Sprint expands broadband access

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, September 7, 2004

GREENVILLE – An innovative $14.6 million public-private partnership between Sprint and the Albemarle-Pamlico Economic Development Corp. (APEC) announced August 17 will lead to dramatic communications infrastructure enhancements in eastern North Carolina.

During a press conference at the Convention Center in Greenville, Sprint and APEC officials, legislative leaders and partners praised the plan, which immediately will begin expanding the availability of broadband access, telehealth and e-learning capabilities east of Interstate 95, and will provide a boost for economic development efforts statewide.

&uot;North Carolina’s spirit of innovation has come through again,&uot; said Steve Parrott, Sprint’s state executive for the Carolinas. &uot;This project helps remove some barriers and bridge some gaps in the state’s broadband, telehealth and e-learning resources, and it helps ensure that eastern North Carolina will take a strong leading and supporting role in the state’s evolution as an educational and technological showcase for the rest of the nation.&uot;

The Sprint/APEC plan, which includes multiple elements, fulfills APEC’s original goals, which include achieving enhanced broadband access for rural residential and business customers; achieving substantial availability to rural citizens and businesses by 2004; developing a model for rural regions that can be applied on a much broader basis; and promoting economic development, job-growth opportunities, educational and health care enhancement, and community enrichment through improved rural infrastructure deployment.

Contained in the plan are: Expanded broadband connectivity across the region (residential and business); A gigabit Ethernet network for University Health Systems (UHS) and the northeastern portion of MCNC’s statewide research and education network (NCREN); [DSL2]A K-20 Eastern North Carolina E-Learning pilot project; Completion of a 12-county self-healing fiber-optic ring to protect the network; Sprint’s purchase of most of APEC’s existing conduit infrastructure to support additional network capacity and meet the expected demand for new broadband services in eastern North Carolina.

&uot;This plan embodies the creative spirit that defines North Carolina,&uot; Gov. Mike Easley said. &uot;The expansion of broadband capability will help North Carolina maintain its #1 ranking for business climate and will be another tool to help grow jobs in the eastern part of our state.&uot;

Northampton County Manager Wayne Jenkins agreed. &uot;From a government as well as an individual standpoint, this advancement imparts a tremendous advantage,&uot; he said. &uot;Infrastructure is required to attract new businesses and advance economic development as the county seeks to expand and grow in those areas, this will bolster our marketability in a competitive arena.

&uot;In today’s fast-paced technological climate, infrastructure is no longer limited to water and sewer availability, roads and electricity, so anything that Sprint can do to help enhance the quality of life and convenience for our citizens we are greatly appreciative.&uot;

In terms of overall investment, Sprint is providing about $6.4 million of the funding, while APEC, the Golden LEAF Foundation, UHS, the eNC Authority (formerly the Rural Internet Access Authority), and MCNC will provide the remaining $8.2 million.

&uot;We believe that what we are doing for eastern North Carolina can be used as a model for public-private initiatives anywhere in the nation,&uot; said Cliff Copeland, chairman of APEC and county manager of Chowan County. &uot;Such partnerships help make the best use of existing resources, supplementing them where needed, and allow the partners to focus their valuable investment dollars on innovative solutions.&uot;

According to Sprint Communications Manager Tom Matthews, the broadband customer solutions supports economic change in rural eastern North Carolina by bringing more robust network capacity and opportunities for residential and business customers; greatly enhancing medical and educational facilities; promoting economic development through job growth and business opportunities; enriching rural communities and enhancing the quality of life for the eastern part of the state.

&uot;The Eastern North Carolina Broadband Initiative caps a year of negotiation, planning and development between Sprint and APEC,&uot; said Parrott. &uot;With the invaluable counsel, ideas and financial support of the other partners represented here today, we are taking an already robust network to a higher level through a variety of important enhancements.&uot;

The broadband expansion includes deployment of DSL to 65 central offices and smaller remote switches in 21 rural counties much earlier than market factors would have allowed. Counties affected by the accelerated deployment include: Beaufort, Bertie, Bladen, Camden, Carteret, Columbus, Currituck, Duplin, Gates, Greene, Hertford, Hyde, Martin, Northampton, Onslow, Pamlico, Perquimans, Robeson, Sampson, Washington and Wilson.

&uot;To break it down in simple terms,&uot; said Matthews, &uot;this will mean that some of the more rural towns in the northeastern area will be receiving access to DSL that they would not have had before.&uot;

Matthews stated that the towns affected by the advancement would include, Colerain, Lewiston, Roxobel and Windsor’s Cedar Landing in Bertie County; Winton, Cofield and Ahoskie with an expansion of the service to Poortown, Powelsville, Union and SR1101 in Hertford County; Gatesville and Sunbury in Gates County along with an expansion of service to Eure, Hazelton, Corapeake area of Sunburry and in Northampton County, Conway, Jackson, Seaboard and Woodland.

