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Fiber for All BTOP Dreams Come to Life in North Carolina by: Joe Freddoso

OSP Magazine Two federal Broadband Technology Opportunities Program (BTOP) grants awarded to the Research Triangle Park non-profit MCNC in 2010 represent the largest investments in middle-mile broadband infrastructure in North Carolina history. The expansion of connectivity and services by MCNC through its operation of the North Carolina Research and Education Network (NCREN) will benefit almost every citizen in every community throughout the entire state.

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Preparing to install ConQuest Conduit

Geographically, North Carolina spans from the Atlantic coast to the Blue Ridge mountains. The state’s center, often referred to as the Piedmont region, has the state’s major metro areas. These are the only areas where high-speed, low-latency, fiber-based broadband access is readily available. Outside this urban core, an organization called MCNC is working to build a premier research and education network that fosters greater access to education resources, more equitable healthcare, and creates innovative capacity particularly in rural North Carolina. Since the 1980s, MCNC has operated this network to create the digital highway allowing North Carolinians to thrive in today’s globally interconnected society. However, in the last 5 years, bandwidth demand among the institutions served by NCREN -- particularly those in rural areas -has outstripped that available capacity. The BTOP awards will help MCNC bridge this digital gap by delivering critical middle-mile infrastructure and direct fiber connections to universities, community colleges, schools, health and safety facilities, libraries, county offices, and other community anchor institutions throughout the state. This fiber will significantly add to the capacity of NCREN, and allow NCREN services to be made available to these institutions at fixed costs for the foreseeable future. Thankfully, MCNC’s 2 BTOP awards of $104 million will help realize this goal. In addition, the $104 million is also matched by $40 million in privately-raised funds. Together, the $144 million investment in broadband infrastructure in rural North Carolina will span 69 counties with approximately 67 of those counties deemed underserved by federal standards. This effort has been dubbed the Golden LEAF Rural Broadband Initiative (GLRBI) since North Carolina’s Golden LEAF Foundation contributed $24 million of the matching funds.

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Extending the cable conduit path

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Buried conduit with pull line

Buried cable and conduit

Phase I The first phase of the historic project is near completion. The build encompasses 37 counties located in southeastern and western North Carolina. The mileage breakdown included: 414 miles of new build; 291 miles of acquisition; and 197 miles of upgraded fiber. East Carolina University (ECU) was one of the first NCREN connectors to receive expanded broadband capacity via the fall 2011 build with a 10 Gbps (gigabits per second) upgrade to network services. The prior connection to ECU had only a 1 Gbps path into Greenville, where the University is located. To reach ECU, MCNC built about 57 miles of BTOP-funded fiber from its existing fiber in Rocky Mount to the ECU campus in Greenville. Over the 96-strand fiber, MCNC deployed a Cisco 15454 DWDM-based system, with 40-channel capacity. On the first channel deployed, a 10 Gbps IP network was put into service. And as future lambdas are required, expansion of this network has the potential to scale to 100 Gbps on a single system. As a result of this work, ECU now serves as the main network hub for most community anchor institutions in North Carolina east of Interstate 95. ECU Chief Information Officer Tom Lamb said this upgrade to NCREN provided essential bandwidth and broadband capacity to service the school’s online and distance learning programs, videoconferencing, economic development, and other essential services. It also acts as a high-speed gateway for innovation throughout all of the state’s coastal areas. Lamb added, “Other universities, colleges, libraries, and government agencies throughout Eastern North Carolina will see a faster exchange of information with each other and the rest of the world. In turn, other parts of the state will gain access to the valuable expertise and resources available at ECU.”

