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Broadband funding to link Polk to other N.C. counties

The federal government has awarded $28 million in stimulus funds for a broadband expansion that will link fiber optic systems in Polk and 36 other North Carolina counties to the rest of the state.
The funds will be used to create a 480-mile fiber optic network that connects all of North Carolinas 58 community colleges, community health centers and public computer centers. According to a press release from U.S. Senator Kay Hagan, the new fiber optic network will be built primarily in areas of western and southeastern North Carolina and will be connected to 685 miles of existing infrastructure in urban regions of the state.
“This grant will help keep our rural communities in North Carolina vibrant,” says Hagan. “Small businesses, workers, students and families will all benefit from increased access to broadband technology.”
Ron Walters, the Executive Director for PANGAEA, a non-profit organization operating a fiber optic network in Polk and Rurtherford counties, said he is pleased to hear plans to connect Polk to other counties in the state.
However, Walters adds that he hopes the state will not duplicate existing infrastructure, considering that PANGAEA already has more than 120 miles of fiber running in Polk and Rutherford counties. The network serves government, health care, educational and commercial facilities.
“The overall goal is a great goal to interconnect data centers and school systems across the state,” says Walters. “We just want to make sure they are not talking about building where theres already fiber.”
Walters says he hopes to learn more about the project plans in the near future.
The grant from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act was awarded to the Microelectronics Center of North Carolina (MCNC), an independent, non-profit organization that uses networking technologies and systems to improve learning and collaboration in the states education community.
MCNC raised $11.7 million in matching funds through private sources, including $4 million from the MCNC endowment, making the total project a $40 million investment in the states broadband infrastructure.
“We were very pleased to learn of the Broadband Technology Opportunities Program award to MCNC,” says Mike Murphy, chairman of the MCNC Board of Directors. “The 480 miles of new fiber throughout the western and southeastern part of North Carolina will ensure that our K-12 schools, universities, community colleges, university hospitals and other community anchor institutions (libraries, public health) will have access to unlimited amounts of bandwidth now and into the future.
“All North Carolinians will benefit from this public/private partnership that created this application.”
According to a release from N.C. Governor Bev Perdue, the new network could serve more than 1,500 school and community institutions, 180,000 businesses and more than 300,000 underserved families.
The new fiber will greatly expand the reach of the North Carolina Research and Education Network (NCERN). NCWREN is one of the nations first statewide education and research networks, providing broadband technology to support K-12 school idstricts, higher education campuses and academic research institutions across North Carolina.
MCNC provides the NCREN network to guarantee equal access to 21st century learning.
Gov. Perdue says, “NCREN will also play a vital role as part of my Career and College – “Ready, Set, Go! Initiative” – which will help ensure those businesses have access to a well-trained workforce.”
The governor adds that the project also is part of a strategy to enhance feasibility of Health Internet Technology initiatives across the state to improve access to health services. The project has been coordinated with other applications for federal economic recovery funds in North Carolina, including those in areas of health care and education.
“Increased broadband access for underserved areas is a critical infrastructure improvement that will help businesses of all sizes create jobs,” said Gov. Perdue.
The following counties are expected to benefit from the broadband expansion project.
Western NC
Alexander, Buncombe, Burke, Caldwell, Catawba, Cleveland, Davison, Davie, Gaston, Haywood, Henderson, Iredell, Jackson, Lincoln, McDowell, Mecklenburg, Polk, Rutherford and Transylvania.
Eastern NC
Beaufort, Bladen, Cateret, Columbus, Craven, Cumberland, Edgecombe, Greene, Harnett, Johnston, Nash, New Hanover, Onslow, Pender, Pitt, Robeson, Wake and Wilson.
Gov. Perdue says the design, construction and operation of the network is expected to create more than 230 engineering and construction jobs.
Within the next 60 days, MCNC is expected to issue several requests for proposal for the design, construction and operation of the network. Construction is expected to last up to three years.