North Carolina’s Research Triangle To Land New Information Superhighway
Beth Mattson-Teig (Q3 / Summer 2013)
North Carolina’s Research Triangle hopes to gain an edge with high-speed connectivity. The NC Next Generation Network (NCNGN or “NC Engine”) is a local public-private initiative aimed at providing open access, ultra-high-speed bandwidth at affordable prices to both residents and businesses throughout the region.
Currently, typical bandwidth connections in the area run at 10 to 20 megabits per second. The NCNGN initiative would expand that 100-fold by delivering a one-gigabit connection. “We want to make sure that our area is one of the leaders to keep us innovative and keep the reputation that we have for being a high-tech area of innovation,” says Marc Hoit, vice chancellor for information technology and CIO at North Carolina State University in Raleigh.
NC State is one of four local universities that have banded together with the communities of Cary, Carrboro, Chapel Hill, Durham, Raleigh, and Winston-Salem to spearhead the initiative. University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Duke, and Wake Forest universities also are participating in NCNGN. Although the universities are already equipped with super-fast bandwidth at 10 gigabits, the institutions also recognize the advantages of expanding that high-speed connectivity to the broader community.
Some of the key goals behind the project are to reduce the digital divide by improving access to resources, enhance work force knowledge and skills, and promote economic development. “I believe this technology will attract industry that relies upon high-speed Internet performance,” says Ruben Gonzales, business development administrator at the city of Winston-Salem. “This infrastructure improvement will also benefit our existing companies, and I believe will also help keep companies here — especially those compelled to upgrade their own capacity to keep up with advances in their industries.”
The key to executing the plan will be selecting third-party vendors that can both add new and leverage existing infrastructure to create an affordable network. The schools and the communities involved will offer their logistical and other types of support, as will a national nonprofit group, Gig.U, a broad-based group of over 30 leading research universities from across the nation that seeks to accelerate the deployment of ultra high-speed networks to leading U.S. universities and their surrounding communities.
NCNGN issued an “invitation to negotiate” earlier this spring with a submission deadline of April 1. The group reviewed eight proposals, including one from Time Warner Cable. Unlike requests for proposals, which involve selecting a winning bidder, the “invitation to negotiate” has additional rounds of negotiations to reach best and final offers.
These negotiations were under way in August, and the cities involved are hoping to have final contracts signed by October 11. (Each city has the option to choose the vendor of its choice.) Although completion of the project depends to some extent on the vendors chosen and their strategy for building new or leasing existing infrastructure, NCNGN is hoping that the higher connectivity will be available beginning in mid- to late 2014.
North Carolina joins other locations such as Kansas City, Seattle, Austin, and Chicago that have launched similar efforts. The demand for higher bandwidth and the need to provide fiber connectivity is clearly the wave of the future, notes Hoit. “You can see that in everything you do from online storage to services in the cloud,” he says. High-speed connectivity will provide greater access to a variety of applications and resources ranging from in-home medical care to long-distance learning. “There are a lot of things that this is going to open up and allow, and it is clear that we have to head that direction,” he adds.