The Education & Research Consortium of the Western Carolinas, Inc., the not-for-profit fiber-optic network doing business as ERC Broadband, participated in a recent virtual groundbreaking at Asheville-Buncombe Technical Community College to highlight the start of construction of the second phase of the Golden LEAF Rural Broadband Initiative (GLRBI).
The simulcast event on Aug. 12 was hosted by MCNC, the private, not-for-profit operator of the North Carolina Research and Education Network (NCREN), in four locations throughout the state including A-B Tech, Elizabeth City State University, UNC Pembroke, and the North Carolina Research Campus in Kannapolis.
ERC Broadband is a sub-recipient to MCNC in the GLRBI grant. Based in Asheville, ERC is tasked with the expansion of its middle-mile fiber network in Avery, Buncombe, Madison, McDowell, and Mitchell counties. Through the BTOP process with MCNC, ERC will expand its fiber footprint to Waynesville in the west and to Old Fort going east.
U.S. Representative Heath Shuler (D-11th District) participated in the event at A-B Tech. “Our children and grandchildren will be the greatest benefactors of what we are doing now to expand fiber-optic routes in the region,” he said during the groundbreaking celebration. Added ERC Executive Director Hunter Goosmann: “This is an exciting time for our organization, and we look forward to helping rural western North Carolina counties expand their technology infrastructure.”
To fund this expansion in North Carolina, MCNC applied for and received two U.S. Department of Commerce Broadband Technology Opportunities Program (BTOP) awards totaling $104 million. In addition, MCNC raised $40 million in private matching funds as required by the BTOP program. MCNC’s sources of matching funds included $24 million from the Golden LEAF Foundation, $8 million from the MCNC Endowment, $4 million from private-sector wholesale telecommunications company FRC, and an estimated $4 million through donations of land and existing conduit from individual community colleges, universities, and others. No direct funding from the State of North Carolina was required.
ERC Broadband’s portion of the grant for Western North Carolina is approximately $15 million. This grant will provide a redundant bandwidth route for local Internet Service Providers in Mitchell, Madison, and Yancey counties that will make these areas more competitive in attracting technology companies and call centers.
"MCNC was proud to include long-time collaborator ERC Broadband in the BTOP application,” said Joe Freddoso, president and CEO of MCNC. “We know that the fiber ERC will obtain from the BTOP build will help bring higher speed services to the community anchor institutions ERC serves in western North Carolina."
Once complete, the newly-constructed fiber route will connect McDowell to Mitchell County and extend ERC Broadband’s fiber footprint into Avery County. Community anchor institutions such as hospitals, libraries, public safety, and educational facilities in each of the counties will be directly connected to the new network. For example, Buncombe County will benefit from fiber construction to 11 fire stations to support public safety.
Dr. Dan Lunsford, Mars Hill College President and ERC Board Chair, stated, “The increased broadband connectivity in western NC will be a major improvement for education, health, public safety, and local government institutions, as well as economic development. We are most appreciative of the recognition by the US Department of Commerce (BTOP) and the Golden LEAF Foundation of the importance of this endeavor for the citizens of our region.”
All construction on both phases of the GLRBI will be complete by 2013.Read the full article