As a center for knowledge and technological development, UNC should lead the way in increasing broadband connectivity in North Carolina.
“Broadband is the great infrastructure challenge of the early 21st century,” says the first line of the executive summary of the Federal Communications Commission’s National Broadband Plan. It is hard to find a more concise expression of how important broadband access is.
Broadband is best viewed as a public good. Some civic leaders have taken up this posture, arguing that broadband is much like water or road infrastructure — vital goods that are necessary for communities to function and thrive.
In North Carolina, the Golden LEAF Foundation has also pushed heavily for broadband access. As recently as April 1, the foundation announced an award of a $24 million grant in matching funds to try to snag federal funding for a $111 million project.
The project would be spearheaded by the Microelectronics Center of North Carolina and would install almost 1,500 miles of fiber through 69 counties in the state.
The multiplier effects of projects like these are nearly immeasurable. The immediate economic boost of installing the network will surely pale in comparison to the economic innovation and access to knowledge that broadband will yield.
There is a pronounced role for the University in all of this. A perfect example was the partnership announced last October between Golden LEAF and the Gillings School of Global Public Health, which partially used a Golden LEAF grant to connect the state’s health care providers via a broadband network. This network promises to help rural communities gain access to medical record and information exchanges.
Broadband will be essential in disseminating knowledge in the 21st century. As the chief knowledge center in the state, the University is in a unique position to be a leader in broadband development and implementation.