Hallelujah! Broadband links schools from Manteo to Murphy, but what happens now?

RALEIGH, N.C. – North Carolina’s efforts to spread broadband access to all reached quite a milestone Thursday with the news that every school district from Manteo to Murphy is connected to the high-speed North Carolina Research and Education Network.

Here’s a tip of the hat from the Skinny to the NCREN team at MCNC in RTP, the state Department of Public Instruction, Gov. Bev Perdue and the General Assembly, who worked together for the data interstate known as the School Connectivity Initiative.

However, the work goes on. State budget issues threaten the level of funding for various broadband projects just as North Carolina reaches critical mass in terms of making high-speed connectivity a utility, not a luxury. Will legislators find the political will to keep the eNC project alive? Will funding for NCREN be cut beyond budget moves already made last year? Will pending legislation to further entice private sector firms to expand their networks be scuttled?

For the sake of North Carolina’s continuing transition to a wired economy, let’s hope not.

Much can be learned about how to keep moving ahead from the N.C. School Connectivity Initiative. This effort required input and support from several other groups beyond those already mentioned. Among them: eNC which recommended the program in 2006, the Friday Institute and the N.C. Office of Information Technology. Private sector players included the big broadband providers – AT&T, TimeWarner Cable, Embarq, Verizon and DukeNet, which is part of Duke Power.

North Carolina has tried for years to build an information highway that would provide distance learning and Internet connectivity to all students regardless of local school district wealth. Today, the many people from private and public sectors who were involved can smile.

The leaders in this effort are too many to list individually. But here are a few:

• The governor. Perdue promised and delivered on connecting the schools. (She also received three awards related to distance learning at Thursday’s event.)

• Former Gov. Jim Hunt. Regardless of your political persuasion, you have to give the four-term governor credit for helping drive North Carolina into the 21st century from high-tech to biotech to broadband.

• Jane Patterson, a top Hunt tech advisor and current director of the eNC program that is tasked with spreading broadband access to all N.C. citizens, helped drive the building of the N.C. project that first made available video over broadband to many schools.

• Joe Freddoso, the chief executive officer at MCNC, made the School Connectivity Initiative a personal as well as professional objective.

• The team at MCNC that built NCREN dating back to the 1990s.

Many other people also deserve words of thanks.

Salute.

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