State revamps I-Light expansion project: Funding restored, but network limited to universities

November 14, 2005

Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels has given high-speed Internet project I-Light the green light, but with a twist from its original intent.

He agreed this month to support the final stages of funding for the project, which began in 1999 and connected supercomputers at Indiana University, Purdue University and IUPUI. The aim was to expand Indiana's digital infrastructure by connecting 15 cities via a fiber-optic network.

Under his directive, though, only universities and related research parks can tap into the network, which strays from the original mission to provide high-speed Internet access to much of the state.

"I-Light 2 will be preserved for the exclusive use of higher education," Daniels said in a press release. "State government will not become a competitor to privatesector companies which provide broadband Internet connections to Hoosiers."

The original $5.9 million I-Light project, funded by the state, was completed in December 2001. It was the first universityowned network of its kind in the country.

The second stage of I-Light, or I-Light 2, was expected to be completed in March.

The $10 million I-Light 2 would have extended the network's reach to 12 additional cities throughout the state while providing them high-speed Internet access.

But Daniels administration officials halted the project while an independent review assessed the network's capabilities and benefits. While declaring his support for the project, Daniels included the caveat that I-Light 2 is only for university use.

"We think the private sector can generally do business better than the public sector-that being government," said Chris Cotterill, general counsel for the Office of Technology. "The idea of the state continuing to run this, we presumed, would not be the best idea."

The Indiana Higher Education Telecommunications System, which was formed in 1967 and oversees the Indiana Telecommunications Network that reaches schools, libraries and state agencies, developed the I-Light network.

The state is turning over management of the network, and its funding, to IU and Purdue, Cotterill said.

The universities will map out the detail in an agreement with the state that should be signed by the end of the month, said Mark Bruhn, IU's associate vice president for telecommunications. I-Light 2 could then be completed by the end of 2006.

"Between Purdue and IU, there isn't anything we can't do to manage this network," Bruhn said. "It didn't make a lot of sense for some other organization to do that."

The decision to limit I-Light use to the higher-education community provides some comfort to members of the Indiana Telecommunications Association, who provide broadband and digital-subscriber lines for high-speed Internet access.

"We don't object as strongly as we did previously," said John Koppin, executive director of the ITA. "We still have concerns that as long as [I-Light] is in place, there is potential for abuse."

State lawmakers approved the $10 million appropriation during the 2004 session to fund I-Light 2 in three stages. The first, connecting the network's node on the campus of IUPUI downtown to the National LambdaRail infrastructure that runs through Chicago, is finished.

The state received a $3 million grant from the National Science Foundation to connect to the national network. National LambdaRail is an initiative of universities and technology companies to provide a large-scale infrastructure for research and experimentation.

The track runs from Seattle to New York City down to Jacksonville, Fla., then back across the country to San Diego and reconnecting at Seattle.

The second phase entails securing the fiber to connect the 12 cities to the state's network. Rather than lay the fiber, which was done under the original I-Light program that linked the three campuses, the state purchased dormant fiber-optic cables. Known as "dark" fiber, the unused cables were laid by companies looking to capitalize on the technology boom.

Much of the fiber has been secured through a long-term lease with Indiana Fiberworks, a subsidiary of Connecticutbased GE Capital Corp. Negotiations for the remaining fiber near Terre Haute and Evansville continue with Level 3 Communications Inc. in Colorado.

The 12 locations are Columbus, the University of Southern Indiana in Evansville, Fort Wayne, Gary, Jeffersonville, IU at Kokomo, Marion, Ball State University in Muncie, Richmond, IU at South Bend, Indiana State University in Terre Haute, and Vincennes University.

Almost half the $10 million appropriation was spent to lease the fiber. The remainder will be used to purchase the connecting hardware needed to "light" the fiber. A request for proposals will be issued to purchase the hardware, Bruhn said.

Once the fiber is lit, IU, Purdue and IUPUI will connect to the infrastructure, completing the project.

"For our institutions, I-Light 2 is so critical to their missions and their futures, and to the services they provide to their students," said Kevin Siminski, director of systems operations and development at the Indiana Higher Education Telecommunications System. "Plus, it gets Indiana back on the map with other states that are doing similar things."

"Broadband is critical for us to participate in the New Economy," said local high-tech entrepreneur Scott Jones. "It's important to have that basic backbone and to get that broadband into the smaller communities around the state."

State Sen. David Ford, R-Hartford City, spearheaded the effort to fund I-Light. While he's pleased by renewed support of I-Light, he would prefer the network to at least extend to hospitals, schools and local units of government, some of which have inadequate Internet connections, he said.
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