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Broadband Technologies Opportunity Program

Background

Broadband Access

MCNC external link is a non-profit organization incubated by the State of North Carolina General Assembly in 1980.  One of MCNCs main activities is to operate the North Carolina Research and Education Network (NCREN). NCREN provides broadband communications technology services and support to all 115 K-12 school districts, 20 of 58 North Carolina Community Colleges, all University of North Carolina system institutions, 24 of 36 of North Carolina’s Private Colleges and Universities and public health facilities across the state.

Broadband Technologies Opportunity Program

Through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) $7.2B in funding was allocated to the U.S. Department of Commerce and the U.S. Department of Agriculture to promote the deployment and use of broadband technologies to underserved and unserved populations in the United States.  Commerce administers $4.5B of this broadband recovery funding through the National Telecommunications and Information Administration’s (NTIA) Broadband Technologies Opportunities Program (BTOP). The majority of this funding is for deploying last mile and middle mile broadband infrastructure to unserved and underserved consumers and to Community Anchor Institutions (Schools, Libraries, Health Care facilities, other facilities of public importance).

MCNC BTOP Round 1 Award

On January 20, 2010, the NTIA announced that MCNC had been awarded $28.2M (BTOP infrastructure) in middle mile broadband recovery funds. MCNC’s funded proposal includes the construction of 500 new miles of fiber in 37 counties in the rural southeastern and western part of the state. Counties traversed by the build include: 

  • In eastern NC:  Beaufort, Bladen, Carteret, Columbus, Craven, Cumberland, Edgecombe, Greene, Harnett, Johnston, Nash, New Hanover, Onslow, Pender, Pitt, Robeson, Wake, Wilson;
  • In western NC:  Alexander, Buncombe, Burke, Caldwell, Catawba, Cleveland, Davidson, Davie, Gaston, Haywood, Henderson, Iredell, Jackson, Lincoln, McDowell, Mecklenburg, Polk, Rutherford, and Transylvania. 

The main goal of this fiber build is to offer virtually unlimited amounts of bandwidth to the public education institutions served by NCREN at stable costs for the next two decades, even though demand for bandwidth among these institutions is growing at 30-40% annually.

In May, MCNC awarded the engineering contract to ONUG Communications. There were 17 bidders for this business and each had an impressive level of detail. The selection team consisting of David Warden of PalmettoNet and Pat Moody, Tommy Jacobson, Mark Johnson of MCNC selected two finalists. These two finalists scored the highest on each of the rater’s scorecards. Face to face meetings were held with representatives of both finalists and selected ONUG Communications based on the cost and overall quality of their proposal. ONUG has been hard at work in detailing the route, and final determinations on the route will be made soon.

In early June, MCNC received responses from potential vendors who responded to the BTOP 1 materials Request for Information. This includes fiber, conduit and couplers. The purpose of issuing an RFI was to see the unique approaches that might be available from vendors and partners. A vendor could offer, for example, to be a General Contractor -- purchasing these materials on our behalf and then offering to oversee construction and do this at a discount. A vendor could propose to aggregate the purchase of several categories of materials including items they don't directly manufacture, or the vendor could bid to supply only what they directly manufacture. Hopefully the RFI approach will yield some interesting approaches that meet our fiscal requirements.

Finally, on June 4th, MCNC issued the RFI for optical equipment that will light the fiber; responses were expected by June 17th. Several vendors (Hauwei, Juniper, Ciena, Cisco) have equipment that could meet the need.

MCNC’s goal is to start building BTOP round 1 by the end of the summer.

BTOP Round 2 Award

Because of its success in round 1, MCNC was asked by the State to apply for round 2 BTOP funding for a middle mile fiber build in counties in Northeastern, North Central, Northwest and South Central North Carolina.

On August 18, 2010, the U.S. Department of Commerce announced that MCNC was awarded $75.75 million in American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) Broadband Recovery Funds through the National Telecommunications and Information Administration’s (NTIA) Broadband Technology Opportunities Program (BTOP) to support the Golden LEAF Rural Broadband Initiative (GLRBI).

This award builds on MCNC’s Round 1 BTOP award, a $39.9 million project (including $28.2 million in BTOP Funds) granted in January 2010 to build 480 miles of fiber in 37 counties in southeastern and western N.C.

The GLRBI will enhance the existing North Carolina Research and Education Network (NCREN), which MCNC has operated for the last quarter century, and will add to the existing ERC Broadband Network operated by the non-profit ERC Broadband in western North Carolina. Approximately 1,300 miles of new middle-mile fiber will be built throughout the state under this latest award. In addition, about 400 miles of existing fiber will be provided to the GLRBI through lease agreements and donations.

The middle-mile is the sector of the network that connects last-mile facilities such as telecom company local interconnection points (central offices) with the commercial Internet and with national and global advanced research networks such as Internet2 and National Lambda Rail.

The design, construction, and operation of the network could create more than 1,000 engineering/construction jobs. The new fiber-optic build will connect with the existing-owned NCREN fiber in North Carolina’s urban core as well as the new Round 1 BTOP fiber. The GLRBI will greatly increase the broadband capacity and stabilize bandwidth and Internet access costs for public school systems, community college campuses, libraries, universities, and other community anchor institutions that connect to NCREN.

Contact

Joe Freddoso