Local leaders see big opportunities for statewide broadband network
May 26, 2011
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LEWISBURG, Pa.— Representatives from local schools, hospitals, libraries and governments came together Thursday at Bucknell University to discuss ways of leveraging a new, statewide broadband network that will increase their capabilities for data-intense research and connect underserved communities throughout Pennsylvania to high-speed Internet.
The gathering, organized by Bucknell and the Keystone Initiative for Network Based Education and Research (KINBER), was intended to inform community leaders about the $128 million initiative and to promote discussion about ways the network can improve their organizations. Work on constructing the network will begin next year.
"We really want to focus on the region and help the organizations think through what opportunities this network will create for them," said Param Bedi, Bucknell's chief information officer. "This could have great implications ranging from economic development to electronic records management at hospitals."
Bedi and Jeff Reel, executive director of KINBER, which will oversee the effort, compared the statewide network to a major highway system that connects metropolitan areas with one another. Smaller road networks connect communities outside of those metropolitan areas and community organizations.
"We want them to think about how their communities will be served by adding connectivity and capacity," Reel said. "I want these communities to talk to each other about how they can use this regional network as a way of pulling their different groups together."
Economic stimulus grant The Obama Administration in February 2010 awarded more than $99 million to KINBER, a coalition of Pennsylvania colleges and universities, research and health care organizations and economic development entities, including Bucknell, that submitted the joint application to construct and manage the Pennsylvania Research and Education Network (PennREN).
The National Telecommunications and Information Agency (NTIA) grant was awarded as part of the American Recovery and Revitalization Act and is supplemented with an additional $29 million in private investment.
When completed, the fiber-optic cable network will cover nearly 1,700 miles through 39 Pennsylvania counties, including 22 that are currently not served or underserved based on their access to affordable broadband services. It will be the largest network funded by the NTIA.
Enhancing University's capabilities The network, and Bucknell's access as a core node will significantly enhance the University's and regional entities'' capabilities in data-intense research, high-performance computing, video conferencing, telemedicine, Internet2, collaboration with international students and faculty, and real-time access to remote resources, said Bedi, who also is a member of the KINBER board.
Pennsylvania is one of only a few states without a high-speed optical network serving its higher education and health care institutions. The network will make higher education institutions and government entities more competitive for federal research grants, which in turn will promote economic development and job creation, Reel said. It also could better connect secondary education institutions with one another for information sharing and provide patients in rural areas with more access to specialists. The network will evolve based on the needs of the member organizations.
Roberta Greene, director and system administrator for the Union County library system, said she is excited about the possibilities for the local library system and the region at large.
"This looks fabulous," she said. "It doesn't matter what your business is, the bandwidth currently available here is not the greatest. This is an opportunity to increase our communications with the general community and Bucknell. We're all in the business of education for all ages. This will help to maximize the student experience and make sure when our students leave the school system they are totally prepared for higher education."
Jim Benner, the information technology coordinator for Mifflinburg School District, said his school district has a "fundamental need" for bandwidth capability.
"It is starting to be an issue how much we can expand our use of cloud solutions and also support student services," Benner said. "The other thing is there is a big push for data analysis of students. When students move from one district to another, maybe we would have access to information about them."
Founding members KINBER's founding members include Bucknell, the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education, Pennsylvania State University, the University of Pittsburgh, Carnegie Mellon University, Drexel University, Lehigh University, the Pennsylvania Commission for Community Colleges, the Association for Independent Colleges and Universities of Pennsylvania, the Hospital & Healthsystem Association of Pennsylvania and the University of Pennsylvania.
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