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Cyber sky is falling, cyber sky is falling-or not: State, IU make nice with Colorado company leasing lines for vital I-Light network linking Indiana universities

October 29, 2007

Indiana's network for advanced university research, linked by a web of fiber optics known as I-Light, is now deemed safe by the state and Indiana University. Both have backed away from dire warnings about the network's future that they issued earlier this month after a key partner in the network changed hands.

Indianapolis-based Indiana Fiber Works, which leases hundreds of miles of fiber to I- Light under state contracts not set to expire for nine more years, was purchased Oct. 1 by Colorado-based Zayo Bandwidth.

Following the sale, IU and the state asked the Indiana Utility Regulatory Commission for an emergency order to halt Zayo's further assimilation of IFW.

Only a few weeks later, on Oct. 22, IU and the state Office of Technology dropped their complaint before the commission, saying they "reached consensus" with Zayo concerning the lines for ILight and an expansion that could have two dozen Indiana colleges wired by year-end.

The problem appears to have boiled down to a lack of communication between the two sides.

I-Light operator IU said it had "grave concerns" that Zayo might not honor the remaining contracts to serve I-Light and might lack the experience and technical capabilities to fulfill its obligations.

IU also was concerned that Zayo's plans to expand its business model into other types of fiber services would diminish its commitment to I-Light.

But, "after further discussions with Zayo ... we believe that Zayo's deep telecom experience, combined with their significant financial resources, will translate into improved service for IU, and other institutions in the state, for years to come," said Dave Jent, IU's associate vice president for networks.

Zayo co-founder John Scarano stepped in to help assure officials that the company would continue to support the growth of the I-Light network.

Jent said Zayo executives previously were perhaps too preoccupied with closing the deal to buy Indiana Fiber Works to appreciate concerns the state had. Zayo officials recently visited the I-Light operations center in Indianapolis.

"After three hours of talking, I think they figured it out ... they had no idea of the size or scope of our operations. It really has to be explained," Jent said.

He said the visit was productive in that both IU, which administers I-Light, and Zayo looked at mutual opportunities in which they could help each other with their respective operations in the state. He said Zayo had "some legitimate concerns" about parts of the state where it currently is constrained in fiber capacity.

"We might be able to help them out with some construction," he said.

Zayo over the last year closed three deals in Indiana, Pennsylvania and Tennessee. It plans to soon complete a purchase of Minneapolis-based Onvoy Inc. and expects acquisitions to boost revenue to $125 million and increase its fiber network to at least 8,400 route miles of fiber.

In Indiana, it plans to expand beyond Indiana Fiber Works' concentration on "dark fiber." Dark fiber is used on a sporadic basis and is ideal for universities, where usage is less predictable.

Zayo will expand to "lit" services in Indiana, offering constant service in more specific geographic areas rather than marketing mostly statewide applications.

Zayo said its new IFW holdings connect 21 of Indiana's 25 largest cities and course through 10 of the state's largest technology parks.

I-Light's launch was funded by the state nearly a decade ago and the Indiana General Assembly has appropriated $7 million to build "last-mile" fiber connections to all colleges and universities in the state.

The network moves vast amounts of data on research projects that have ranged from national security to fetal alcohol syndrome research.
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