(Editor’s note: The Broadband Report is a regular feature in WRAL TechWire.)

AUSTIN, Texas – Many of the country’s brightest broadband minds will converge in Texas this week for the annual Broadband Communities Summit.

This event attracts broadband system operators, network builders and deployers of all kinds. Many of the country’s major property owners and real estate developers attend the Summit each year, along with independent telcos and cable companies, municipal and state officials, community leaders and economic development professionals.

The program kicks off on Tuesday with a keynote address by FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler.

When it comes to broadband, no one has made more news in the past six months than Wheeler – Net Neutrality, Internet fast lanes, municipal-owned broadband systems, Title II, and the re-definition of it to 25 Mbps.

And, that’s just to start.

The packed program matches the amount of broadband news being seen today. There are several other keynote addresses scheduled, and the agenda is broken down by workshops and tracks that include discussions on multifamily, economic development, connected homes, intelligent buildings, and rural broadband.

Jane Smith Patterson is the former executive director of eNC Authority (now NC Broadband) and current president of the Rural Telecom Congress, a 10-year-old organization that works across rural America to gain the same dynamic broadband that cities now can receive. She has been actively engaged in enhancing the broadband climate in North Carolina, and around the nation, for decades, and was the organizer of the Rural Broadband Track at the summit.

Each year, a committee of industry leaders, analysts and writers selected by Broadband Communities votes to bestow a half dozen or so Cornerstone Awards to private developments, municipalities, communities, companies, and individuals with outstanding accomplishments in the area of delivering telecommunications. Since 2004, Cornerstone Awards have included recognition for the most notable deployments of fiber-to-the-home in the U.S. and abroad.

At the main luncheon this week, Patterson (a previous recipient of the award) on behalf of the 2015 Broadband Communities Summit will be handing out one of the Cornerstone Awards to the PANGAEA network.

PANGAEA is a non-profit internet service provider headquartered in Tryon. Their “Speed of Light” fiber network serves the major arteries of Polk and Rutherford Counties in western North Carolina. The Rural Internet Infrastructure Authority gave the initial money to deploy this community network, which was 7 miles of fiber but is now 10 years old and a raving success at nearly 200 miles serving schools and businesses. They now are getting ready to partner to connect with wireless to continue penetration in many of the more rural areas of Rutherford and Polk counties.

“These two counties had in excess of 15 percent unemployment and now has Facebook, another State Data Center and the new Rural Equestrian facility, which has enabled this community to transition away from tobacco, furniture, apparel and textiles to one that is based on a new world of innovation,” said Patterson.

Bill Shillito of NC Wireless will talk further about it and their great successes in the northwest.

Also on the program from North Carolina is Dave Kirby of Kirby Management Consulting and project manager for the North Carolina Telehealth Network (NCTN). He plans to talk about the accomplishments of the NCTN as the statewide project for high-speed, reliable and affordable broadband services for North Carolina’s health and care community.

“The idea is to describe the dynamics that have driven NCTN to date and the prospects for the future,” said Kirby.

Kirby went on to explain that the NCTN has completed a first period of service utilizing discounts from the FCC’s pilot program (RHCPP) with about 135 sites (virtually all of who recently renewed or upgraded service). They also are starting service for a significantly expanded site/service set (about 40 new ones since September and 70-120 over the next six months) under the new FCC Healthcare Connect Program (HCF) with an expectation and plan to grow to 1,000-2,000 sites over the next few years.

Current health care constituents served by the NCTN as of March was 175 total sites, the vast majority being local health departments and agencies and non-profit hospitals.

The NCTN is a dedicated network for public and non-profit health care providers leveraging both the North Carolina Research and Education Network (NCREN) and the N.C. Office of Information Technology Services (ITS) infrastructure to provide high-speed broadband connectivity and other network services. The NCTN, which received the 2011 NCTA Public Leadership Award, began in 2007 and is coordinated through the Cabarrus Health Alliance (CHA).

NCREN is owned and operated by MCNC in Research Triangle Park. MCNC Chief Technology Officer Mark Johnson and MCNC President and CEO Jean Davis also will be attending Broadband Communities this week.

“This is my first Broadband Communities Summit, and I’m looking forward to learning about what other networks are doing across the country and to share MCNC’s successes and the best practices we’ve discovered along the way,” said Davis. “The agenda is full of interesting topics relevant to our work with the many sectors we currently serve.”

Before everything gets underway on Tuesday, the Coalition for Local Internet Choice, or CLIC, has a day of discussion and strategy planned today (Monday) regarding protecting local authority in broadband, bringing together a broad coalition of public and private groups and individuals. This pre-conference event includes several broadband experts from across the country and features some from North Carolina including Gail Roper, Chief Information and Community Relations Officer for the City of Raleigh, and representatives from the City of Wilson.

Streaming video of this week’s event will be available on the Broadband Communities Summit website.