The effort to bring super-fast broadband on fiber optic lines to Triangle and parts of the Triad is moving forward but officials overseeing the project say it’s going to take a little more time.

There is no timetable for selecting a vendor to build the North Carolina Next Generation Network, or NC NGN, Elise Kohn, project director and senior advisor for the network, told WRALTechWire. Over the summer, Kohn had said that a 2014 rollout was the target. But on Thursday, speaking at the NCREN Community Day event at N.C. State University, she said the process needs more time. She said the request for proposal, in which officials sought vendors to pitch their ideas for making broadband both accessible and affordable in more places, came with that flexibility.

“We are asking providers to do something that is not business as usual,” she said. “In doing that, we think it’s worth taking the time to do the best we can with that.”

Flexibility will be key in moving forward with the NC NGN project because there isn’t much precedent for this kind of a project. The project envisions communities in the Triangle and the Triad along with area research universities working with the private sector to bring fiber-optic connectivity to homes and businesses. Eight vendors responded to the RFP in April. All of them are being kept confidential, except for Time Warner Cable, which announced on its own that it had submitted a proposal.

Government and business can clash when they try to work together but municipalities can also engage in their own turf wars, competing for business and tax base, said Gail Roper, chief information and community relations officer for the City of Raleigh. But Roper said one of the motivations behind the NC NGN is the idea that sometimes cooperation is better than competition.

“I think that’s where the light came on with us, to agree that we would be better together than if we all went off and did our own thing,” she said.

If such a network came to fruition, what would that mean for citizens? Roper said one idea is “next generation libraries.” These libraries could be the a places for sharing open source business apps or apps that students could use for homework. Libraries with faster broadband could become learning centers, she said.

If MCNC has a role in the building out the Next Generation network, it’s an outside one. The nonprofit oversees the North Carolina Research and Education Network, a fiber optic network spanning the entire state bringing broadband connectivity to schools, universities and health care facilities. MCNC CEO Joe Freddoso said it wasn’t MCNC’s place to submit a proposal to build out the NC NGN.

The NCREN is not a direct provider of commercial broadband services. But Freddoso said MCNC could have a tertiary role, stepping in to offer its network to help a provider that wants to serve homes and businesses. MCNC already leases some of its lines to broadband providers, helping them avoid the cost of building out their own networks, particularly in rural areas. MCNC could serve a similar role for a vendor proposing fiber for the NC NGN.

“If they can leverage our assets, rural or urban, to ameliorate some of that risk, that is the best position we can take,” he said.
Kohn said that she is in the process of speaking with each of the RFP respondents. Beyond that, she’s not saying when there might be more news on the project.

“I’ve been on the corporate side and I’ve seen deals fall apart at the last minute,” she said. “There’s no point in projecting failure or success until we know something definitively.”