If a Google Fiber-like, ultrafast network is to ever crisscross the Triangle as well as parts of the Triad, the first step likely was taken on Friday.

As promised, on Feb. 1 the Triangle J Council of Governments in association with a consortium called the NC Next Generation Networks issued a request for proposal document that seeks private sector service providers who are interested in building a “next generation” communications network across the Triangle as well as Winston-Salem.

In a 39-page document that was written under the guidance of former Raleigh Charles Meeker who as a lawyer has returned to private practice, the NC Next Generation Networks group and Triangle J spell out numerous requirements for both high-speed wireless and land-line connectivity.

Among the five specific goals are “free or deeply discounted” services for low-income and “underserved areas” as well as “free” wireless networks in parks and public areas adjacent to the new network.

The goal of the group “to develop the next-generation broadband infrastructure needed to meet the technological needs of current and future businesses, public institutions, educational institutions, and local residents. We are seeking network solutions and business models that are innovative, preparing our region for the future while serving the needs of today, and seek opportunities to best use existing public investments in currently underutilized government fiber and broadband assets to provide the maximum benefit to the public.”

Costs and Benefits

The network stipulates “beginning” speeds of 100 megabits per second for wireless and up to 1 gigabit per second for “wired” or landline service. Google is in the process of building a gigabit network in Kansas City, a project that numerous North Carolina groups sought but failed to secure.

How fast would such a new network be as sought in the RFP?

  • Cable Internet can deliver data at up to 30 megabits per second.
  • Verizon’s faster service that includes fiber-optic networks promises up to 300 megabits.
  • The latest cellular networks known as 4G deliver data downloads up to 12 megabits per second.

The Triangle RFP makes clear that providers would be responsible for the costs of such a network – or networks.

However, the group offers the prospect of numerous incentives in order to help create services that would be in “support of the public good” to take Internet and communications access to a faster level that currently provided by existing service providers. Incentives include assistance with zoning, rights-of-way, and access to “dark fiber,” or fiber-optic networks not already “lit up” or in use. The so-called RE, or requesting entities, in the document also offer the possibility of buying services from network providers.

The RFP requires responses by April 2.

Members of the consortium include the cities of Chapel Hill, Carrboro, Durham, Cary, Raleigh and Winston-Salem. Also providing support and playing active roles are N.C. State. Duke, UNC-Chapel Hill and Wake Forest University.

“Open Access”

The title of the RFP notes a current theme that appears numerous times in the document: “Open Access.” The group wants a network that will enable and encourage competition.

It defines “open” as “reasonable and non-discriminatory access arrangements that (i) ensure equivalence of price and non-price terms
and conditions for all retail services providers and (ii) permit such providers to differentiate their product offerings.”

More than one company might be selected to build a network or networks, the RFP notes. It also spells out obligations for capital and “support.”

“The Vendor(s) chosen by the REs will bear all of the capital costs of the Network(s), including but not limited to design, engineering, construction, and equipment costs for the Network(s), up to the end user drop po int or Network(s) interface device. In addition, the Vendor(s) will bear all the operating and maintenance costs, including insurance costs and relevant taxes, of the Net work(s). Vendor(s) should also demonstrate a clear and continuous upgrade path for the Network(s) to meet future consumer demand and service  developments.”

 The “support” is spelled out in a separate paragraph:

“In support of the public good that this network will provide and recognizing that current broadband markets do not support ultra-high-speed networks, the REs and supporting universities will, subject to applicable laws, make certain assets available at designated prices to the Vendor(s) including but not limited to dark fiber, co-location closets, and rights-of-way. REs will also consider entering into service contracts with prospective vendors.”

Aggressive Timeline

The North Carolina Next Generation Network, chaired by Duke University Chief Information Officer Tracy Futhey.

A host of North Carolina communities submitted proposals for the Google project three years ago with Kansas City prevailing. The network is in the process of being deployed with prices of $70 per month for 1 gigabit access down to a $300 one-time fee for 5 megabit access covering seven years.

The four universities involved in the North Carolina NGN project were among the first to join the Gig.U group that launched in July 2011 after being encouraged by the huge response to Google’s proposal. More than 1,000 communities applied.

Gig.U, which at its core includes some three dozen universities, put out a “request for information” to see if companies other than Google might be interested in similar projects. The fact several dozen companies responded encouraged the North Carolina group to formulate its own RFP, Futhey explained at a briefing earlier this week.

“Is this something they might be interested in right now,” Futhey said of a 1 gigabit network. “We had very good responses.”

RFPs will be reviewed over a month’s time.

“Once we review the RFPs, we can determine our options and proceed with negotiations,” Futhey explained.

The group has an aggressive timetable.

“By late summer,” Futhey said, “we could be talking very specific information with the municipalities.”