North Carolina strikes gold with new network

JUNE 2, 2009 -- A Golden LEAF grant brings a new public safety fiber network to North Carolina's Rutherford County.

JUNE 2, 2009 -- Rutherford County has announced that on June 30, 2009, its Public Safety Fiber Network will be completed, thanks to a $1.4 million dollar grant from the Golden LEAF Foundation. A ground-breaking ceremony was held on May 13, 2009 at the Hickory Nut Gorge EMS station to celebrate.

Rutherford County is located in western North Carolina with a population of more than 63,000 people.

The Golden LEAF grant was based on an application submitted by Foothills Connect and has accomplished a couple of key items. As part of the previous Golden LEAF grant awarded to Rutherford County Schools, $300,000 has been used to complete school laterals; the remaining $1.14 million has been used to extend fiber from the schools to fire departments in order to create an emergency services fiber network. The project will result in 38 additional miles of fiber along with 17 fire departments and 2 EMS stations being connected.

All traffic will travel by equipment that is programmed to communicate on radio frequency channels specially designed for emergency services called 4.9 GHz. These are strictly dedicated channels that give priority to emergency response teams and when reports are transmitted via the Internet to the state and local offices all that data is secured. Emergency response teams will also use 2.4 GHz and will transition to the more secure channels as funding is made available.

With an emergency services network the county will also have the ability to communicate more efficiently throughout the rural areas of the county. The 911 center will have the ability to track all emergency response vehicles for both safety and public responsiveness. The network could also have future uses such as better traffic monitoring and stronger security for high crime areas via video technology. GIS services are also invaluable as part of the emergency services network, by allowing fire fighters, search and rescue teams, and chemical spills responders the ability to access maps of the surrounding areas to survey passageways.

"Golden LEAF is proud to provide support for this project, which is bringing critical technology infrastructure to Rutherford County. This project was among the first funded through Golden LEAF's Community Assistance Initiative, and through that process we are pleased to have become closer partners with Rutherford County leaders and citizens as we work to strengthen rural communities," said Mark Sorrells, senior vice president with the Golden LEAF Foundation, at the ground-breaking ceremony.

Brent Washburn, chairman of the Rutherford County Commissioners, stated that he was extremely pleased with the priority broadband has been given in the county. "Broadband brings economic vitality to our community. It will give our children opportunities previously not available to them. It will allow our emergency responders to do their jobs quicker and more efficiently and it will bring skilled jobs to our community."

ONUG Communications, a communications engineering firm out of Raleigh, NC, designed the entire network and worked alongside Rutherford County as the project manager. Better Cable Systems (Roxboro, NC) was awarded the construction bid and has hired almost all local contractors to get the fiber on poles and in the ground. Pangaea, a nonprofit fiber network provider, will maintain and operate the public safety network. This will be an extension of more than 120 miles of its current fiber that serves the major arteries of Rutherford and Polk Counties in western North Carolina.

The e-NC Authority has played a large role in the progress of broadband across the state of North Carolina and especially in Rutherford County. The organization's efforts have helped Rutherford County create more than 15 public access sites, a county government web site, and the development of the Foothills Connect Business and Technology Center.

In 2007, Isothermal Planning and Development Commission requested a grant from the Appalachian Region Commission to enhance the emergency services network wirelessly. Rutherford County was awarded a $178,920 grant to see this wireless network implemented. Once the fiber is in place, the grant will be used to broaden the network via wireless units to create a backup for the emergency services fiber network. The grant is to be completed by September 2009. It will include at least nine towers and access points at various locations across the county.

Once the new network is in place, the county will look at possible funding sources to provide public access hotspots throughout the county. This can be accomplished with equipment that will allow both public and private access while keeping the two networks separate and secure. This would give Rutherford County citizens 37 hotspot locations of Internet access. While this will not be an immediate service, the county is hopeful it will be able to find resources to make this a reality.

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