Wired Communities, Smart States:
Is Digital Infrastructure the New Public Works?

by John S. Niles

Sidebar: North Carolina Information Highway (1998)

The North Carolina Information Highway (NCIH) amounts to a partially government-funded upgrade of the State's carrier-owned switched network to include fast packet switching for data through ten Asynchronous Transfer Mode (ATM) switches installed by three incumbent local exchange companies. The full build out would bring over 3,000 sites onto the network, including state and local government offices, hospitals, schools, and universities. Furthermore, the same network is tariffed and available for private businesses to connect, and some already have. However, the number of sites that have been connected to the NCIH through 1997 is fewer than 200.

The development of the NCIH has been slowed as the reality of very high connection and operating costs has sunk in. The base rate for the NCIH is $4000 per month for 64 hours of video usage. Average startup costs for equipment and room renovations are approximately $100,000 per site. Each site must also have a designated "site coordinator."

The NCIH is now being characterized as a high speed backbone, with a variety of lower speed services now defined by the North Carolina State government for the use of government agencies and schools to achieve data connectivity. As of 1997, the executive and the legislative branches are rethinking the state role and level of investment in infrastructure.

[Adapted from "Digital Infrastructure: The New Public Works?" by John Niles, New Telecom Quarterly, 4Q97]

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