organization, and both have been instrumental in delivering high-speed broadband infrastructures to rural areas of the United States.

A total of 11 leaders from various sectors were recognized during the ceremony.

The Champions of Change program was created as a part of President Obama’s Winning the Future initiative to highlight community leaders for the work they are doing to serve and strengthen their communities.

Hosted by the White House Office of Public Engagement in collaboration with the U.S. Secretary of State’s Office of Global Partnerships, the event provided an opportunity for White House officials and agency representatives to participate in discussions with each of the “Champions” about the work they are doing. Both Freddoso and Welch participated in a panel discussion focusing of innovation in broadband and transportation infrastructure.

“MCNC is honored with recognition by the White House as a Champion of Change,” said Freddos. “MCNC’s work is greatly supported by our Governor, North Carolina’s General Assembly, North Carolina’s Delegation to the U.S. Congress, the NCREN Community, the Golden LEAF Foundation, and by a great team at MCNC. “

Both MCNC and Merit also are recipients of the U.S. Department of Commerce’s National Telecommunications and Information Administration’s (NTIA) Broadband Technology Opportunity Program (BTOP) grants.

MCNC currently is working on the Golden LEAF Rural Broadband Initiative, a $144 million expansion of the North Carolina Research and Education Network (NCREN) that will be completed by spring 2013.

Merit Network is a non-profit corporation governed by Michigan’s public universities and was recognized for the REACH Michigan Middle Mile Collaborative (REACH-3MC) project, which also is funded by two BTOP grants, and will build more than 2,287 miles of open-access, advanced fiber-optic network through rural and underserved communities in Michigan’s lower and upper peninsulas.

“Our Recovery Act investments in broadband infrastructure are creating jobs and spurring economic growth in communities across the country,” said U.S. Department of Commerce Assistant Secretary and NTIA Administrator Lawrence E. Strickling. “These projects will prime the pump for new private-sector investment and help revitalize communities throughout North Carolina and Michigan so they can better compete in the global marketplace.”

The NTIA is overseeing approximately 230 projects to expand broadband access and adoption across the country. These projects are building and upgrading broadband infrastructure, expanding and improving public computer centers, and promoting sustainable broadband adoption through computer training and other approaches. These projects reach every state and U.S. territory, which already is having a positive impact on the lives of Americans.

MCNC’s two BTOP projects working as the Golden LEAF Rural Broadband Initiative is and will continue to provide the broadband infrastructure required to help North Carolina be successful and remain competitive for years to come.

Freddoso said building this network has been a massive undertaking with a lot of hours put in by a dedicated team at MCNC and great support from private-sector companies; noting the efforts of contracted engineering firms like Kimley-Horn and ONUG as well as CommScope for fiber, conduit and other materials, Cisco Systems for optical gear, Edwards Communications, Globe Communications, Fiber Tech and World Fiber who are helping to build the network and K&L Gates which has provided legal guidance and strategic advice.

“The entire MCNC team should be very proud of our accomplishments,” added Freddoso. “The short-term recognition is great, but the lasting impact this investment will have on the state is the real reward.”

The community anchor institutions connected to NCREN will have a network that will scale to their increased demand for the next 20-30 years at relatively stable costs. Imagine a two-lane road where the traffic doubles every three years and that road automatically adjusts its capacity by adding new lanes to meet the increased need; and, it does so at operating costs that were fixed when it was a two-lane road. That just doesn’t happen! That’s what NCREN will be.

“Our network is what makes dreams a reality,” said Freddoso during the ceremony at the White House.

GLRBI Round 1 was awarded funding on Jan. 20, 2010, and was completed in April of this year. Round 2 was awarded on Aug. 18, 2010 and is three times the size of Round 2. That portion of the project is on track to be complete in spring 2013.