DURHAM, N.C. – Only a few years ago, the definition of a gigabit city was fairly simple. It was a region connected by a pure fiber network, making high-speed broadband readily available to all.

Not anymore.

“That’s evolved,” said Dennis Newman, North Carolina Next Generation Network’s program director, who has been working to implement broadband initiatives across the state for the past few years and thought of the concept behind RIoT XXX: Smart and Connected Gigabit Cities.

“When we use that term ‘gigabit city’, it’s a ‘smart’ city. It’s using the high-speed gigabit services [to be able to do things we weren’t able to do before.]”

That was on full display Tuesday night when local innovators provided live demos of their latest projects – from smart parking apps to real-time streaming drones – as part of the symposium sponsored by US Ignite.

More than 200 people packed into The Rickhouse in Durham to get a glimpse of the gigabit movement taking shape across the state. It’s a push that is powering slew of new Internet of Things (IoT), connecting everyday devices to the internet, developed right here in the Old North State.

“We are in the midst of a wave of technology that’s had a tremendous amount of growth over the last 10 years,” said Newman. “Now our challenge is to take that new, innovative technologies and find a way to apply those to smart cities and achieve the benefits that they offer.”

Scott Turnbull, director of Technology for US Ignite.

NC leads the way

By 2021, state officials are hoping to make North Carolina the first “giga-state”, with broadband access for all its residents.

Jeffrey R. Sural, North Carolina Department of Information Technology’s (NCDIT) broadband infrastructure office director, who was among the panelists at RIoT XXX, said such a goal is important to supporting economic development and creating “viable, livable cities.”

Already, the state has achieved a number of firsts in the nation when it comes to broadband connectivity, he said.

Among them: connecting all K-12 schools, community colleges and universities with high-speed internet, and creating an ecosystem that attracts tech giants like Google, Facebook and Apple, all of which have data centers in the state.

Meanwhile, NC DIT recently launched a $10 million GREAT Grant program to provide last-mile connectivity to Tier One counties, those classified as the most economically distressed in state.

“When I talk to my counterparts in other states or with the federal government they seek our counsel and remark on our progress,” said Sural. “We have a lot of work to do to make sure everyone benefits and is included, but we are on the right track and making good progress.”

Empowering rural areas

Darsweil Rogers, a business consultant from Fayetteville, was among those who travelled from outside the Triangle to attend the event.

He comes from a city classified as Tier One, and as board chairman of the Public Works Commission, he’s in charge of setting the city’s strategic direction. As far as he’s concerned, access to high-speed broadband is a basic necessity.

Darsweil Rogers, business consultant and chairman of Fayetteville Public Works Commission.

“Broadband is as basic to the future as breathing is to human life,” he said. “It needs to be perceived as a utility, just like electricity in your house and the ability to get water.”

He hoped to share some of the ideas floated at the symposium back in his hometown. “If we embrace some of these creative ideas, we can leapfrog into a better opportunity.”

NC Next Generation Network strives to address digital equity