Recently, Golden LEAF President, Chief Executive Officer Scott T. Hamilton sat down with Tracy Doaks, the President and Chief Executive Officer of MCNC via Zoom and filmed the fifth episode in our Critical Conversations video series. In this series, Scott talks with professionals about economic development issues affecting the state.
Doaks provided her perspective on North Carolina’s broadband connectivity resources.
During the conversation, Doaks explained the creation of MCNC, services MCNC provides, and the leadership role MCNC plays in our state’s technology innovation. MCNC focuses on delivering high performance internet and networking, cloud services, cybersecurity, and other essential technologies for communities throughout North Carolina. MCNC’s 4,000-mile backbone, the North Carolina Research and Education Network (NCREN), supports community anchor institutions in all 100 counties. Doaks relayed that over 10,000 North Carolina community anchor institutions are connected to the NCREN network. Anchor institutions include the state’s colleges and universities, education-related nonprofits, healthcare, k-12 institutions, libraries, cultural institutions, public safety, research institutions, and state and local governmental entities.
Connectivity and availability of broadband is at the forefront of many discussions since the pandemic sent many students and workers home. Internet was a necessity to keep people connected. In April 2010, the Golden LEAF Board of Directors awarded MCNC $24 million to leverage more than $100 million in federal funding. Through the Golden LEAF Rural Broadband Initiative, Golden LEAF played a critical role in providing needed matching funding to help MCNC build a network of more than 1,696 miles of high-speed broadband, especially in rural communities. Doaks said that there are now more than 4,000 miles of high-speed broadband fiber in MCNC’s network and that it covers from Murphy to Manteo and places in between. This network provided many institutions with the bandwidth needed for schools to connect with students and for people working from home to connect to needed resources.
Although NCREN provides connectivity to anchor institutions, there is still a need for broadband to homes and businesses. Doaks said that MCNC is working on partnerships across the state using wireless technology, where fiber is not going to be able to be laid. She said MCNC is working on five proof of concepts with partners that, if successful, can be replicated across the state.
Lastly, Doaks mentioned that robust plans have been in place for broadband, and with pandemic recovery, there is a once in a lifetime opportunity to use funding to build out better broadband. She provided information about funding from the Federal American Rescue Plan, U.S. Department of Commerce Department’s NTIA, the national budget and the Governor’s State budget plans to support broadband infrastructure. There is even funding to help individuals with affordability issues related to connecting to internet service providers. She said, while MCNC can build broadband to anchor institutions in areas of need, and other providers can provide the connections to homes and businesses.
Critical Conversations is a new feature in the Golden LEAF newsletter every month. The next edition will be in our October 14th edition of LEAF Lines.