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UNC Horizons staff meet in their conference room of their new Carrboro facility.
The town of Carrboro was a crucial collaborator in assisting ITS with directly connecting the UNC Horizons Program’s new Carrboro facility to main campus IT services.

Over the past year, UNC-Chapel Hill has continued to build upon critical collaborations with agencies across Orange County to jointly improve high-speed, fiber connections as demand and prices for bandwidth skyrocket.

Need and urgency intensify

Jim Gogan, Assistant Vice Chancellor of ITS Communication Technologies, and ITS Engineering Manager Craig Baker have been instrumental in efforts to unite Orange County public agencies to collectively enhance network connectivity.

The need and urgency are greater than ever for these collaborations transpiring through the Orange Public & Education Network, a 1 ½-year-old group that is made up of UNC-Chapel Hill, Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools, Chapel Hill, Carrboro, Hillsborough, Orange County, Orange Water and Sewer Authority, UNC Health Care and Orange County Schools. Each agency is working on fiber projects, is planning projects or needs to expand bandwidth, but first has to find a way to pay for it.

Many schools within Orange County rely heavily on the big, private companies to provide internet service. One high school that is paying month-to-month after its contract expired is forking out 300 percent more than it did a year ago, Baker said.

Agencies exchange bandwidth resources

Some three-fourths of school campuses within the county, he said, are seeking interconnections with local government fiber because they can’t afford private providers’ skyrocketing prices and, in some cases, also because service is not available in remote areas.

By building these trust relationships, generating goodwill and opening the floodgates of creative ideas, UNC-Chapel Hill and these other agencies have found that they’re able to achieve things together that they wouldn’t have been able to singularly. They’re solving connectivity problems by exchanging bandwidth resources.

Projects can quickly pay for themselves

Over the last three years, collaborations with Chapel Hill and Carrboro enabled ITS to get to remote sites without ITS spending a lot of money or having to go to commercial services. Through an arrangement with the town of Carrboro, ITS dropped its fiber lease with AT&T for Carr Mill Mall in early 2016 after connecting to the mall via a blend of ITS’ and Carrboro’s fiber networks. The project will pay for itself in two to three years, as is often the case with such projects.

By cancelling monthly paid service from a private provider and moving the stream of funds to capital expenditures, agencies invest in working with one another to extend and interconnect their fiber networks.

“It’s once and done, and you’re finished,” Baker said.

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