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MBC and ODU Partner to Win $10 Million Broadband Technology Grant

Old Dominion University has partnered with the Mid-Atlantic Broadband Cooperative to win a $10 million grant from the Federal Broadband Stimulus Program for a project that will greatly expand the scope and speed of fiber optics communications networks in southeastern Virginia.

The grant from the U.S. Department of Commerce's National Telecommunications and Information Administration was announced in Washington Wednesday, Aug. 18, by Vice President Joe Biden.

MBC and ODU are each investing $1.2 million in the project, to cover total costs of nearly $12.5 million. Plans call for 170 miles of high-speed Internet infrastructure to be built during the next two years as part of the national Broadband Technology Opportunities Program.

For ODU, the project will provide more efficient and dependable high-speed communication technology to advance research and education on campus, and to support outreach services.

"Old Dominion University is pleased to have partnered with Mid-Atlantic Broadband Cooperative to develop and sponsor this grant," said the university's president, John R. Broderick. "This is an investment that opens incredible opportunities for economic development and innovations for education program delivery in the region.

"As an anchor institution and large consumer of broadband communication in Hampton Roads, Old Dominion will reach out to local communities and institutions to develop a collaborative effort for expanding the availability, reach and application of high-speed broadband communications."

MBC is an independent and not-for-profit, open-access fiber optic backbone provider that already has installed 800 miles of fiber optic cable, most of it serving low-population and economically depressed localities in Southside Virginia. Tad Deriso, the MBC president and CEO, called the new project "really the linchpin of our entire strategy to help connect all of southern Virginia to the rest of the world."

Internet infrastructure tends to support services to high-population and, therefore, high traffic areas. Many services are not available or too expensive in rural areas. That is why the federal and state governments since 2004 have supported MBC's startup as a broadband wholesaler in an underserved Southside Virginia region that needs new economic development. The region has lost jobs in tobacco farming and warehousing, and in cotton mills and other manufacturing.

The 170 miles of new infrastructure will extend in a mesh from existing MBC network connection points in Emporia and Wakefield. It will be constructed in Southampton, Sussex, Surry and Isle of Wight counties and the cities of Suffolk and Franklin. Deriso said more than 60 community anchor institutions, such as schools, hospitals and emergency response departments, will be connected. This will allow those institutions to purchase new telecom services from MBC's members, which are private-sector telecom providers.

But extending broadband infrastructure to underserved areas was not the only goal in MBC and ODU's application for the stimulus grant. The new network will also deploy Infinera's Digital Optical Network to extend the reach of MBC's highly scalable, open-access transport network into the Norfolk market. This will enable diverse access to other MBC member networks in the region, including Intellifiber, Level3, Verizon and Qwest Communications.

"The open-access network will improve broadband communication speeds and options for the region, creating economies of scale for the cost of commodity Internet services," said Rusty Waterfield, ODU's assistant vice president for computing and communications services. "This provides network assets and services to help drive economic development, and enable collaboration among education, library, hospital and research institutions."

Broderick and Deriso praised Waterfield and Wayne Jones, who directs network and communications services in Waterfield's office, for their role in preparing the grant application. "We are grateful for the effort our team put into this," Broderick said.

Jones said a major beneficiary of the new network's reach into Hampton Roads will be the Eastern Lightwave Interconnect Enterprise (E-LITE) regional network, which provides high-speed connections between ODU and its Virginia Modeling, Analysis and Simulation Center (VMASC); the College of William and Mary; Thomas Jefferson National Accelerator Facility, and other federal agencies.

The five-year-old E-LITE, which supports research and education through 1-10 gigabytes per second connections, currently can access only one path to Internet service providers in Northern Virginia. "Right now we have a single linear path between Northern Virginia and Norfolk for the bulk of our commodity service," Jones said. "This path is susceptible to service interruptions that can put us on our knees, such as one caused by a fire in Richmond."

Jones said E-LITE will gain from the MBC network an alternate path to Northern Virginia, "providing system redundancies." In addition, E-LITE will benefit from new ways to provide broader and cheaper services.

The redundant connection will give ODU's Teletechnet distance learning program a more affordable and reliable broadband connection with community colleges in Virginia. This will be a boon to video conferencing, streaming video and other online interactive instructional delivery. The better service will also extend to ODU and WHRO public broadcasting's delivery of educational content to public schools.

Broderick said he envisions the project with MBC also supporting the Business Gateway office that ODU opened earlier this summer to strengthen entrepreneurial ties between the university and regional businesses. "This initiative supports our recent launch of Business Gateway as a business-friendly entry point to the intellectual capital, innovative technologies and world-class infrastructure of the university," he said.

As an example, Deriso said he could see the new broadband service allowing ODU's VMASC to do computer simulation work with a tire research center in South Boston.

Jones suggested that new direct communications with the city of Franklin might allow ODU to take a greater role in retraining the workforce of the International Paper (old Union Camp Corp.) pulp and paper plant that closed there recently.

Outside of economic development, Jones added, the project will give ODU the opportunity to purchase more bandwidth at affordable rates, allowing students on the Norfolk campus greater freedom in accessing online applications and services. "This can be for research, as well as for recreation," he said.

MBC's advanced open-access fiber optic backbone network provides wholesale optical transport services, collocation, dark fiber, and tower construction/leasing. More than 55 private sector telecom providers are members of MBC. They use MBC's open access network to expand their network reach, reduce their transport costs, enable new services and applications and drive advanced broadband services in Southern Virginia.

The cooperative's mission is economic development, job creation and private sector investment in Southern Virginia. For more information about MBC, visit www.mbc-va.com.

This article was posted on: August 19, 2010

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