Recognizing that government at all levels can become partners rather than obstacles in deployment of broadband networks across the state, the McCrory administration unveiled the North Carolina Broadband Report in June that aims to provide "universal access" for North Carolina residents by 2021.
This summer, the governor said he wanted to expand the reach of high-speed Internet networks, especially in schools and for students at home as well as for medical applications, workforce development and for use by first responders. A top priority remains WiFi access to all public schools by 2018 from the current 65 percent.
North Carolina is a leader in the southeast for high-speed Internet availability to its population at 93 percent, according to FCC data. Yet 750,000 North Carolinians still lack access to high-speed Internet, the report notes, and the majority of those live in rural areas.
The plan doesn't call for specific levels of funding to help expand connectivity but on better coordination of existing federal and state funding sources. The report with the 2021 target date was required by the General Assembly in legislation approved last year.
Crucial to expansion is less regulation and more partnerships with the private sector. Competition through updated policies and laws, the plan’s overview states, adding that in areas where competition is lacking, policy makers must empower communities to form more “equitable partnerships” with service providers.
Gov. McCrory and the Broadband Infrastructure Office within the North Carolina Department of Information Technology, which wrote the 75-page document, acknowledged that governments need to be better partners in working with private sector developers to spread high-speed Internet access across all 100 counties.
N.C.'s Chief Information Technology Officer Keith Werner wrote in an introductory letter included with the report. Werner said in the letter that "active" and "engaged" communities as well as “partnerships” were crucial in expanding broadband.
“This plan helps the state put in place the policies and tools needed to address the growing needs of our citizens,” he added in a statement back in June. “Through the course of writing the plan, we found two common themes: active and engaged communities and their partnerships with private sector internet service providers are the biggest factors in bridging existing digital divides.”
The plan also describes how the administration proposes to the General Assembly that governments can best work with providers in encouraging them to invest in more, better infrastructure.
Two recent private-sector deployments and one public-sector network, for example, demonstrate how providers will make deployment decisions when helped by governments.
- The North Carolina Next Generation Network, a fiber-optic network offering Internet access and related services at gigabit speeds, is being built in the Triangle and Triad with the cooperation of local municipal governments and universities. Among concessions made to encourage building of the network, these governments such as zoning and access to municipal right-of-ways.
- MCNC has built a state-wide fiber network with the help of counties, municipalities, education, state agencies, health care providers and others. Providers can lease unused fiber to extend connectivity to businesses and consumers. The network was built in part with funding from MCNC, grants from the Golden LEAF Foundation, private partners, and grants from the federal government.
- Google Fiber is deploying a network in the Triangle, making it one of the first regions selected for deployment after the company secured cooperation from local governments in matters such as zoning, right-of-way access, and placement of equipment on property leased from governments.
“We have made significant progress to improve North Carolina's broadband infrastructure and increase access for affordable high-speed internet, especially for small businesses and in our classrooms," McCrory said in releasing the report this summer. "This plan will build on our progress and further position North Carolina as a leader in ensuring that our infrastructure meets our growing demand."
MCNC is looking to make North Carolina the most connected state in the country in the coming years, and one of our key focus areas to accomplish this goal is to increase overall engagement among network users and in local communities. Our new stakeholder engagement initiative gives us the opportunity to meet regularly with state officials, our telecom partners and other organizations.
Another key component to this plan is to further educate folks about NCREN and our open access network. For more than three decades, MCNC has been a leader in broadband deployment and operational excellence for North Carolina, and NCREN provides the backbone network to cost-effectively spread the Internet far and wide into the state. Access to high-speed Internet in North Carolina is now a fundamental part of any plan to improve a community’s overall quality of life. And, with the right combination of tools and leadership, MCNC is well positioned to connect North Carolina in new and smart ways.
MCNC currently provides Internet connectivity and technology services to more than 500 community anchor institutions in North Carolina, and we continue to further develop partnerships with telecom providers, technology firms, local governments and others to explore new technologies, run pilot projects and find creative ways to bring together the resources in every inch of the state. This organization is much more than just an Internet provider, but a full-service technology resource that gives North Carolina a massive competitive advantage among other states while creating unprecedented opportunities for its citizens. MCNC has a great deal of technical expertise and deep roots in local communities. And, we know that with the right people working on these challenges, we can be successful in helping reach the goals set forth in the state’s plan.
Most states don’t have a broadband office, never mind a state broadband plan. So, we at MCNC are thrilled with the leadership from the State CIO and his staff. They worked hard to consult with stakeholders, gather information and ideas for the plan, and it’s a great foundation that aligns us all towards several shared goals.
Specific recommendations in this report included:
- Incentivize investment in next generation, future-proof infrastructure and reduce barriers to deployment.
- Create community-based adoption and utilization programs and initiatives.
- Close the ‘homework gap’ for K-12 students without access at home.
- Facilitate integration of broadband into economic development strategies.
- Recognize, leverage the influence telehealth technologies’ have on household broadband adoption and use
- Enhance public safety and first responder connectivity, by continuing the pursuit of a state-wide, interoperable data network and the Next-Generation 911 initiative.
According to noted citations, this report was based on interviews, feedback and information gathered from "nearly 80 subject matter experts" and a survey of 3,500 local leaders this year.