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Networking & Infrastructure

Education Coalition To Expand Pennsylvania Broadband Project

The Keystone Initiative for Network-Based Education and Research (KINBER) is embarking on a statewide initiative to increase delivery of broadband throughout Pennsylvania. Known as the Pennsylvania Research and Education Network (PennREN), the project has attracted about $130 million in combined federal and private funding. KINBER is a coalition of Pennsylvania colleges and universities, research and healthcare organizations, and economic development entities.

The goal of the network is to provide the capability to connect college and universities, public institutions, regional networks, and last mile providers across the state. For the project, $99 million in ARRA funding will be supplemented with an additional $29 million in private investment.

When completed, the fiber optic cable network will extend almost 1,700 miles through 39 Pennsylvania counties, including 22 that are currently are unserved or underserved based on their access to affordable broadband services. According to the initial proposal, the network is expected to provide direct access to about 5.1 million people in two million households and 204,000 businesses within the 10-mile radius of the 13 core network facilities, primarily institutions of higher ed, and 50 secondary locations.

The universities were chosen as the primary network facilities because of their strong presence in the potential service areas and their willingness to permit all-hours access by nonemployee staff. Each core node will host Ethernet switch and optical transport equipment. Those will be supplemented by over 50 local nodes that won't have PennREN-controlled equipment but are intended as a mechanism to allow broader access to the network via dark fiber, infrastructure currently in place but unused.

In spite of the potential reach of the network, the project is actually pegged in its ARRA application as addressing the "middle mile," which means it won't predominantly provide broadband service to end users. PennREN said it has established relationships with commercial partners to offer services to those end users.

"We're extremely pleased that the [Obama] administration recognized the transformative power of the KINBER proposal," said C.R. "Chuck" Pennoni, interim president of Drexel University, a founding member of KINBER. "This broadband network represents the best use of stimulus funding. In addition to creating jobs, it will grow the potential for the Commonwealth's universities to educate Pennsylvanians through distance learning. It will also facilitate research collaborations in both the public and private sectors that can lead to new technologies, medical treatments, basic science discoveries, and more."

"With 48 strands of optical fiber and a 1,700-miles-long pathway, the delivery capacity of this network for Penn State and its 23 campuses is enormous," said Kevin Morooney, Penn State vice provost for IT. "The commonwealth-wide, institutional collaboration to create PennREN will provide each partner institution access to a network we'd otherwise not be positioned to construct on our own, and will enhance Penn State's ability to serve its land grant mission."

Along with Drexel and Penn State, KINBER's founding members also include the Association for Independent Colleges, the Pennsylvania Commission for Community Colleges, and the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education, among others.

About the Author

Dian Schaffhauser is a former senior contributing editor for 1105 Media's education publications THE Journal, Campus Technology and Spaces4Learning.

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