Day 2: MCNC brings broadband HERO to rural North Carolina

12 Days of Broadband Day 2
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Access to high-speed internet is essential for individuals, communities and businesses to thrive modern North Carolina. Unfortunately, many rural areas still struggle with inadequate or non-existent broadband. There is now a reason for optimism in these unserved and underserved communities.

MCNC received $11.2 million from the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) in June for the High-Speed Economies for Rural Opportunities (HERO) Project. Funded through the federal Internet for All initiative, the project will support improvements to broadband access and affordability in central and southeastern North Carolina. Along with MCNC’s own investments and continued support from the Golden LEAF Foundation, the HERO project will be about a $19 million total infusion towards high-speed internet and technology services for the state.

MCNC will be extending the North Carolina Research and Education Network (NCREN) by 209 fiber miles via two strategic routes. Those routes include Albemarle to Winston-Salem (74 miles) in central North Carolina, and between Sanford via Fayetteville to Jacksonville (135 miles) in southeastern North Carolina. The 11 total counties to benefit from the HERO project currently have more than 16,000 unserved and 12,000 underserved housing units, including many substantially unserved local communities. In total, this project will impact over 350,000 housing units and 696 community anchor institutions, bringing new opportunities to these rural and economically-challenged areas.


Here’s how the HERO Project came to be…

  • Nov. 6, 2021: United States Congress passes the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act.
  • Nov. 15, 2021: Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act is signed into law.
  • May 16, 2022: U.S. Commerce Secretary Gina M. Raimondo arrives in Durham to launch Internet for All, a federal investment of $45 billion to provide affordable, reliable, high-speed internet for everyone in America by the end of the decade
  • May 27, 2022: MCNC offers full support for Internet for All in North Carolina. Link.
  • June 21, 2022: NTIA publishes a Notice of Funding Opportunity for the $1.5 billion Enabling Middle Mile Broadband Infrastructure Grant Program (MMG Program), which is one of the three different funding components made available within the Internet for All initiative.
  • Aug. 4, 2022: The Golden LEAF Foundation allots funding support for HERO Project. Link.
  • Sept. 27, 2022: MCNC applies for Internet for All funding through the MMG Program to extend NCREN by 209 fiber miles via two strategic routes
  • Sept. 30, 2023: MMG Program application deadline.
  • Oct. 4, 2022: NTIA reports that over 235 grant applications were submitted for the MMG Program totaling more than $5.5 billion in funding requests. MCNC was the only Research and Education Network, or REN, in the country to directly apply for funding through this program.
  • Feb. 16, 2023: NTIA completes review of all MMG Program applicants.
  • June 16, 2023: MCNC receives $11.2 million for the HERO Project to support improvements to broadband access and affordability in central and southeastern North Carolina. The total HERO Project is estimated at $19 million. Read MCNC announcement. Read NTIA announcement.
  • June 17, 2023: MCNC releases first Request of Proposal (RFP) for Engineering Design Services and Environmental Assessment for the HERO Project. Link.
  • June 26, 2023: North Carolina receives BEAD (Broadband Equity, Access, and Deployment) funding. The state’s total allocation was $1.5 billion, to be used to expand high-speed internet to underserved communities across the state. Read NC Announcement. Read NTIA Announcement.
  • July 17, 2023: Public Comment Period closes for North Carolina’s BEAD Five-Year Plan.
  • July 20, 2023: MCNC hosts first HERO Project podcast. Link
  • Aug. 18, 2023: RFP #1 for Engineering Design Services and Environmental Assessment closes.
  • Aug. 22, 2023: NTIA launches Internet for All Technical Assistance Corner. Link.
  • Aug. 29, 2023: The N.C. Department of Information Technology (NCDIT) Division of Broadband and Digital Equity’s five-year action plan for the state’s BEAD program funding is approved by both the NTIA and the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST).
  • Oct. 9, 2023: MCNC releases second RFP for Outside/Inside Plant Materials. Link.
  • Oct. 12, 2023: MCNC selects Colliers Engineering & Design for engineering design services and the environmental assessment for the HERO Project. Read announcement.
  • Nov. 3, 2023: RFP #2 for Outside/Inside Plant Materials closes.
  • 2024 and beyond: Additional RFPs will be issued next year for construction and telecommunications equipment. Groundbreaking and build-out of the network will begin in 2024.


Since August, MCNC has published a series of blogs and perspectives for the HERO Project covering a wide range of topics and ideas. MCNC will continue to produce this series throughout 2024.

  • Inspiring hope in area codes left behind (Aug. 8, 2023). Read story.

  • Lacking connectivity comes with consequences (Aug. 22, 2023). Read story.

  • Building relationships, gaining influence, taking action (Sept. 6, 2023). Read story

  • Empowering students, teachers through broadband (Sept. 14, 2023). Read story.

  • Making rural NC safer through Broadband (Sept. 27, 2023). Read story.

  • The high-speed cure for NC’s digital health divide (Oct. 11, 2023). Read story.

  • Broadband creates jobs in rural North Carolina (Oct. 26, 2023). Read story.

  • Broadband crucial to mission success in military communities (Nov. 8, 2023). Read story.

  • Broadband feeds high-speed needs of modern farming (Nov. 21, 2023). Read story.

Looking Back, Looking Forward

For more than 40 years, MCNC has proactively met the technology needs for citizens in North Carolina, been a consistent leader in innovation, and served as a catalyst for technology-based economic development. MCNC’s business and partnering strategy gives North Carolina a real competitive advantage in economic development, digital equity and inclusion, and is a driver for North Carolina’s interconnected economy. 

The HERO Project has the potential to transform several rural regions in North Carolina, paving the way for an inclusive and prosperous future. MCNC’s commitment to digital equity and bridging the technology divide ensures all residents of North Carolina are included in the broadband revolution.

As the HERO Project continues to progress, this webpage will be updated with photos, videos, and more from the people making the project possible. Stay tuned as this project really ramps in 2024!

Return to the 13th annual 12 Days of Broadband >>>

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