At the WRAL TechWire Executive Exchange, service provider panelists made impactful announcements about the future of fiber in the Triangle. Not the least of these: Durham’s getting fiber.

Details won’t be available until Oct. 23, 2014, but Dennis Bloss, VP and GM for Frontier Communications North Carolina gave us a hint.

“As a relatively new entrant into North Carolina, we’re rapidly investing in fiber to the neighborhood,” said Bloss. “This is positioning us to take the next step and up the speeds to Durham. We’re proud of the work we’ve done with Connect America funds, installing broadband for tens of thousands of households in rural neighborhoods, and soon we will be helping to drive entrepreneurship in Durham and the Triangle when we offer fiber there in the very near future.”

Moderator Joe Freddoso, a broadband consultant and entrepreneur, opened the panel discussion by emphasizing the need to balance high-speed access for both high- and low-income communities. He emphasized that the challenge is to have the economics work here in the Triangle, throughout the state and for Gig.U, the broadband initiative for research universities.

IPTV still a driver

AT&T’s VP of Project LightGig, Eric Small, talked about the impact of facilitating the transition from the old infrastructure to new IP services, noting that POTS (aka plain old telephone service) will end by 2020. “The math just doesn’t work to maintain the old TDM networks,” Small stated. “In power costs alone, maintaining the old systems costs more than $400 million each year.”

Therefore, scaled fiber deployment is the next phase of the broadband evolution. According to Small, customer demand has driven a steady growth of 20 to 30 percent per year due to a sharp increase in both virtualization and social networking.

“And don’t discount the importance of TV – it is not dead,” said Small. “Most people buy a bundle with TV, and for more than a third, TV is the most important part of that bundle.”

He points to this because IPTV has driven an evolution such that more than 30 different tablet platforms are now supported to deliver video content. The demand, he says, is for both inside and outside the home, to record and play anywhere, hundreds of thousands of hours of HDTV – all watched on the viewer’s own terms.

“We launched our pilot project in Austin, and with such great results we are now committed to deploying in North Carolina. Local broadcasters will have direct MPEG-4 end-to-end. Why now? Because we have the ability to deploy selectively. The advancement in fiber deployment technology is more efficient,” Small said.

More and better internet for NC

Mark Johnson, MCNC CTO, stated bluntly that his organization’s mission is to make more and better internet for North Carolina. One of reasons we are being so successful, he posited, is that North Carolina is particularly good at collaborating.

“We’ve been at it for a long time; this is not a new effort in the Triangle and NC,” said Johnson. “It’s possible for us to be ahead of the game because we collaborate – with manufacturers, with service providers and other agencies. We in North Carolina were the first in the country to deploy interactive MPEG-2. We had it before Boston, even with Harvard and MIT in their backyard. We were able to do that by pulling together, all in the same direction.”

Making the Triangle among the first regions in country not just to have gigabit ethernet to the home, but to have competition for it, is critical. MCNC works hard to address issues of the digital divide by getting fiber into rural areas. The organization also says it’s critical to make that fiber available to service providers and institutions like healthcare and education.

“We deployed more than we need for our purposes, so making it available for residential access through service providers makes for a better business case in less dense areas,” Johnson continued. “We’re anxious to see things progress in the Triangle and across the state as well because improved fiber access helps to make for better competition in smaller communities. Big service providers only touch a national footprint. Outside of Raleigh and Charlotte, where big providers put their footprints, we make it less expensive to increase residential fiber access.”

From greatest tobacco market to NC’s first gigabit city

Will Aycock is the Greenlight operations manager for the City of Wilson. He was unique on the panel in speaking to how fiber transforms the community – and he brought many examples of how high speed has changed the face of his town.

“When you open up communications inside the business community with data transfers at full available capacity, businesses can grow and be more effective. They pay for one level of service, but often get the higher speed, allowing professionals like radiologists to work from home effectively,” Aycock offered.

ExodusFX, a video and special effects company that as done work on films like “Captain America,” recently relocated from Los Angeles to Wilson, because they can, it seems. And this obviously demonstrates the power of fiber’s transformation capabilities, moving a city from tobacco to film.

“We’re replacing the public infrastructure, so the delivery of public services has changed,” said Aycock. “When I came on board 15 years ago, part of my IT job was to go from firehouse to firehouse with data disks to update first responder information. Now, with fiber, we update remotely in real time. This is a positive move for public safety.”

From the Outer Banks to the Aleutians

NeoNova, formerly a division of NorTel, is a fast-growing cloud service provider to the broadband service providers. Broadband is important, says CEO Ray Carey, but it’s only as important as what you do with it.

“Cloud services is essentially what drives a lot of broadband necessity,” said Carey. “Our clients are in 42 states, from the Aleutian Islands to Key West, from Southern California to New Hampshire – and even to the Outer Banks.”

NeoNova works primarily with rural service providers. Perhaps this is what led them to recently be purchased by their customers. This not-for-profit is now owned by 1,500 rural electric utility and telephone companies, helping fulfill the mission to bring fiber connectivity to the rest of the state and the rest of rural North America.

“Where does your food, your energy, your military come from?” Cary asked. “Rural America. That means there’s a huge need to make sure that, even if it breaks the bank, we are not leaving people behind.”

This is especially important for education, he suggests, stating that it’s “one thing to get (fiber) there, another to get utilization rate where it needs to be.”

Overall, the panel emphasized the importance of bringing the next-gen infrastructure to all communities. Its evolution has led to more widespread awareness of its importance, and the panel encouraged every community to develop a strategy.

Now Durham County can begin to prepare for its impact with Frontier’s upcoming Oct. 23 announcement.