&uot;We’ve been wanting this to happen for a long time and we are really looking forward to it,&uot; said Gates County Manager Mark Biberdorf who attended the meeting. &uot;We have some county applications that would greatly benefit from this project, particularly our central communications 911 center.

&uot;Sometimes, we have to perform a criminal background check and it takes a long time, but with this new system in place someone needing a quick check wouldn’t have to wait for dial-up. A result of that could mean a potentially lesser risk of harm and exposure to certain dangers faced by law enforcement personnel. This is a very convenient tool that will benefit everyone.&uot;

Hertford County Manager Don Craft commented, &uot;I think this is a great initiative that will enhance the quality of life of our citizens. It appears that the progress we are seeing is a resurrection of the plans Governor James Hunt was working on several years ago with talk of the information highway and I think it’s good that we’re seeing the results of work that was going on for a long time. It is apparent that Hertford County is coming into the 21st century with this program.&uot;

Bertie County Manager Zee Lamb agreed stating, &uot;It’s good news for the citizens. It allows them to have the same access to high speed internet that the more populated areas of the state have been given the opportunity to enjoy.

&uot;I’m glad that Sprint has joined in a public and private partnership to enhance the access to technology to Bertie County.&uot;

Matthews also spoke of the gigabit Ethernet telehealth and data network will connect UHS, Greenville; Bertie Memorial Hospital, Windsor; Chowan Hospital, Edenton; Heritage Hospital, Tarboro; Roanoke-Chowan Hospital, Ahoskie; and Outer Banks Hospital, Dare County.[DSL3] At speeds 650 times faster than current bandwidth, it will dramatically enhance the quality of remote diagnostic capabilities.

&uot;This fiber-optic network will greatly improve our ability to communicate with health care providers in eastern North Carolina,&uot; said CEO of University Health Systems of Eastern N.C., Dave McRae.

&uot;Being able to rapidly transmit medical data and provide consultations and educational programs for physicians and other professionals in our region will greatly benefit patients who need specialized medical care, but may not be able to travel long distances to receive it. We’re glad to be partnering with Sprint on this important project.&uot;

In addition to the health care aspect, through the statewide North Carolina Research and Education Network operated by MCNC for the 16-campus UNC system, the Sprint-APEC project will tie in high-speed connectivity among Elizabeth City State University, East Carolina University and the Center for Marine Science and Technology in Morehead City with a network that supports MCNC’s grid computing initiative enabling and enhancing e-learning across the UNC system and other institutions.

&uot;The Eastern N.C. E-Learning Project will complement distance learning services currently available from the state’s ITS network and will provide integrated K-20 networking for selected locations across the region to provide high-speed access by public school systems to digital content available from the UNC System and the Community College System.

&uot;A simple example of this would be a student attending a college who wants to take a class in Chinese, but can’t because the college doesn’t have enough students wanting to sign up for the class, this service would make it possible for that student to log onto the internet through high speed connection and wire into another classroom that does offer that class without having to travel to another school. The project will serve as a model for similar educational initiatives across the state,&uot; he said.

The Eastern North Carolina Broadband Initiative (ENCBI) includes four elements: Last-mile connectivity via DSL; completion of a &uot;self-healing&uot; fiber ring; specific customer broadband solutions; and Sprint’s purchase of a portion of APEC’s conduits.

The Self-Healing Fiber Ring is the &uot;survivability&uot; portion of the plan and increases network protection and redundancy including the completion of a self-healing fiber ring.

&uot;What this would mean is that if a portion of the line were accidentally cut, the service would continue uninterrupted because the information would automatically be re-routed through another channel until we could send a technician out there to repair the damage,&uot; said Matthews.

He explained that Sprint has a significant number of rings in place in the region, but the addition of this ring will greatly enhance the network redundancy available to current and prospective businesses, including those that require uninterrupted services for their mission-critical data needs bringing network protection for Engelhard, Swan Quarter, Belhaven and Bath. Additional nodes include Washington, Williamston, Windsor, Edenton, Hertford, Woodville, Elizabeth City, Sligo, Mamie, Coinjock, Southern Shores, Kill Devil Hills, Manteo and Manns Harbor.

To foster the High-Speed Connectivity aspect of the project, Sprint will deploy DSL in all its central offices in eastern North Carolina that currently are not equipped with the technology. Twenty central offices and 45 &uot;remote&uot; offices are involved. The sites have been jointly selected by Sprint and APEC to ensure optimal coverage in critical locations.

&uot;The project will provide high-speed Internet access to at least 31,208 additional lines,&uot; said Matthews.

