Statewide coalition seeks federal funds to develop broadband network

$128 million project would expand educational opportunities and health care services to millions of Pennsylvanians

University Park, Pa. — A broad coalition of colleges and universities, health care organizations and economic development entities across Pennsylvania is seeking nearly $100 million in federal funding to build and maintain a broadband network that would greatly expand educational opportunities and health care services to millions of residents and thousands of businesses throughout the Commonwealth.

The Pennsylvania Research and Education Network (PennREN), which includes Penn State, has applied for funding through the American Recovery and Revitalization Act for the historic project. Another $29 million in private funds would support the proposed $128 million initiative.

"Penn State will be able to use the expanded services available through this network on the first day it is operational," said President Graham Spanier. "We expect significant cost avoidance and improved performance by using this network to connect all Penn State locations across the Commonwealth."

Pennsylvania is among only a handful of states without an extensive broadband network, which has prevented the expansion of distance learning and other educational opportunities, has delayed the universal availability of telemedicine and has limited the ability of many of the state’s leading research universities to access and share critical information throughout the United States and the world.

The proposed network would reach every region of the Commonwealth, providing access and services to more than 5 million individuals in more than 2 million households and to 200,000 businesses. It would include 13 primary switching centers and approximately 50 secondary facilities within a 10-mile radius of designated anchor institutions. The system would rival any in the United States, and would provide the capability to connect regional networks across the Commonwealth.

In addition to Penn State, PennREN's founding members include the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education, the University of Pittsburgh, the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, the Mid-Atlantic Gigapop for Internet 2 (MAGPI) at the University of Pennsylvania, Bucknell University, Drexel University, Lehigh University, Three Rivers Optical Exchange (3ROX), the Pennsylvania Commission for Community Colleges, the Association for Independent Colleges and Universities of Pennsylvania, the Hospital & Healthsystem Association of Pennsylvania and EINetworks, a collaboration of the Allegheny Library Association and the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh.

Leaders of other institutions agree that the project is essential to their continued growth and ability to deliver educational services. In addition, health care officials in the state cited the expanded capabilities the network will offer.

"It is critical that our hospitals and other health care providers have the advanced technologies available through this network to assure they can offer the finest care possible at the most reasonable cost," said Martin Ciccocioppo, vice president and director of research for the Hospital & Healthsystem Association of Pennsylvania and chair of the Pennsylvania eHealth Initiative.

"Improved access to high-quality care can be made available through innovative telemedicine and online care opportunities, and this relies on a robust broadband and telecommunications infrastructure in the state," said Diane Holder, executive vice president of the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center and president and CEO of UPMC Health Plan.

According to the collaborators, the PennREN project promises to provide high-speed bandwidth for virtually every educational and cultural institution in the Commonwealth, which will enhance collaboration among institutions. In addition, the statewide network would provide Pennsylvania’s world-class research institutions the capability to access leading edge technologies needed to share their work with partners, not only in the Commonwealth but throughout the United States.

The PennREN proposal was submitted by an independent, nonprofit corporation to ensure the needs of all of the members and affiliates are addressed. The proposal has been endorsed by more than 25 state and regional organizations, all of which recognize that PennREN has the ability to transform education and health care in the Commonwealth for decades to come.

 

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Last Updated September 14, 2009