The North Carolina Research and Education Network, a fiber-optic backbone spanning the entire state, finished its expansion earlier this year and by the numbers, it’s impressive.

The NCREN expansion totals 3,600 miles of cable, said Joe Freddoso, CEO of MCNC, the non-profit that runs the network.

MCNC made the Manteo-to-Murphy Information Highway possible through a mix of federal funding, support from Golden LEAF, its own resources and private sector partners. The project cost  $144 million.

The number of fiber strand miles would wrap around the Earth 10 times. The network, which started out connecting primarily institutions of higher education, now has 500 endpoints, including 130 health care providers.

The buildout wrapped up in August. But Freddoso said that the completion of the work just marks the beginning.

“We’ve built something that is ultimately scalable that is priced friendly and that looks to the future,” he said.

Freddoso kicked off NCREN Community Day 2013 this afternoon, an MCNC event that brings together users of the NCREN. The two-day event is being held at the James B. Hunt Jr. Library at N.C. State University.

The importance of the buildout is scalability, Freddoso said. For example, health care facilities can use the network to make medical specialists available to people in rural areas.

And NCREN will also have an impact on school systems, which face a legislative mandate to bring digital textbooks to their schools by the 2017-2018 school year. Those textbooks will be sent to schools over the NCREN.That initiative along with other education uses will be part of what will drive up broadband demand. The expansion will provide the capacity to handle that demand, Freddoso said.

The NCREN will also help the private sector. North Carolina is the only state with a statewide open access dark fiber network. Open access means that MCNC will provide fiber access to anyone who needs it. While MCNC doesn’t provide service directly to homes and businesses, it can leases dark fiber to cooperatives, small cable companies and rural telephone companies. Freddoso said the buildout, fills coverage gaps, particularly in rural areas. Filling those gaps and making broadband more widely available will be key for creating new jobs and services that we can’t even begin to predict now.

“If we build our economic development strategy around broadband infrastructure, we will see a kick up in use that will be akin to when we deployed the highway system,” Freddoso said.