Universities Lighting up Fiber in Montana

Two universities in Montana have received the go-ahead from their state board of regents to take out a $2 million loan to pay the cost of equipment to tap into fiber optic that runs from Seattle to Chicago and could serve as a network pipeline for the state. The Northern Tier Network Consortium, formed by state agencies and universities, including Montana State University in Bozeman and the University of Montana in Missoula, will provide a high-speed optical network across multiple states, capable of delivering data at 20 gigabits per second.

Formally launched at the beginning of 2004, the project has faced numerous challenges to implementation. A major problem is finding the funds to expand high-speed networking to sparsely populated communities. In the latest iteration, the Montana universities will use the loan to light up a "dark" section of the AT&T fiber line that already runs through the state along the Interstate 90 corridor. The loan will be paid back from the current operating and IT budgets of the universities.

"Within the state, the idea is that by saving money on the [Interstate 90/94] core we can invest more money on the 'spurs' and at the 'edges' to extend advanced networking elsewhere within the state," stated University of Montana CIO Ray Ford in a 2006 presentation.

The pipeline, which is expected to serve both education and research needs, may be working by July 2009, according to reporting by the Missoulian.

About the Author

Dian Schaffhauser is a writer who covers technology and business for a number of publications. Contact her at dian@dischaffhauser.com.

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