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December 5, 2011

MCNC: Broadband key infrastructure for future

Increasing middle mile fiber broadband width connectivity throughout North Carolina has a variety of applications, especially in the area of economic development, an industry expert said Friday.

In a broadband connectivity briefing at AdvantageWest, Joe Freddoso with MCNC told local government leaders and professionals that the middle mile network acts as a “bridge” that takes you from the Internet to the local broadband network. AdvantageWest is a nonprofit, public-private partnership responsible for promoting economic development in the 23 western-most counties of North Carolina, including Henderson County.

MCNC is an independent nonprofit that provides technical infrastructure to educate, innovate and enhance economic development throughout North Carolina. It operates a high speed optical backbone for schools, community colleges, libraries, and nonprofit hospitals across the state.

MCNC received $144 million in federal stimulus funds (Federal Recovery and Reinvestment Act) including $40 million in private matching funds, Freddoso said.

“Basically, we're building something that's unprecedented in North Carolina for its breadth and scope,” he said.

Local and state government can participate in the utilization of middle mile fiber broadband network expansion, Freddoso added. It can be thought of as a utility just like water, sewer and electricity when communities go looking to attract business.

“A fiber optic network incentive where the company doesn't have to come in and build their own is a huge draw,” Freddoso said. We've got to start thinking about this infrastructure in a different way. Nobody else is doing this with the comprehensiveness that North Carolina is.”

A better understanding of the term “middle mile” is to think of it as an interstate in which the middle mile is the backbone and the last mile is the road to your house, said Scott Hamilton with AdvantageWest.

Middle mile broadband connectivity will make the Internet faster and give it more capacity so larger amounts of data can be transmitted. That will provide opportunities for businesses, hospitals and educational entities to be able to connect onto the network and be more globally competitive, he said.

For example, a hospital such as Park Ridge or Pardee could be in touch with a surgeon in another part of the world about a health care issue through the increased broadband capacity, he said.

“It's very good for education, very good for health care and very good for economic development,” Hamilton said. “This is as important as having good road infrastructure and water and sewer. It's like adding lanes on an interstate. It's a significant advancement, like going from dial-up to DSL, but it's even greater than that.”

By Leigh Kelley, Times-News Staff Writer