MCNC Conduit

MCNC Installation

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Installed Conduit

Phase II Construction on the second phase of the GLRBI began in July 2011. This second phase saw a number of re-routes to accommodate the original project plan. The project coverage currently stands at 1,331 miles of new build, 302 miles of acquisition, and 60 miles of upgraded fiber, for a total of 1,693 project miles. The second project is three-times the size of the first, and is complex because of the areas traversed. Of course, building a fiber network is an involved task with many hand-offs between contracting firms involved. The first company to receive a contract award for this phase of the project was Kimley-Horn and Associates, headquartered in Raleigh. They provided outside plant engineering and an environmental assessment related to second phase construction. When they completed their end of the project, many firms were instrumental in completed sections of the project: • ONUG Communications provided the detailed engineering services, material specifications, environmental assessments, permitting, and project planning for the new fiber-optic network installed in Phase I. • In terms of putting shovel into the ground, Spalj Construction (doing business as Fiber Tech) worked on 200 miles of fiber on segments from Hickory to Lenoir, Asheville to Old Fort, Enka to Sylva, and Hendersonville to Huntersville in Phase I. • Also in Phase I, Globe Communications was chosen for segments in the east that included about 220 miles starting in Rocky Mount and running through Greenville, New Bern, Morehead City, and Jacksonville, before ending in Wilmington. • Comtech provided all fiber splicing related to this portion of the project. • Cisco Systems was chosen for the optical design portion of the project. • CommScope is providing materials for both phases of the GLRBI. The estimated materials purchased under this contract include: 96-count fiber, conduit, hand holds, couplers, splices cases, marking posts, and grounding rods, cable plugs, end caps, splices enclosures, and external telecommunications huts. • ECC Technologies of Wake Forest, North Carolina, and Penfield, New York, will oversee commercial broadband opportunities as the project’s fiber marketing partner. Groups of advocates, such as Northeast Rural Broadband Partnership, have already begun to formulate their strategies for leveraging the GLRBI fiber to expand Last Mile broadband options for businesses and consumers in their respective regions. NTIA Administrator Lawrence E. Strickling with the U.S. Department of Commerce said before funding MCNC, NCREN delivered speeds of 1 Gbps or faster to only 12 out of 100 counties in North Carolina. With this project, he added, MCNC will expand that number to 83 counties -- nearly a 600 percent increase in statewide broadband capabilities. “This will not only improve education and other public services, but it can also spur additional private-sector investment,” he said. “For example, as with other Recovery-Act-funded broadband networks, local Internet providers will be able to utilize the new infrastructure to extend broadband service to homes and businesses that may otherwise be too costly to reach.”

A contractor loads conduit into place for Round 1 of the Golden LEAF Rural Broadband Initiative while working in Eastern N.C. in July 2011.

Contractors organize a spool of fiber-optic conduit during installation in Eastern N.C. in May 2011.

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An alligator rests this spring while crews plan to work around the animal on a key segment that spans between Jacksonville and Wilmington.

Community Partnerships Another piece of this project is putting dollars back into the community. Approximately 99.3% of the $144 million total project will be spent in the private sector. As an example, MCNC worked with the North Carolina Institute of Minority Economic Development (NCIMED) in Durham to evaluate all bid responses for both rounds of the project. The aim was to reach North Carolina companies who qualify as small, disadvantaged, and minority-owned businesses. Another important part of the MCNC’s approach is their commitment to making this network benefit each citizen in the state. MCNC does not compete with private-sector telephone and cable companies to serve these consumers and businesses. These carriers have built businesses specializing in serving the communications needs of consumers and businesses -- just as MCNC has built NCREN to serve the unique, high-bandwidth needs of research, education, public health, and other public institutions. MCNC will simply help create public/private partnerships to enable private-sector broadband providers to reach underserved citizens and businesses utilizing a portion of the MCNC BTOP fiber to meet their middle mile backhaul, transport, and access needs. Several examples of these strong partnerships include: • North Carolina Telehealth Network (NCTN) ( which aims to help non-profit health care providers get the broadband services they need to improve the health and care of North Carolina citizens. • Cabarrus Health Alliance (CHA) ( , the NCTN project coordinator, signed a contract valued at up to $7.2 million with MCNC. • N.C. Office of Information Technology Services (ITS) along with MCNC will be supplying reliable high-speed broadband services for the Public Health Phase of the NCTN, which supports public health agencies and several of the larger free clinics and community health centers throughout the state. Dreams Coming True This new network has the potential to serve more than 1,500 community anchor institutions, 180,000 businesses, and more than 300,000 underserved families statewide. This expansion will be a great enhancement to the capabilities of NCREN, and has the potential to reduce the costs of delivering broadband services to consumers and small businesses in regions of the state where affordable broadband currently isn’t available. And it will soon be a reality. All construction on the GLRBI (were) be completed in accordance to federal guidelines and finished by January 31, 2013, to allow MCNC time to equip and place fiber into service on or before July 31, 2013. “This investment provides North Carolina with a robust broadband infrastructure that will help deliver access to education, through NCREN, that is not defined geographically but is equitable for every student at every level of education,” said North Carolina Gov. Bev Perdue at the start of the first phase of the project. “This infrastructure also helps us scale to meet the health care needs of our most rural citizens, and levels the playing field in attracting high-paying jobs to rural North Carolina.” High-speed Internet is no longer a luxury, but a necessity. MCNC’s sustainable and scalable plan for technology-enabled education and broadband connectivity is of the utmost importance for all North Carolinians.

