DURHAM – MCNC and Duke University are partnering to put in place a $10 million fiber optic cable ring throughout the Triangle that they say will bolster internet speed and reliability for local governments, schools, and health care.

MCNC is the nonprofit owner and operator of the North Carolina Research and Education Network (NCREN).

The work is expected to be completed in August.

MCNC and Duke are each installing about 55 miles of fiber to form a ring spanning Durham, Raleigh, Cary an Chapel Hill, including Research Triangle Park.

Duke and MCNC said they will share the cost equally.

“More than 20 years ago, MCNC partnered with the three R-1 research universities in the Triangle to acquire some of the first fiber that served the region,” said Jean Davis, CEO of MCNC, in a statement.

“With the contract to use that fiber nearing the end of its term, we needed to replace the fiber to ensure our customers continue to receive reliable technology solutions for innovation. We wanted to use a partnership approach as we had in the past to maintain a real competitive advantage for our community to innovate and thrive.”

Private sector access

In an interview with WRAL TechWire, Davis said private sector companies can access the network.

Non-profit MCNC is open access, she explained. That means: “Anyone who wants to utilize it can lease access to the network at competitive prices.”

The project has no connection to the NC Next Generation Network, she added.

The NCNGN network is designed to link the Triangle and Triad will high-speed fiber. It is being built by AT&T. Duke along with N.C. State, UNC-Chapel Hill and Wake Forest, were among the original partners for that project.

Davis added that the MCNC-Duke agreement represents the future of deal making for networks.

“These kinds of collaborative projects are the wave of the future, working out that kind of shared infrastructure play,” Davis said. “We’re big believers in that kind of collaboration for this region.”

Augmenting NCREN

The new fiber ring “basically upgrades our network to provide better service to our clients,” she added. “It’s the latest iteration of the network we’ve built over the years.”

The upgrade to NCREN, which already provides fiber access across the state, “provides the robust redundancy and resilience our community anchor institutions need,” Davis explained. “It’s a community story about building the network of the future so our clients can thrive.”

The fiber project will connect directly to the NCREN backbone that provides network connections to all of NC’s schools, community colleges, universities and state and municipal sites.

Tracy Futhey, chief information officer at Duke said the university is a “natural collaborator on the project,” since it operates more than 80 research, education, health clinic, hospital and urgent care facilities in the region.

“We’re thrilled to partner with MCNC in what truly delivers a win-win outcome,” Futhey said. “Since each of us need an extensive network in the region, it was only logical for us to team up and build it together. Not only does it contain costs for both organizations, it gives us the desired redundancy for reliability and reach that would be difficult to establish on our own,” she said in a statement.

Local communities will benefit from the high-speed bandwidth linking research, education and patient care locations throughout the Triangle, Futhey added.

According to the announcement, the fiber project “provides the speed and reliability needed to promote better health outcomes by swiftly transmitting medical images and health records; by supporting the resources needed to engage telehealth, and other electronic evaluations and treatments; and by giving practitioners opportunities to engage in professional development activities via teleconference.”