UAMS Readies $128M High-Speed Network

by Robert Bell  on Monday, Jan. 31, 2011 12:00 am  

The University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences and its partners are just an environmental assessment approval away from kicking off a $128 million broadband project that has been compared to rural electrification in its scope and potential for improving the lives of Arkansans.

In August, the U.S. Department of Commerce awarded a stimulus-funded $102 million grant to UAMS to create a high-speed broadband network that will connect or upgrade connections at 474 health care and educational institutions around the state. UAMS and its partners will provide a match of $26.5 million and the project must be complete within three years.

(Click here to read about how the network will affect the state's two-year colleges.)

Right now, no one is sure exactly when federal approval of the environmental assessment will happen, but the assessment was completed ahead of schedule, and all of the parties involved are getting their ducks in a row to the extent possible, said Michael Abbiatti, executive director of the Arkansas Research & Educational Optical Network.

AREON, a high-speed fiber optic network owned by the state's higher education institutions, will manage the fiber construction and leasing of dark fiber.

Dark fiber refers to fiber optic cables that were installed back in the 1990s, but which have been lying dormant since then because they weren't yet needed, Abbiatti said. Typically, these leases are for 20 years and are often referred to as Indefeasible Rights of Use, or IRUs.

As of Thursday, AREON had not finished evaluating all of the bids for dark fiber yet, so Abbiatti couldn't disclose any details about who it would be leasing the fiber from. Including existing lines, the network will include about 5,600 miles of fiber when complete. AREON will install only about 380 miles of new fiber, with about 3,700 miles of leased dark fiber.

As the appetite for broadband applications increases, there will be less and less dark fiber to lease. "It's extremely important to get the IRUs now and to get the partnerships established now," Abbiatti said.

UAMS has hired a project director, project managers and other administrative staff related to the building of the network, said Tina Benton, an RN at UAMS.

Requests for proposals were already sent out for the network design, and that was awarded to EDI Ltd. of Atlanta, said Rhonda Jorden, interim CIO at UAMS.

"The next steps will be, we've got equipment that we've predetermined would need to be purchased and software licenses, things along those lines," Jorden said. "We'll have bids for those ready to go."

 

 

 

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