As President and CEO, Joe Freddoso leads MCNC in its mission to provide advanced Intranet and Internet networking services to Community Anchor Institutions through the North Carolina Research and Education Network (NCREN), a statewide high-speed optical backbone. Prior to joining MCNC in 2007, Freddoso spent 7 years with Cisco Systems, Inc and 15 years as an organizer of Olympic style events around the globe. For more information, visit Microelectronics Center of North Carolina and NCREN, The Golden LEAF Foundation, North Carolina Institute of Minority Economic Development (NCIMED),

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BTOP NEWS UPDATE Recipient Spotlight

Vol 3 | Number 3 | March 2012

Many BTOP projects are supporting small businesses’ needs in the 21st century economy by providing targeted training and resources to help employers and entrepreneurs utilize broadband to improve their business. Additionally, small businesses can benefit indirectly from BTOP projects through increased broadband availability for themselves and their customers. For example: The New Mexico State Library‘s Fast Forward New Mexico project conducts small business development training at public and tribal libraries, including instruction on how to set up an online presence and increase revenue through e-commerce. Read more here. The Public Computer Center (PCC) project of the Regents of the University of Minnesota offers digital literacy training for small business owners. Read more here. Sho-Me Technologies’ infrastructure project provides faster Internet connections in south-central Missouri to spur economic opportunities in the region and to complement state government initiatives to educate farmers in the use of technologies to improve their business. Read more here.

New BTOP Resources Every month, this newsletter offers resources to help recipients manage their projects: ``

Recipient Handbook: February Update


Contract Flow-down of Award Terms Fact Sheet


Compliance Presentations from October 2011 Mid-Course Workshop


Analyzing and Using Data Webinar Material (You must be logged into the Broadband Workshop Wiki to access the February 22 presentation and resources. BTOP recipients can request access via this link.)

NEWS Resources offers resources for businesses and employers, including items contributed by BTOP recipients in these areas: ``

Resources for Businesses and Employers


Educator Tools

NTIA encourages BTOP recipients to contribute resources to

Broadband News

Last month, representatives from two BTOP projects were among several local leaders from across the country honored at the White House as “Champions of Change.” Joe Freddoso, president and CEO of MCNC, and Donal Welch, president and CEO of Merit Network, Inc., were recognized for using innovative techniques to develop valuable projects helping to improve America’s infrastructure. Click here for more information. NTIA’s Tales from the Front Lines BTOP Case Studies series: ``

Joe Freddoso, President and CEO, MCNC


Susan Walters, Senior Vice President, California Emerging Technology Fund


Mark Shlanta, CEO, SDN Communications


Andrew Buss, Director of Public Programs, Office of Innovation and Technology, City of Philadelphia


Bill Callahan, Connect Your Community Project Director, OneCommunity



Upcoming Events

MARCH 7, 2012 Data Collection and Measurement for Evaluation Virtual Office Hours 1:00-2:00 p.m. EST • Click here to register. Conference: 1-888-469-1343 Passcode: 3650820 MARCH 28, 2012 Data Analysis and Reporting of Evaluation Findings Webinar 1:00-2:30 p.m. EDT • Click here to register. Conference: 1-800-779-9033 Passcode: 6779960 MARCH 29, 2012 Rural Economic Development Webinar 3:00-4:30 p.m. EDT • Click here to register. Conference: 1-888-847-7593 Passcode: 8910062 SAVE THE DATE: MAY 22-24, 2012 Creating Sustainable Broadband Solutions for Communities and Anchor Institutions This national conference is hosted by U.S. UCAN and SHLB in Greater Washington, D.C. Click here for more information.


Compliance Tip

Find general guidance on the appropriate calculation, use, management, and reporting of program income related to your BTOP project in the new Program Income Fact Sheet.

Send Us Your Ideas NTIA welcomes project updates, recipient news stories, and best practices to highlight in this newsletter and other communications. Next month, in honor of National Library Week (April 8-14), NTIA plans to highlight BTOP recipients that are serving or partnering with public libraries. If you have project activities, events, or best practices related to this topic or other potential topics, please send the information as soon as possible to your FPO and

Connect with Us

GLRBI Round 2 March 2012 Clipbook  

News and articles in March 2012 for the second phase of the Golden LEAF Rural Broadband Initiative in North Carolina.