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Alfred University, ION near agreement to bring improved broadband access to region
11/12/10

New York’s Southern Tier – Steuben, Allegany, Cattaraugus and Chautauqua counties – has long been at a competitive disadvantage when it came to fast access to the Internet.

Limitations on infrastructure meant businesses, schools, hospitals and non-profit agencies located in the Southern Tier had slower, more expensive and sometimes less reliable access to the Internet.
But an infusion of funds from the federal American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) and a partnership with ION – Independent Optical Network – will change that for Alfred University and others in the Southern Tier.

“This began more than three years ago,” recalls Gary Roberts, director of Information Technology Services (ITS) for the University. During a Strategic Planning Council meeting, the limitations on broadband access were identified as an issue to be addressed.

Roberts said it was evident “Everything was migrating toward broadband delivery. Even traditional entertainment and utilities such as television programming and land-line telephone communications were increasingly being delivered over broadband connections, and those institutions that did not have access to plentiful and inexpensive broadband, would be significantly disadvantaged in the near future.”

So Roberts went to work, inviting potential infrastructure partners and users to a series of meetings.

It wasn’t until ARRA funding became available, however, that the expansion of fiber networks became more feasible for rural areas, including New York’s Southern Tier. Even before the network has been completed, its importance is being recognized; it was cited on a list of “100 stimulus fund projects that are changing America.”

The timing was right for another piece as well. About the same time as Roberts began exploring what it would take to get the fiber network in place, the University made the decision to relocate and upgrade its own data center, building state-of-the-art facility. The quality of the facilities available at Alfred University led to ION’s decision to locate a POP – an Internet Point of Presence, or hub – on the AU campus, and the deal came together.

"As a Community Anchor Institution and targeted network point of presence on ION's initial grant route to be constructed, Alfred University has been a great partner to work with,” said James Becker, chief executive officer of ION. “We have been working closely with University Chief Information Officer Gary Roberts and his staff, and it is their cooperation that is making it easier for ION to bring high capacity broadband to rural Western NY State."

“I commend Gary Roberts and his ITS team, as well as ION, for this initiative,” said President Charles M. Edmondson. “Providing sufficient broadband access, at an affordable price, for our researchers, our faculty and students has been an issue for years. This is a significant advancement for the University.”

What the tentative agreement means for Alfred University, as well as others who depend on broadband access, is a more cost-effective solution, at higher speeds, with a wider choice of providers, Roberts explains.

ION is what is called a “carrier neutral” provider; in other words, ION builds the infrastructure, installing sufficient fiber bundles to allow various service providers to utilize as much bandwidth as they can sell for their customers’ use.

Currently, the options for service are limited, generally to a single provider, and the amount of broadband capacity has been limited as well, Roberts said. There is also lack of redundancy, important to maintain service in the event of a break in a single line. For example, he noted, an accident that damaged a utility pole carrying fiber to campus last year left the entire community, including Alfred University, without broadband access for a number of hours.

When the ION project is completed, there will be overlapping fiber rings throughout the state, meaning broadband can be “relayed” in another direction if there is a break in the line. In total, the project calls for installation of 1,308 miles of fiber optic lines to 10 regions of New York State, as well as neighboring portions of Pennsylvania and Vermont at a total cost of nearly $50 million. The federal investment of $39.7 million was complemented by a $9.8 million investment from ION.

“For an institution like Alfred University, an academic discourse community, information is paramount,” said Roberts. “Our ability to access information, to connect to other people, other institutions, other researchers and resources, is our ‘window on the world.’ That’s why this network, and what it brings to the campus and the rest of the Southern Tier, is so important.”