May 30, 2013

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By Andy Hirsch

LEWISBURG, Pa. — More than 1,600 miles of high-speed, fiber optic lines now stretch across 50 counties in Pennsylvania, providing advanced data networking to non-profit organizations in education, research, health care, workforce development, government and economic development. The just-completed Pennsylvania Research and Education Network (PennREN) was conceived four years ago by the Keystone Initiative for Network Based Education and Research (KINBER), of which Bucknell is a charter member.

"This high speed network opens the door for Bucknell to collaborate with others in new, innovative ways," said Param Bedi, Bucknell's vice president for Library and Information Technology. "We are now more connected than ever, not only to other institutions in Pennsylvania, but to institutions across the world."

Until now, Pennsylvania was lagging behind many of its neighboring states; it was one of the few without any sort of statewide broadband network. But in 2010, KINBER was awarded a $99.6 million American Recovery and Reinvestment Act grant to build PennREN. With the network now in place, it enables value-added services such as realistic high-definition video, real-time videoconferencing, and data sharing for education, research, healthcare, workforce development, government and economic development.

"KINBER's core mission is collaboration," said Jeff Reel, executive director of KINBER. "Our goal is to create an environment that fosters collaborative research and promotes the innovative use of digital technologies to improve the quality of life throughout the Commonwealth."

With Bucknell as the region's only PennREN hub site, Bedi believes that Union and surrounding counties will be among the communities that benefit from the new fiber-optic network. "Local non-profits may join KINBER free of charge, and are eligible to purchase network services at extremely competitive rates. This will allow underserved communities to more fully realize their potential by tapping into this source of increased bandwidth."

When Bucknell's connection to PennREN comes online later this year, it will double the bandwidth available on campus, according to Bedi. The new technology will strengthen Bucknell's position as an elite liberal arts institution while broadening the University's unique undergraduate research opportunities.

"It will create possibilities for our faculty and students which were only previously available at graduate-level research institutions," Bedi added. "With information technology services moving to the cloud, large data sets becoming the norm, and some grants now requiring this type of high-speed access, a high performance computing network is a necessity to undertake the kinds of academic research opportunities that we strive to offer here at Bucknell."