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Pennsylvania Coalition Receives Federal Funding for Statewide Broadband Network

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The Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education, of which IUP is a member, is a lead group in a Pennsylvania coalition that has been awarded nearly $100 million in federal funds to develop a statewide broadband network. This network is expected to expand opportunities for research and education collaboration, distance learning, and other applications. Following is a press release issued by PASSHE about the funding:

The Obama Administration on Thursday, February 18, 2010, awarded $99.6 million in federal stimulus funding to the Keystone Initiative for Network-Based Education and Research (KINBER), a coalition of Pennsylvania colleges and universities, research and health care organizations, and economic development entities that submitted a joint application for the construction and management of a robust, statewide broadband network.

The National Telecommunications and Information Administration grant, awarded as part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, will be supplemented with an additional $29 million in private investment to establish the Pennsylvania Research and Education Network (PennREN).

When completed, the fiber optic cable network will extend nearly 1,700 miles through thirty-nine Pennsylvania counties—including twenty-two currently considered unserved or underserved based on their access to affordable broadband services.

“This project represents an extraordinary collaboration among our public and private universities, health-care providers, economic development specialists, and other public sector members to develop a network that will provide open access to a state-of-the-art broadband system at affordable cost,” said Dr. John C. Cavanaugh, chancellor of the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education. “Our universities are excited by the opportunities this system will provide, not only to our students and faculty, but also to our surrounding communities.”

“This is a transformative endeavor for the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania and for Penn State University,” said Dr. Graham Spanier, Penn State president. “Our faculty and students will benefit greatly from the research and educational collaborations this network will spur. The network will also bring much needed broadband capacity for distance education, economic development, and telemedicine, and will include areas of the commonwealth that have been underserved historically.”

“The support and creation of PennREN will help the University of Pennsylvania and our partners in education, health care, and the private sector to better serve and engage with communities throughout the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania,” said University of Pennsylvania President Amy Gutmann. “By extending broadband communications throughout the state, we open the door to exciting new academic, research, and economic opportunities, and Penn is proud to participate as one of the founding members of this network.”

Dr. Jared L. Cohon, president of Carnegie Mellon University, said, “PennREN represents an historic opportunity for the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania and its citizens to recognize the benefits of high-speed broadband networks. The collaboration will connect urban centers and underserved areas across the state, enabling distance learning, telemedicine, and a host of new applications not otherwise possible. In addition, we hope the network will facilitate more opportunities for Carnegie Mellon to partner with other Pennsylvania education institutions connected by PennREN, including community colleges and K-12 schools, to improve the quality of education in Pennsylvania.”

“We’re extremely pleased that the Obama Administration recognized the transformative power of the KINBER proposal,” said C.R. “Chuck” Pennoni, interim president of Drexel University, a founding member of KINBER. “This broadband network represents the best use of stimulus funding. In addition to creating jobs, it will grow the potential for the commonwealth’s universities to educate Pennsylvanians through distance learning. It will also facilitate research collaborations in both the public and private sectors that can lead to new technologies, medical treatments, basic science discoveries, and more.”

Dr. Brian Mitchell, Bucknell president, said, “The development of this network will be significant for faculty and students at Bucknell, enabling them to bring the world to Bucknell and take Bucknell out to the world. But it is equally significant that we are bringing robust broadband capacity to rural areas, which historically have been left behind. This grant has the potential to transform our region of the commonwealth.”

“This stimulus funding for PennREN presents an exciting opportunity for Pennsylvania health care providers to more effectively share vital clinical information and provide telemedicine services,” said Carolyn F. Scanlan, president and CEO of the Hospital and Healthsystem Association of Pennsylvania. “With this critical support, PennREN will eventually serve as the conduit to interoperability between health care providers and the Pennsylvania Health Information Exchange (PHIX), and the Nationwide Health Information Network (NHIN).”

“Pennsylvania’s fourteen community colleges look forward to working with our education and health care partners to extend this network across the commonwealth,” said Diane Bosak, executive director of the Pennsylvania Commission for Community Colleges. “We believe it will significantly enhance opportunities for our students and faculty.”

“As our member institutions continue to find ways to collaborate and leverage their resources, this project will prove to be a substantial way in which we can improve access and choice in Pennsylvania’s college and university marketplace,“ said Tim Alexander, vice president of finance and administration for the Association of Independent Colleges and Universities of Pennsylvania.

Pennsylvania is one of only a handful of states without a high-speed optical network serving its higher education and health care institutions, 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.

PennREN will reach every region of the commonwealth, providing access and services to anchor institutions that will have the potential to serve more than five-million individuals in more than two-million households and 200,000 businesses. Initially, it will include thirteen primary network facilities and approximately fifty secondary locations. The network will provide the capability to connect colleges and universities, public institutions, regional networks, and last mile providers across the commonwealth.

KINBER’s founding members comprise the Association for Independent Colleges and Universities of Pennsylvania; Bucknell University; Carnegie Mellon University; Drexel University; EINetworks, a collaboration of the Allegheny Library Association and the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh; the Hospital & Healthsystem Association of Pennsylvania; Lehigh University; the Mid-Atlantic Gigapop for Internet2 (MAGPI) at the University of Pennsylvania; the Pennsylvania Commission for Community Colleges; the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education; Pennsylvania State University; the Three Rivers Optical Exchange (3ROX) at the Pittsburgh Supercomputing Center; the University of Pennsylvania; the University of Pittsburgh; and the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center.

KINBER is an independent, nonprofit corporation created to ensure the needs of all of the members and affiliates are addressed. The group’s proposal was endorsed by more than twenty-five state and regional organizations.