And it’s about the future.
A statewide rural broadband network took another step Friday in four locations, with politicians and local leaders brandishing shiny new shovels for groundbreaking ceremonies stretching from the mountains to the coast.
The plan is to get the fastest, most reliable Internet access to everyone’s fingertips.
MCNC, the private, not-for-profit operator of the North Carolina Research and Education Network, hosted the statewide Virtual Groundbreaking Ceremony in four locations throughout the state to highlight the start of construction on Round 2 of the Golden LEAF Rural Broadband Initiative. The high-definition simulcast was hosted at Asheville-Buncombe Tech Community College, Elizabeth City State University, the North Carolina Research Campus in Kannapolis, and The University of North Carolina at Pembroke.
U.S. Rep. Mike McIntyre joined Robeson County academic and government leaders at UNCP’s share of the event, held at the Business Administration Building on campus.
The event was held to mark the start of construction on the $104 million second phase of the broadband initiative that includes $75.75 million in stimulus funds.
“Broadband benefits everyone. It is our railroad to the future,” McIntyre said.
More access to broadband will advance economic development and improve access to health care, the congressman said.
“Connecting people like this is so important,” McIntyre said. “Today we add another chapter, for job creation, business development and indeed a better way of life.”
The broadband initiative is funded through grants from U.S. Department of Commerce’s Broadband Technology Opportunities Program and matching funds from private donations and investments, including $24 million from the Golden LEAF Foundation.
“The world is getting smaller every day … (and) this is about leveling the playing field,” said Kenneth Kitts, provost and vice chancellor for Academic Affairs at UNCP.
The ability to harness the free flow of “real-time” information — in education, business, health care and beyond — is vital, Kitts said.
“This is a defining moment for our state,” said U.S. Sen. Kay Hagan, from the North Carolina Research Campus.
Access to broadband is just as important to a community’s success as having roads, sidewalks, water and sewer, she said.
There are too many rural areas that continue to struggle “without these 21st century tools,” Hagan said.
Hagan then itemized some of the goals that the Golden LEAF Rural Broadband Initiative will acheive when completed, including:
— The proposed funded geographic area is comprised by 69 of North Carolina’s 100 counties, which encompass 32,597 square miles or 67 percent of the state’s total square miles.
— Total proposed broadband miles of 1,450 represents about 68 percent in underserved/unserved areas.
— Total number of potential households affected, about 2.3 million.
— There will be the potential to connect nearly 160,000 businesses and 1,700 K-12 schools.
The building of the broadband network is expected to employ about 2,500 people for a two-year period, said Hagan.
“It’s really about our shared future … and it’s going to make a huge difference,” Hagan said.
Joe Freddoso, president and CEO of MCNC, said: ““Today, we can link several sites via HD video for a one-time event. The … expansion, when complete, will allow us to host hundreds of these sessions simultaneously across the state. … It will broaden the way teachers teach, students learn, doctors provide care, and for citizens at a local library searching to find a job.”
All construction is to be complete by 2013.
For information, visit www.mcnc.org.