Western N.C. Fiber Expansion

FACEBOOK IS TEAMING with MCNC, builder and operator of the statewide fiber-based North Carolina Research and Education Network, to expand availability of high-speed internet for certain public institutions in Wilkes, Surry, Caldwell, Burke and Rutherford counties.

High-capacity fiber optic cable being installed along N.C. 268 East and N.C. 18 South and elsewhere for Facebook will bring faster internet service to nearly 30 public institutions in Wilkes, Surry, Caldwell, Burke and Rutherford counties.

In Wilkes, utility crews are installing cable in the highway rights of way along N.C. 268 East between North Wilkesboro and Elkin. It will go through North Wilkesboro and Wilkesboro and from there to Lenoir.

Public institutions in Wilkes that will be connected to the new cable are Wilkes County Schools, Wilkes Community College, Wilkes Cooperative Extension Services in the Wilkes Agricultural Center, Daymark Recovery Services at West Park in North Wilkesboro and the N.C. Highway Patrol office on School Street in Wilkesboro.

Being connected in the other counties are Elkin and two other school systems, three community colleges, four agricultural extension offices, two mental health/substance abuse treatment facilities, three health care sites, three public safety sites, three charter schools, N.C. School for the Deaf and the new western campus of the N.C. School of Science and Math, opening next year in Morganton.

The project is a collaboration between Facebook and the Microelectronics Center of North Carolina (MCNC), a nonprofit that builds, owns and operates broadband infrastructure for research, education, nonprofit healthcare and other institutions.

MCNC announced details of the project Wednesday. The fiber cable route, to be completed this year, is from Forest City to Dobson. One of Facebook’s four information storage centers in the nation is in Forest City.

The N.C. Department of Transportation approved the route on Dec. 18, said Charles Reinhardt, DOT Division II maintenance engineer.

Reinhardt said it also was approved to go along Second and Main streets, Central Business District Loop and Wilkesboro Boulevard in North Wilkesboro and then under the Yadkin River near the bridge between the towns to enter Wilkesboro. In Wilkesboro, it was approved to go along Main and Cherry streets and then N.C. 16/18 before turning southwest along N.C. 18 South and on to Caldwell County.

Wilkesboro officials are still discussing the route through that town with the consulting firm overseeing the project, said Town Manager Ken Noland. North Wilkesboro Town Planner Meredith Detsch said no changes are being sought in North Wilkesboro.

“Planning and construction of the fiber backbone will be completed at no cost to Wilkes County Schools and will allow for increased internet speeds for our school district, as well as access to maintenance of the fiber backbone by MCNC,” said Julie Triplett, chief technology officer for the Wilkes County Schools.

All 22 Wilkes schools use a shared internet line so they all will benefit from the project, she said.

“This enhanced internet connectivity, combined with the 1:1 Chromebook and laptop initiative in our middle schools and high schools and the increase of Chromebooks in our elementary schools, will allow our students and staff to better leverage Internet resources for expanded educational opportunities,” she added.

Triplett said a site survey in the next few months will determine specifics for construction of the portion of the fiber build benefitting the Wilkes schools.

"Being a smaller school system in North Carolina, currently serving about 1,200 students, Elkin City Schools aims to provide a more individualized learning experience to develop and prepare our students for the future," said Elkin City Schools Chief Technology Officer Britt Shaw.

"The work Facebook and MCNC are doing to bring affordable, high-speed broadband connectivity and technologies into our area will provide excellent educational opportunities that will help advance our students as well as our small-town economy,” Shaw added.

MCNC provides broadband internet access to the Wilkes schools through the School Connectivity Initiative, which extended the N.C. Research Education Network (NCREN) to each school district in North Carolina. The project will provide each participating institution direct connectivity to NCREN, operated by MCNC.

MCNC President and CEO Jean Davis said that in addition to gaining significantly higher internet speeds, each connected institution will be able to leverage other value-added services offered by MCNC on the network. She said the project will improve connectivity, redundancy and resiliency of the MCNC network in western North Carolina.

"Facebook's efforts to utilize their assets to help the local community is a great model for collaboration,” Davis added.

Kevin Salvadori, Facebook’s director, network investments, said, "Facebook is looking forward to working with MCNC in this innovative way to connect important institutions that serve western North Carolina.”

Salvadori added, “From health care to education, it is thrilling to think of more North Carolina residents living in rural communities benefiting from this connectivity."

Another Facebook spokesman provided further explanation of the rationale for the project, saying, “We build and invest in fiber to connect our data centers in an effort to provide the 2.8 billion people using our products with the best possible experience. We are flexible in our approach. These investments are just one example of how we strengthen the long-haul fiber networks that connect our data centers to one another as we continue to provide fast, efficient access to the people using our products.”

NCREN provides broadband services and support to K-12 school districts, all K-12 school districts in the state, 17 UNC System institutions, 165 charter schools, 25 private colleges and universities, 58 community colleges and other entities.

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