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Guest Blog: Wilson Greenlight Trains the Next Generation in Fiber Optic Basics

Mark Boxer facilitates an in-class interview with Dr. Schultz, a co-inventor of fiber optics


Wilson not only is North Carolina’s first gigabit city, now it is the state’s first gigabit city that has started a “Fiber Optics Basics” training course with its community college. On January 16, Wilson Greenlight, the city’s community-owned fiber-to-the-home provider, in partnership with Wilson Community College, began pilot testing a 10 week course on the what, how and why of fiber optics. The cost? $140.

The vision for a fiber training course has been brewing for years. Wilson Greenlight’s General Manager for Outside Plant, Gene Scott, explained that he has been frustrated with having the higher skilled jobs to offer, but not being able to find trained fiber technicians to take those jobs. He also noticed that standard fiber training courses offer an intense few days of narrated coursework, but at a cost of thousands of dollars, a price far above the resources of aspiring fiber experts. Gene wanted to offer a course that young people could afford, that was pragmatic and hands on, with labs where the students could see what fiber looks like, touch it, connect it, and maybe even splice it.

The long-term vision for the program is to offer a two year partnership program between a local high school and the community college, where young students graduate with a 2 year certificate in an advanced degree and qualify for higher paying jobs straight out of graduation. One offshoot of the training would be to peak interest in pursuing a 4 year degree in new fields like fiber network management.

For now, they are testing community interest in the course topics. Visiting experts from around the state, and the nation, have volunteered to teach their specialty. One such expert was Dr. Peter Charles Schultz,a co-inventor of fiber optics. Dr. Schultz talked in the first class about what it was like to develop fiber optics when no one in the day-to-day world knew what it was and did not find a reason to buy it (PCs had not even been invented yet!). Now it has changed the world. To the question of what advice he would give to others who might dare to blaze a new trail in this unknown digital frontier, his answer was, “Be brave!” 

Other course topics range from how to connect, prep and splice cables, to fiber optic safety. Students will be exposed to the different types of fiber networks and some basics on how to design a fiber to the home network, how to maintain outside plant, and even how to budget and read engineering design prints.  It will finish with the real life story of one man’s journey from Poland to Cary to make fiber his career.

When asked about his vision for the program, Mr. Scott responded: “What makes sense to me is for Wilson to become the fiber training center for the state. We are North Carolina’s first gigabit, fiber-to-home community. People and companies move here now to gain access to our gigabit upload speeds. We have the expertise. I think we can build on that foundation, with training and even apprenticeship programs, and give the next generation the skills to lead the deployment of this amazing technology that undergirds all modern economic activity and opportunity.”   


Catharine Rice is a consultant for Broadband-Matters


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