Editor’s note: On the seventh day of the 12 Days of Broadband, MCNC President and CEO Joe Freddoso takes a deeper look at how broadband connectivity has become a vital piece of infrastructure for North Carolina’s economy.
RESEARCH TRIANGLE PARK, N.C. – During NC Chamber’s 71st annual meeting in March, a vision for the North Carolina of 2030 was presented.
Since its inception, through many generations of leaders, the chamber has acted as the trailblazer for North Carolina and its citizens. The current version of the chamber under Lew Ebert’s thoughtful guidance is no exception.
Part of the chamber’s 2030 vision involves a focus on North Carolina building and maintaining world-class critical infrastructures.
In past generations water, sewer, power, paved highways/roads, and airports defined critical infrastructure. Access to these amenities improved standards of living, access to education, provided a path to better health care, and enhanced overall quality of life. All of these remain important in 2013 and will likely be important in 2030.
The chamber’s 2030 vision also focuses on broadband infrastructure as critical for North Carolina’s overall prosperity. The work of MCNC on the Golden LEAF Rural Broadband Initiative (GLRBI) was highlighted in comments about the plan.
On its own, the GLRBI accomplishes only part of the chamber’s vision for better broadband infrastructure in North Carolina.
First, it guarantees for the foreseeable future that students in our K-20 public and most private education institutions, patients in many of our rural hospitals, and researchers at our universities and research institutions will have access to affordable broadband at their place of study or work.
Each of these is served directly by MCNC through the operation of the North Carolina Research and Education Network (NCREN). The GLRBI investment has allowed us to scale NCREN to the growing broadband needs of these institutions at fixed costs.
For an analogy, think of NCREN as an interstate highway that expands with relative ease to meet increased traffic with little added expense for the institutions connected to the network.
Our public school districts now use 20G of Internet per day, increasing from just 1G only five years ago, and we expect to maintain this pace of demand growth for the next five years. With NCREN, these increases come without increased costs.
To continue the highway analogy, North Carolina still has some work to do on the local roads, but the interstate highway is there. For K-12 public education, when you combine the existence of NCREN with the work of the N.C. General Assembly and the Governor’s Office in upgrading individual school infrastructures, North Carolina has a great foundation for digital learning.
Second, the GLRBI is an open access network. This means that MCNC must make available a large part of the GLRBI infrastructure to existing telecommunications and cable companies to help them provide faster broadband service to more areas of North Carolina than they can reach today.
MCNC will never serve last-mile broadband for businesses and consumers in North Carolina. The GLRBI allows MCNC to supply existing telecommunications and cable companies with access to a key piece of infrastructure that makes it financially feasible to reach more citizens and businesses at higher speeds.
MCNC is engaged in numerous conversations with telephone companies, telephone cooperatives, wireless internet companies, cable companies, electric membership cooperatives, and other large enterprises on how they can use the GLRBI fiber to improve access to broadband all over the state.
The GLRBI gives these providers access to fiber between 60 and 90 percent less (depending on the location) than the cost to build it on their own – using the GLRBI fiber makes it possible for these providers to deploy better services to more customers throughout the state.
Now is the time for business leaders as well as economic development and policy leaders to think about how their region can work with their service provider community to address some of the missing local roads. The service provider can be a locally-based cooperative or independent telecommunications company, a cable provider, a large national or global telecommunications company, or one of many other types of organizations. These local roads can be wired or wireless, use existing infrastructure or newly-built fiber paths, and can be operated by existing service providers or new market entrants.
The end result is if these local roads are built there will be better broadband access throughout North Carolina. Better broadband access is fundamental in 2013 and will be even more critical in 2030 for accelerated economic development, for better access to education, for improved health care, and for greater economic vitality.
MCNC is ready to help communities and providers develop their strategies and work together to implement them. If we all can work together, North Carolina can add the “Fast Broadband State” to its “Good Roads State” moniker.