The Specific Broadband Customer Solutions initiative contains plans for three broadband applications. &uot;Because Sprint recognizes that specialized customers, such as those involved in telehealth and distance learning, have unique networking needs, the partners proposed gigabit Ethernet connections and IP network solutions in a discounted pricing structure,&uot; said Matthews.

This portion of the plan involves University Health Systems of Eastern Carolina, MCNC’s North Carolina Research and Education Network, and a unique K-20 e-learning pilot project in eastern North Carolina.

&uot;This will help facilitate enhanced distance learning education and improved access to MCNC’s statewide computing grid and the North Carolina Research and Education Network (NCREN),&uot; he said.

&uot;It would provide high-speed network access to fuel economic development and foster high-tech job creation with an increased network bandwith that will be able to better meet the needs of university faculty, staff, students and administration.&uot;

The initiative will also enhance education and research access to the Internet2 national research network enabling eastern N.C. education and research communities to compete for federal and private funding for projects requiring high-speed connectivity.

&uot;MCNC is proud to play a role in bringing a reliable, high-speed networking infrastructure to eastern N.C.,&uot; said MCNC NCREN Director John Killebrew.

&uot;Through this partnership, we are able to provide enhanced telecommunications services between ECU and Elizabeth City State University, and between ECU and N.C. State University’s Center for Marine Science and Technology in Morehead City.

&uot;This enhancement of the statewide research and education network enables more opportunity for research and distance education. In addition, institutions in eastern N.C. will be able to take full advantage of computing resources available throughout the state that will be accessed through the state-wide grid computing network being developed by MCNC and the 16-campus University of N.C. system.&uot;

The e-learning project will be able to deliver, anytime and anywhere, educational materials to students and educators, facilitate professional development and create a resource-sharing, network-based environment between educators, create and retain jobs by providing educational tools to retain unemployed workers and upgrade worker skills, raise academic achievement by providing equitable access to resources for teaching and learning in under-served parts of the state, expand means to deliver advanced placement courses, enable partnerships with community colleges in support of high-needs areas, such as teacher preparation, nursing, information technology and building the workforce for new industries like bioprocessing and integrate with the N.C. information highway.

The gigabyte Ethernet will increase the bandwith from 1.544 million bytes per second to one billion bytes per second and will benefit applications dealing with telehealth tools such as radiology and cardiology imaging and telemedicine consultations. It will also assist with aspects of distance learning including video conferencing, resident training and ground rounds. Clinical transfer of data and voice communications would also benefit.

&uot;There will be tremendous benefit for University Health System hospitals,&uot; commented Matthews. &uot;Those facilities will have the ability to expand their current patient care applications and leverage the benefits of information technology to enhance communication and delivery of services.

&uot;It also helps hospitals to obtain greater transmission speeds, capacity and connection reliability and strengthens relationships with the Brody School of Medicine and Division of Health Sciences.&uot;

He continued, &uot;Overall, eastern N.C. will benefit from faster access to specialty health resources, better health care in hospitals and at home, expansion of ‘telehealth’ initiatives, improved patient safety and quality of care and broader capabilities to distribute health information to those in the community.&uot;

Matthews stated that Sprint would also purchase a portion of the APEC conduits that will provide Sprint with additional capacity in areas that could reach exhaust levels with forecasted growth and with the future sale of broadband services.

&uot;The anticipated demand resulting from the partnership is expected to accelerate the need for fiber relief in several areas,&uot; he said. &uot;This purchase will enable Sprint to deploy fiber-optic cable, when needed, to continue providing broadband services to customers in this region, and it will ensure that facilities are available to new and existing businesses, enhancing economic development opportunities and making eastern North Carolina more attractive to prospective businesses.&uot;

Funding partners for the initiative include: Sprint whose total pledge equaled $6,366,018, e-NC Authority $2,925,000, Golden Leaf Foundation (e-learning project) $2,000,000, APEC $1,207,400, MCNC Grid Computing and Network Services $1,112,500 and University Health Systems of Eastern North Carolina $1,000,000 for an overall total

cost of $14,610,918.

&uot;Forty-years ago North Carolina built and paved roads to connect our rural areas to markets,&uot; said e-NC Authority Executive Director Jane Smith Patterson. &uot;Paved roads lifted rural N.C. out of the mud. This project will make it possible for rural eastern N.C. citizens and businesses to join the urban areas of N.C. in connecting to the state, the nation and the world.

&uot;Broadband access to the internet will create the high speed internet highway that can enable rural citizens to live, learn, work and thrive in their rural communities.&uot;

The project is scheduled for completion by the close of the year.

[DSL1]Shouldn’t this be future tense as it hasn’t happened yet?

[DSL2]Do you need to explain acronym?

[DSL3]Do you want to add a short descriptor telling what this increased bandwidth between hospitals will allow for?

Some sort of benefits statement?