ERC Broadband — a local nonprofit that aims to improve and expand the technological infrastructure — will receive approximately $15 million to build and maintain over 100 miles of fiber-optic cable in five western North Carolina Counties. The money is part of a $75 million stimulus grant awarded to MCNC by the Department of Commerce.
The company will lay new fiber in five western North Carolina counties: Buncombe, Madison, Mitchell, McDowell and Avery, and in areas that have lacked adequate middle-mile infrastructure, according to Hunter Goosman, ERC’s General Manager. “Middle-mile” is an industry term used to describe that part of the broadband network that allows local cable and internet companies the ability to further provide broadband services to end-users — the “interstate system” of the broadband network.
Here in Buncombe County, the fiber-optic cabling will run to twelve fire stations and to the North Carolina Arboretum, located just south of Asheville. The sites were chosen — in the case of the fire stations — to “support the advancement of the public safety needs of Asheville and Buncombe County” — and in the case of the Arboretum, to “support its role as a community anchor and research institution,” according to Goosman. The Arboretum has research programs in climate change, biotechnology, ethnobotany, horticulture, and sustainability. In Madison County, ERC hopes that its enhanced network will help to spur competition among existing providers and bring down prices for consumers, and in Mitchell and McDowell Counties ERC hopes to provide an “additional geographic route” for local companies to help compete for call centers, data centers, and other companies requiring redundant connectivity.
But the county that stands to benefit the most is Avery, which is largely rural and currently has limited access to high-speed connectivity. ERC will lay fiber through Avery County to Appalachian State University in Boone, and the construction will also include schools, hospitals, and government offices.
Goosman estimates that the $15 million in stimulus funds for the ERC will create dozens of temporary construction jobs over the next three years, and thousands for western North Carolina indirectly over the long-term as more and more homes and businesses get connected to the high-speed network.