Fiber network in planning stage

Published 8:44 am Thursday, July 23, 2015

INDIAN WOODS – Several years ago the Bertie County School Board opted out of a negotiated contract to bring free broadband internet connectivity to over 1500 homes and families in the county.  Now a similar plan between an area business entity and the county may be about to make that web access come true.

Roanoke Electric Cooperative and ECC Technologies, a technology and communications consulting group, say they plan a fiber network they feel will help, in their words, spur technology-led economic development and improvements in education, healthcare, public safety and broadband access.  This network, the two groups maintain, will be a great asset to the community and a driving force to help enable growth in the region.

Jammie Bentham of ECC Technologies addresses the Bertie County Commissioners at their Indian Woods meeting Monday night on a plan between her company and Roanoke Electric for a proposed fiber network to bring increased broadband access to the county. Staff Photo by Gene Motley

Jammie Bentham of ECC Technologies addresses the Bertie County Commissioners at their Indian Woods meeting Monday night on a plan between her company and Roanoke Electric for a proposed fiber network to bring increased broadband access to the county. Staff Photo by Gene Motley

The presentation of the planned venture came Monday night before members of the Bertie County Board of Commissioners at their monthly meeting held at the Blue Jay Fire Department in Indian Woods.

The idea is to partner with internet service providers that service the county to deploy and provide high speed internet access to their members.

“We’re going to light up and deploy about 200 miles of fiber throughout our service territory,” said Roanoke Electric Chief Operating Officer Marshall Cherry. “The immediate benefit is to Roanoke Electric.  We want to make sure we have an efficient electrical distribution system with the ability to predict outages, respond to outages quicker, and be in a better position to help our members manage the electricity they use.”

Cherry said he hoped the project would strengthen ties between communities and individuals and that through technology training leverage the power of the internet for rural economic development.

Also attending the presentation was Roanoke Electric CEO Curtis Wynn, who along with Cherry said the project, named ‘Roanoke Connect’, is a $4 million investment of an open access fiber optic network build out expected to be completed within the next two years. They add that another benefit would be the economic impact in a county that comprises roughly one-third of Roanoke Electric’s membership.

Jammie Benthem of ECC Technologies, consultants to Roanoke Electric on the project, also addressed the Commissioners and echoed that the network would connect critical electric distribution and energy infrastructure within the region.  She further explained the breakdown of the 200 mile network

“There will be 100 miles of new build (fiber) and 100 miles of leased infrastructure from the state-wide MCNC network, which is an open access network,” she said.  “Once implemented this will all be part of a world-class telecommunications system within this region; and this will give it access to Charlotte, Raleigh, Wilmington, and other regions in the state.”

Roanoke Electric, Benthem explained, is making the open access network possible to support the community and spur technology-led economic development.

“Essentially, the more the community uses it, the better the benefit is going to be for everyone, and the more it will reach out into the rural areas,” Benthem suggested.

ECC says there is more partnership potential for Roanoke Electric’s members within the infrastructure for service providers, enterprise customers, schools and government.

“What the existing providers can use this network for is to strengthen their existing network,” Benthem explained. “It’s going to enable those service providers to reach into the community further and provide higher-end services to residences and businesses…(Roanoke Electric) is essentially eliminating the barrier to expansion in this area.”

On the statewide network, Bertie businesses and residents would be able to connect from the mountains to the shore.

“The ability to expand is there,” she said. “The ability to reach out into the rural areas of the community is there and it’s a great opportunity and this network is going to help that.”

Commissioner John Trent inquired about the construction of the network, as well as billing for members.  Wynn said the build out would be contracted, but that Roanoke Electric would be responsible for the system’s maintenance.

“It will be built onto our existing poles and just below our existing wiring,” Wynn explained. “We have the infrastructure and the rights-of-way already in place so we’re going to attach this network to that going to our substations and building out from there.”

“Our customers will be the enterprise customers…but for the most part our residential customers would still work with another provider but we would give access to those companies to expand their networks,” Wynn said.

Some of this expansion would be along what is known as “dark fiber”: unused fiber pre-installed, available for use in fiber communication, and leased from a network service provider not owned or controlled by a traditional carrier.

Trent and Commissioner Stewart White asked about the timeline and job potential for Bertie residents.  Benthem said the fiber has been ordered and that construction will begin in Ahoskie following NC 561 west from Roanoke Electric to the St. John-Millennium Road where it will eventually travel south through Millennium to Aulander and on into Bertie County. It is expected to take two years for completion.

Both ECC and Roanoke Electric were encouraged to slate a job fair to make residents aware of potential employment.