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OneCommunity: Opening 2015 with 100 Gigabit Network Services

A Q&A with Lev Gonick and Sue Workman

OneCommunity announced in late November that it will use $700K in Economic Development Administration funding to help develop, in 2015, the first 100 gigabit, commercially available network. The fiber network will run from downtown Cleveland, through the city's health tech corridor, and into University Circle. CT talked with Susan B. Workman, VP of IT Services and CIO, Case Western Reserve University and Lev Gonick, CEO, OneCommunity to gain their perspectives on the 100 gigabit project and how the work might serve as a model for other communities as high speed networking technologies mature.

Mary Grush: Research groups within universities are not new to 100 gigabit connectivity — many universities and research organizations, including Case Western Reserve University, have joined in 100 gigabit projects before. But OneCommunity will now be providing 100 gigabit services to a much broader community as commercial network services. What can participating in this initiative through OneCommunity mean for a university like Case Western?

Sue Workman: We've seen great things come from connecting research universities, so we think that there will be great things that come from connecting the community and businesses in the area to this great university. What this opportunity does, in my opinion, is that it gives us the capability to connect with and build the community; to help create opportunities for employers to relocate to this area and have connections with the richness of the research and health industry in Cleveland — the Cleveland Clinic, the university hospital, and all of the researchers at Case Western Reserve. It extends our capacity to the commodity Internet as well as to areas outside of what the standard "connecting research universities together" has done in the past.

Lev Gonick: I think it's entirely consistent with the past ten years of building out OneCommunity. As you may know, Case Western Reserve was the founding institutional subscriber and has always been motivated by the things that Sue has just mentioned. The announcement that Sue [on behalf of Case Western Reserve] and the university hospitals, and some of our big data startup companies in town, and our public broadcasters all made just weeks ago, really was an effort to tie the development of the world's leading network technology into an economic development strategy for the city and the region.

We know that the city economic development team is working hard in the health technology corridor to bring anchor tenants in, and the network is meant to bring first mover advantage as well as a framing for the kind of innovation that the startup community and our big data operators (who are using the big data that Case Western's researchers are generating with their clinical colleagues) put into creating new products and services.

Grush: Lev, what is the scope now of OneCommunity in Northeast Ohio?

Gonick: OneCommunity is ten years in the making as a nonprofit organization. We have put more than $100 million dollars into what is now nearly a $200 million dollar, 23-county footprint, with 2,400 route-miles of fiber connecting some 1,800 facilities and organizations to the network. Approximately 70 percent of them are public benefit: schools, universities, museums, libraries, healthcare organizations, government… the other 30 percent are basically wholesale customers (other carriers and private interests who are interested in fiber to their facilities). OneCommunity has always been committed to a public/private partnership model for the development of the network.

Grush: OneCommunity has certainly come a long way in those ten years. Does Case Western Reserve still provide guidance as a major partner?

Gonick: Sue [who recently came to Case Western Reserve, just this past fall] has been voted onto, and will be joining the board after her orientation early this coming year. She will represent Case as one of the anchor public institutions on our board, along with community colleges, the head of the county library system — and on the private side, the largest IT employer in town, leadership from the global banking community, from the fiber industry, and people involved in community philanthropy. So, again, our board reflects our long-term commitment for a public/private partnership [and Case Western Reserve is an important partner].

Grush: Will the 100 gigabit services have any immediate impact on the delivery of teaching and learning?

Workman: Other than where students actually live and work, and being able to get to the commodity network a little bit faster, I don't know that it means a whole lot yet for online learning. I think right now we have more of a focus on how we are able to help with entrepreneurship, and with big data and research. But [that said], even though what people think of as traditional online learning may not benefit at this point in time, I think learning will take place because of this network.

Gonick: I would add that, indeed, Sue and I have been successful in attracting a major international conference here next year with Internet2 [I2 Technology Exchange; October 4-7, 2015]. It's the result of having, among other things, the anchor institution of Case Western Reserve, and also that we'll have the 100 gigabit network. There will be learning in that community of network specialists. This already gives us some insight about the maturity curve of how these services evolve: Someone takes a leap of faith with a value proposition — ours would be economic development — and this begins to attract.

Grush: How is OneCommunity serving as a model for what's coming?

Gonick: The Cleveland area and Case Western Reserve in particular have a long tradition of experimenting — which is what great universities do. Cleveland Free-Net was there before we had any online repositories of information… we had wireless deployments, when people didn't think wireless was a pervasive technology because it was so new… and video over the data network was something most people weren't doing when Case did that work. All this predates OneCommunity, but I think OneCommunity is kind of an extension of that work, and a good platform for leveraging that kind of innovation.


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