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Golden LEAF Brings Fiber Network to Rutherford County

Forest City, NC – Rutherford County is pleased to announce that on June 30, 2009 the Public Safety Fiber Network will be completed, thanks to a $1.4 million grant from the Golden LEAF Foundation.  A ground breaking ceremony was held on Wednesday, May 13, 2009 at the Hickory Nut Gorge EMS station to celebrate this accomplishment.

"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. Today's celebration is a great example of how our partnership with rural NC is working to build stronger, more diverse rural economies." stated Mark Sorrells, Senior Vice President with the Golden LEAF Foundation.

The Golden LEAF grant was based on an application submitted by Foothills Connect and has accomplished a couple of key items.  $300,000 has been used to complete school laterals as part of the previous Golden LEAF grant awarded to Rutherford County Schools, and 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.  This 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. 2.4GHz will also be used by emergency response teams 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 passage ways. 

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."

Assisting on this project were also several key entities. ONUG Communications is a communications engineering firm out of Raleigh, North Carolina. They have designed the entire network and worked alongside Rutherford County as the project manager.  Better Cable Systems out of Roxboro, North Carolina was award the construction bid and has hired almost all local contractors to get the fiber on poles and in the ground.  Finally, PANGAEA, a non-profit fiber network provider will maintain and operate the public safety network. This will be an extension of more than one hundred twenty miles of their current fiber that serves the major arteries of Rutherford and Polk Counties in western North Carolina.

Also 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, this grant will be used to broaden the network via wireless units to create a backup for the emergency services fiber network.  This grant is to be completed by September 2009. It will include at least 9 towers and access points at various locations across the county. 

"The next time you are driving down the road and look up to see all of those wires hanging from pole to pole, just remember, those cables are changing the way our county lives and it does mean progress." stated Rhonda Owens, Information Technology Director for Rutherford 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 do 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. 

The e-NC Authority has been pivotal in the progress of broadband across the state of North Carolina and especially in Rutherford County. Their efforts have helped Rutherford County create more than 15 public access sites, a county government website (www.rutherfordcountync.gov) and the development of the Foothills Connect Business and Technology Center. The current schools and public safety networks would not have been possible without their initial support and assistance.

Rutherford County is located in Western North Carolina with a population of over 63,000 people. The county is one of the largest is size within the state of North Carolina with 564 square miles.  Rutherford County became a North Carolina certified e-Community in 2003.