Report from the Field: Deploying Broadband Infrastructure in North Carolina

As part of BTOP’s comprehensive oversight of its grant recipients, I recently spent several days in North Carolina conducting an on-site review of two broadband infrastructure projects.

Local broadband provider MCNC received two BTOP grants that together will fund deployment of more than 2,000 miles of new fiber infrastructure. The new infrastructure will reach 69 counties and directly connect more than 500 community anchor institutions across the state, including universities, hospitals, and public safety facilities. To date, MCNC has deployed more than 140 miles of conduit, with plans to begin running fiber-optic cable through the conduit in the coming weeks.

During my visit, I examined MCNC’s project management approach, project status, grants management procedures, financial practices and controls, and compliance with BTOP and Recovery Act program requirements. My review included a productive series of meetings with MCNC that after two days of rolling up our sleeves yielded a better understanding of our shared objectives and the challenges associated with deploying and managing statewide projects.

construction crew working

Figure 1: Construction crews at work to place conduit in the vicinity of existing buried utilities. MCNC has had up to 160 construction workers on site.

construction equipment

Figure 2: A plowing and trenching crew installs fiber along the Rocky Mount to Greenville route.

I closed the visit with a half-day field inspection of portions of MCNC’s Rocky Mount to Greenville route. This included stops to observe crews installing conduit along the route. Here, I saw first-hand the day-to-day difficulties involved in network construction, as a bolt on the plow sheared off due to difficult terrain, causing a brief work stoppage. It was rewarding to speak with these crews and construction project managers, whose jobs are a direct result of the Recovery Act. While there are 160 workers on site now, MCNC expects Recovery Act dollars will fund additional crews this summer.

two men talking

Figure 3: MCNC's chief network architect for the project explains the route.

recycling collection

Figure 4: Recycling of scrap conduit materials, as well as spools, reduces both costs and the impact to the environment.

Overall, my visit offered a great opportunity to review the work that MCNC is doing to complete its project and to help ensure the work that MCNC is doing will have a positive impact throughout North Carolina. Currently, BTOP has completed more than 25 other visits to grant recipients, with plans to visit many more in 2011.

To learn more about MCNC’s BTOP projects see also their project pages, up-to-date maps, status reports, and construction progress on its website.

NTIA will continue to work closely with our grant recipients to monitor their progress, oversee our investments, and ensure that these projects deliver timely and lasting benefits to the American people.