MCNC starts round 2 of NCREN rural broadband buildout

MCNC, the not-for-profit rural network operator behind the North Carolina Research and Education Network (NCREN), has officially started round 2 of its Golden LEAF Rural Broadband Initiative (GLRBI).

NCRC groundbreaking ceremony

Groundbreaking ceremonies for round 2 of the MCNC's GLRBI were held in four locations around North Carolina. (Image source: MCNC)

The round 2 construction will cost about $104 million, with more than $75 million of the cost being supplied by an NTIA (National Telecommunications and Information Administration) broadband stimulus grant the operator was awarded one year ago this month. The rest is being covered by more than $28 million in private donations, about $24 million of which came from the Golden LEAF Foundation, a group that receives about half of North Carolina's windfall from the cigarette industry court settlement. One of the aspects that has made the NCREN network popular, as well as a model for rural broadband expansion, is that North Carolina did not have to use or raise state taxes to back the project. Network construction is due to finish by 2013.

The second phase is three times the physical size of the first phase of the project, with round 2 construction involving 1,200 miles of broadband infrastructure in 79 counties in North Carolina. MCNC said that 69 of the 79 counties include areas that have been classified as "underserved" by broadband.

Vendors benefiting from the round 2 spending, which dwarfs the $40 million spent on round 1 of the project, include CommScope for fiber-optic cable and materials; Edwards Telecommunications, Fiber Technologies, and Globe Communications for construction and fiber installation; and Kimley-Horn & Associates for engineering design, project planning, and related services. MCNC also has argued that the project will create or save 2,500 state technology-related jobs.

During last week's groundbreaking for round 2 of the project, MCNC actually demonstrated some of the current capabilities of the NCREN network by linking four research sites around the state--Asheville-Buncombe Tech Community College, Elizabeth City State University, the North Carolina Research Campus in Kannapolis, and UNC Pembroke--for an HD video simulcast event.

For more:
- see this story at N.C.'s Concord Independent Tribune
- and the news release

Related articles:
MCNC first won broadband stimulus funding in January 2010
Broadband stimulus projects in West Virginia have not fared so well
Some NCREN vendors have been involved on other parts of the project