North Carolina AT&T President Venessa Harrison says the company will “continue working” with the ultra-fast North Carolina Next Generation Network project even though the telecommunications giant has put a “pause” on construction of fiber-optic network projects.
In an interview Thursday morning, Harrison said staff from AT&T is meeting with NCNGN – pronounced “N.C. engine” – representatives to map out “next steps.”
NCNGN also reaffirmed its commitment to working with AT&T on the high-speed network which would cover much of the Triangle and the Winston-Salem area. Plans call for the availability of gigabit Internet services which would be a hundred times faster than standard cable Internet speeds.
Dr. Marc Hoit, vice chancellor for Information Technology at N.C. State and one of the founders driving the NCNGN initiative, described AT&T as a “good partner.”
“I don’t know what a pause means,” Hoit explained. “Unfortunately [building the network] is taking a little longer than we hoped,” but he added that “we’ve extended” time with AT&T for the project.
Hoit said NCNGN and AT&T continue to discuss network design and possible deployments, especially for connectivity to “community sites” such as housing complexes and public facilities. Providing “digital inclusion” across all communities is an essential part of the NCNGN project.
AT&T won the contract for the NCNGN project through a request-for-proposal process.
On Wednesday, AT&T (NYSE: T) CEO Randall Stephenson disclosed at a conference that the company would not roll out ultra-fast Internet access in some 100 cities due to the debate over Internet regulation or what is called “net neutrality.”
His decision, which he described as a “pause,” affects AT&T’s involvement in building the NCNGN. AT&T also has said it wants to provide Internet at gigabit speeds – branded as GigaPower – in several cities across the Triangle and North Carolina.
AT&T was awarded the NCNGN contract earlier this year and has signed contractual agreements with NCNGN municipal members Raleigh, Cary, Durham, Chapel Hill, Carrboro and Winston-Salem.
Duke, NCSU, UNC-Chapel Hill and Wake Forest universities also are part of the NCNGN consortium.
The agreements stipulated that initial deployment sites would be announced last month.
In prepared remarks delivered to an event put on by four Triangle area Chambers of Commerce, Harrison said the “pause” announced by Stephenson had people asking her: “What does this exactly mean for North Carolina? Quite honestly, we do not know. I have no more information than that.”
However, she told the crowd that AT&T remained committed to NCNGN.
AT&T already is deploying fiber networks in the Texas cities of Austin, Dallas and San Antonio.
President Obama called on Monday for the FCC to regulate Internet Service Providers such as AT&T as public utilities. A previous effort was struck down in federal court. Since then, the FCC has been working on a strategy that it believes service providers and businesses as well as consumers will find acceptable.
The top executive of Frontier Communications, which already is building a fiber network in Durham and Durham County, issued a statement Wednesday blasting “net neutrality instigators.”
Frontier and AT&T will be competing for business once AT&T begins deployment of NCNGN. Its current presence in Durham County is limited.