North Carolina Community Colleges invests more than $25 million to increase broadband access for rural community colleges across state
Earlier this year, the State Board of Community Colleges approved nearly $15 million in funding to allocate to 25 community colleges in rural areas to bolster broadband access on their campuses. This was the second round of funding, which previously supported 20 additional community colleges with $11.8 million in 2020.
The need this funding addresses is the dated infrastructure or lack of systems needed to fully extend broadband access – WiFi – across colleges campuses in rural areas, especially those in economically challenged regions. This funding provides the design and implementation of critical, college specific IT infrastructure and network security improvements.
“North Carolina’s investment in rural college broadband is another example of the System’s commitment to driving sustainable economic development,” said Deante Tyler, Associate Vice President and Chief Technology Officer at North Carolina Community Colleges. “Our team is proud to facilitate this effort knowing that enabling broadband access at these colleges plays a key role in delivering sustainable economic mobility for the state.”
In July 2020, the State Board of Community Colleges authorized the Rural College Broadband Access Initiative with the approval of federal COVID-19 relief funds that were appropriated to the North Carolina Community College System.
The purpose of the initiative was to enhance capacity for online learning and help address the costs and expenses for expanded demands on information technology at 20 community college campuses in rural areas.
“Our strategy was to improve and protect networks, prevent disruptions in service for faculty, staff and students, and provide for an uninterrupted educational experience,” said Patrick Fleming, Senior Vice President and Chief Information Officer. “More importantly, the upgraded connectivity in campus buildings, on grounds and in parking lots helped students complete their courses while safely social distancing.”
North Carolina Community Colleges collaborated with MCNC (Microelectronics Center of North Carolina) and The Friday Institute for Educational Innovation at NC State University to perform the analysis and engineering required to develop a technical needs assessment and design for each college.
Funding helped offset the cost of multiple improvements tailored to each college. These improvements included:
- Installing fiber cable;
- Adding WiFi access points in outdoor locations;
- Preparing infrastructure for a natural disaster or cyberattack;
- Updating networking hardware and connecting to an Uninterruptable Power Supply;
- Protecting networks through segmentation/separating users on the network;
- Installing advanced cybersecurity threat protection software; and
- Conducting firewall checks.
McDowell Technical Community College was among the initial 20 colleges impacted by this funding. The College invested in new and updated fiber cabling and equipment to increase Wi-Fi locations throughout the campus.
"These funds allowed McDowell Tech to quickly upgrade to more modernized network standards. This was long overdue, but we lacked the financial means prior to this opportunity. It has greatly enhanced our student learning environment,” said Dr. Brian Merritt, McDowell Tech President. “Greater speeds and a more reliable network have been a direct benefit to both faculty and students. We are forever grateful for the support."
The System will work with the colleges to allocate the funds required to acquire, install, configure, and implement the agreed upon solution. The System will also provide the colleges with a technical program and quality management support throughout the process.
Colleges in the second round of funding have until December 2024 to allocate funds.