To date, Time Warner Cable is the only proclaimed responder to the North Carolina Next Generation Network’s request for proposal to build an equivalent to or better than a Google Fiber gigabit Internet network across the Triangle and parts of the Triad. On Monday, TWC declared to the tune of $600 million just how serious it is to provide a lot more than cable TV across the Carolinas and southeast.

Just in time to coincide with the beginning of a new hockey season, TWC disclosed its huge broadband power play with the deal for DukeNet, which is based in Charlotte.

If TWC wins regulatory approval – it scores.

Earlier this year, DukeNet disclosed a substantial upgrade to its network. And a look at the DukeNet fiber coverage area at its website shows a lot of “blue” strands all over the Triangle as well as much of the Triad plus Charlotte.For a larger view, look closely at the entire DukeNet map that is included with this post. 

The NCNGN is targeting a roll-out sometime next year. Is the TWC buy of DukeNet a coincidence?

TWC also operates in those markets.

So even as AT&T continues to upgrade its own network (such as the recent announcement to go head-to-head with Google in Austin, Texas) and other as-yet undisclosed responders to the NCNGN proposal mull strategies, TWC is attempting to leap ahead of everyone.

RST Global Communications recently became the first private sector provider to claim to offer wide high-speed Internet access across the state.

Then there is the North Carolina Research and Education Network, which is run by MCNC in RTP. The recently completed NCREN has a fiber backbone running from the coast to the mountains, thanks to a huge $144 million network expansion and upgrade that was funded in part by Golden LEAF and the federal government.

However, MCNC is a non-for-profit and NCREN is not a commercial network. So called “dark” or unused fiber can be leased by private sector companies, and some companies are already doing so.

But the RST effort and whatever AT&T has in mind for further expansion in North Carolina pales – for the moment anyway – against what TWC appears to have in mind.

Even Google would be hard pressed to match what TWC is doing unless the Internet giant were to chose to construct Google Fiber networks in the Triangle, Triad and Charlotte. To this point, however, Google is focused on one metropolitan area at a time.

So what is TWC’s plan?

“Business Services is a key growth area for Time Warner Cable and this acquisition will greatly enhance our already growing fiber network to better serve customers, particularly those in key markets in the Carolinas,” Phil Meeks, chief operating officer of Business Services for Time Warner Cable, said in announcing the DukeNet buy. “This acquisition will help us expand our fiber footprint at a price that is consistent with our disciplined approach to M&A, accounting for expected synergies and tax benefits.”

The Skinny spoke last week with Vanessa Harrison, the recently named head of AT&T in North Carolina, about the company’s broadband plans in the state. She wouldn’t talk about any possible response to the NCNGN request for proposal, but she stressed that North Carolina is among the leading states when it comes to AT&T’s financial commitment to high-speed services.

TWC will improve its product lineup and network with the DukeNet deal – if it is approved. So how will AT&T and Google respond? How will other carriers such as CenturyLink choose to compete?

Depending on their responses, TWC really appears to be have an extra player on the bandwidth game board.

(Editor’s note: Rick Smith has been involved in and written about broadband across North Carolina since 1993. In 1994, he helped launch Interpath, an Internet Service Provider, that was operated by Capitol Broadcasting. By 1995, Interpath providex Internet access from Kitty Hawk to Asheville and many points in between. Capitol sold Interpath in 1998 to CaroNet, a subsidiary of CP&L.)