Rural broadband project expands high-speed internet across 20 colleges, improving educational opportunities for NC students

Rural broadband project expands high-speed internet across 20 colleges, improving educational opportunities for NC students

Thursday, December 17, 2020 - 3:37pm

RALEIGH, N.C. - The North Carolina Community College System Office will soon conclude a $12 million project to improve technology infrastructure at 20 of the state’s rural community college campuses.

The Rural College Broadband Access Project, funded with federal coronavirus relief funds through the 2020 COVID-19 Recovery Act, will be completed by the end of the month. The initiative marks a major step in extending rural broadband across North Carolina’s community colleges.

The spread of COVID-19 in the spring of 2020 heightened student need at all 58 colleges to remotely connect to campus and access course materials securely. Many rural community colleges operated on outdated infrastructure or lacked systems that fully extended high-speed internet to their students.

Completion of the project will enhance the capacity for online learning at the following campuses. To learn more about the work at each college, see this interactive map.

Bladen Community College
College of the Albemarle
Edgecombe Community College
James Sprunt Community College
Lenoir Community College
Martin Community College
McDowell Technical Community College
Montgomery Community College
Pamlico Community College
Piedmont Community College
Roanoke-Chowan Community College
Robeson Community College
Rockingham Community College
Sampson Community College
South Piedmont Community College
Southeastern Community College
Stanly Community College
Tri-County Community College
Vance-Granville Community College
Western Piedmont Community College

Using the federal relief funds, the System Office estimated that it could achieve substantive infrastructure improvement at 20 of the 45 colleges classified as rural. The 20 schools were identified based on need and a number of factors, including the regional economy, percentage of population served and the demand for technical assistance.

The project enabled colleges to provide Wi-Fi to outdoor campus locations, install advanced cybersecurity protection, protect networks, conduct firewall checks, connect buildings and classrooms across campus, prepare infrastructure for disaster recovery, provide security training for updated software tools and migrate applications to public clouds to ensure continuity of operations.

These improvements protect networks and prevent disruptions in service for faculty, staff and students, providing for an uninterrupted educational experience. More importantly, the upgraded connectivity in campus buildings, on grounds and in parking lots will help students complete their courses while safely social distancing.

Roanoke-Chowan Community College Interim President Deborah Lamm said the campus desperately needed reliable Wi-Fi.

“If students do not have access to Wi-Fi at home, they can connect on our campus since we have added access points and strengthened the signal,” Lamm said. “If we expect our students to successfully complete their studies online, then we must give them the tools they need.”

The college also purchased SMART board equipment for six classrooms to offer synchronous online courses in the spring semester.

“This funding has been a real game-changer for the R-CCC campus, and the College is grateful for it,” Lamm said.

Lenoir Community College was among the first colleges with a plan for installing and increasing the capacity of fiber on campus. Upgrading fiber connections will enable Lenoir’s students to access high speed internet now and for years into the future. Extending Wi-Fi will allow students without reliable home internet to be able to work anywhere on campus, and updating hardware will mean students, faculty and staff are less likely to be impacted by power interruptions.

“By adding 10 additional access points to our campus, we were able to deliver technology and network security to our students,” said LCC President Rusty Hunt. “These funds allowed us to improve our broadband access with an increased signal strength, giving our students the tools they need to be successful in their courses. We are appreciative of the funding so that we could assist our students as we navigate through this unusual time.”

Edgecombe Community College received more than $850,000 for the project. ECC President Greg McLeod said an estimated one out of three county households has no internet access, which puts many students at a disadvantage, especially when a majority of classes are online. For these students, access provided by the college is a critical lifeline, he said.

“At no time in the history of Edgecombe Community College has funding to strengthen our technology resources been more critical or more appreciated,” McLeod added. “This funding will assist ECC beyond measure to advance the College and to benefit our students and their families.”

The Rural College Broadband Access Project includes $10.6 million in allocations to colleges, $866,000 in security support services and $436,000 in engineering and design services from MCNC. NC State University’s Friday Institute for Educational Innovation provided analytical support for the project.