What do 2,600 miles and June 21 have in common?

In January 2011, the interactive project map outlining what the North Carolina Research and Education (NCREN) could look like in 2013 was mostly red. Fast forward to today for an entirely different view – and, yes, green means go!

MCNC will complete construction of the $144 million Golden LEAF Rural Broadband Initiative (GLRBI) in June. To celebrate this historic achievement, MCNC will host Broadband for the Future on Friday between 2 and 4 p.m., from four locations in North Carolina (Asheville, Charlotte, Elizabeth City, and Research Triangle Park).

The public is invited to participate in Friday’s event from any of the four locations.

MCNC is a technology non-profit that builds, owns, and operates NCREN. For more than a quarter century, a growing number of research, education, non-profit health care, and other community institutions in North Carolina have connected to NCREN to utilize this leading-edge broadband highway. Today, NCREN serves more than 450 of these institutions, including all K-20 public education in the state.

The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) of 2009 appropriated $7.2 billion to broadband investments.

The GLRBI is funded through two ARRA grants administered through the U.S. Department of Commerce’s Broadband Technology Opportunities Program (BTOP). The total project required significant matching funds, which MCNC was able to obtain through private investments that also included a $24 million grant from the Golden LEAF Foundation and a $10 million dollar commitment from MCNC’s endowment. No state tax dollars were utilized as matching funds for either of MCNC awards.

MCNC also has made additional investments in the project meaning that more than 100 percent of the project’s grant value was expended with private-sector vendors. These vendors won competitive bids to complete engineering work, supply outside plant equipment and optical gear, and to do the construction work involved in burying the fiber optic infrastructure in the ground throughout North Carolina.

This significant project already is having a positive impact on student learning, patient outcomes in health care, economic outcomes in job creation and community development, and is accelerating innovation and research all across the state. NCREN is now a fiber-based network that is more than 2,600 miles spanning the entire state.

The first phase of the project was completed in April 2012 with 957 total operated miles (442 of which were new construction). The second phase was much larger with total operating miles at 1,696 (1,300 of which being new build).

And, it took many hands to do it.

Participating vendors and contractors for the first phase of the project included: Fiber Technologies, Globe Communications, Comtech, Cisco Systems, CommScope, and ONUG Communications. Participating vendors and contractors for Round 2 included: BroadPlex, Cisco Systems, CommScope, ComTech, ECC Technologies, Edwards Telecommunications, Fiber Technologies, Globe Communications, Kimley-Horn & Associates, and World Fiber Technologies.

All companies were either North Carolina-based or have a strong North Carolina presence.

“MCNC is pleased to be drawing to a conclusion the construction phase of the project as we continue to fully implement and migrate services to the new NCREN backbone,” said MCNC Chief Operating Officer Tommy Jacobson, who also serves as chief architect of NCREN.

“During the last 3.5 years, we have been fortunate to have great support from our vendor partners as well as our very talented staff,” he added. “In addition, the State of North Carolina and its agencies, particularly the N.C. Department of Transportation and the N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources, as well as state elected officials and congressional delegation, have been a great asset for us to complete this historic work.”

Over the years and throughout the project’s progression, many federal officials have offered bipartisan support for broadband connectivity in North Carolina as well as MCNC efforts to get it to rural and unserved areas of the state.

For example, U.S. Senator Kay Hagan (D-NC) has long-supported the project and considers broadband access crucial for economic development, access to education, and quality health care for families in rural communities. Recently, U.S. Representative Renee Ellmers (R-NC) called the GLRBI project a “success story” for North Carolina.

MCNC now is engaged in discussions to share newly-built or acquired fiber through the GLRBI with economic developers and other service providers to grow broadband availability and create jobs. North Carolina is one of a handful of states with an open access, middle-mile fiber network available to economic developers, businesses and broadband service providers, and several entities already are accessing GLRBI fiber to enhance broadband availability as an asset to attract job growth in their regions. One company that has invested in GLRBI fiber, RST Communications in Shelby, will be highlighted during Friday’s event.

The expansion of NCREN and its capabilities now allows MCNC to customize network services and applications for community institutions in the state more than ever before as they look to further enable private-sector providers to bring cost-effective broadband infrastructure to rural and underserved areas of North Carolina.

MCNC’s work on this historic project as well as their business and partnering strategy gives North Carolina a real competitive advantage and is driving the new broadband economy for the state.