The governor followed through on a promise he made 10 months ago in his State of the State speech -- to upgrade the state’s broadband network to what experts had described as “light speed." Ohio Public Radio’s Karen Kasler was at the launch.
There wasn’t much fanfare inside the offices of Ohio Academic Resources Network, or OARNet. In fact, it looked like a generic meeting was going on -- Gov. John Kasich standing before a group of administration officials, technicians and reporters, facing a monitor that showed a room full of equipment and wires.
KASICH: “Light the network, Paul.”
The governor gives the order to a technician in that room to connect some wires and unite the state’s academic institutions on a network that’s 10 times faster than it was a few seconds before.
UNIDENTIFIED SPEAKER #1: “Governor, the network is operational.”
With that, Ohio became the first state to launch a 100 gigabyte network statewide. And then, projected on the wall between the governor and the monitor -- nine video links pop up simultaneously from universities all across the state.
KASICH: “Why don’t we hear from Portsmouth first? Southern Ohio, we’re thrilled to have you involved.”
UNIDENTIFIED SPEAKER #2: “And Governor, we’re thrilled to be part of this process....”
The governor made his way around the grid of video links, talking to the two people in each of the nine cities – from Cleveland to Athens to Dayton to Akron. One in each city was a university professor, and the other a business owner or an academic with business expertise, to highlight how the state hopes this new 100 gigabytes-per-second network will be used. The universities say the network helps bring researchers together and could get intellectual property developed in them out into the economy. Frank Calzonetti is with the University of Toledo.
CALZONETTI: “We see that this enhanced capability will allow us to increase our research and educational collaboration with other universities throughout Ohio and throughout the world, and increase our ability to interact with business as well.”
The business leaders talked about how the high-speed network can help share big packets of data such as medical imaging, video simulations, and other information that can benefit manufacturing, data mining and analytics, alternative energy development, consumer products and medicine. Tom Lange is with Proctor and Gamble in Cincinnati.
LANGE: “This data highway speed boost is a big win for Ohio, and it puts us on the 21st century digital highway. It’s going to help big businesses like P&G, but mid-size and small firms developing as well.”
The network doesn’t just link the universities to each other -- they’re also hooked up with Internet2, a high speed nationwide network. Businesses would have to partner with universities to get access to the network, which the state also plans to use as a tool to lure more business to Ohio. John Conley is the chief of educational technology with the Ohio Board of Regents, which oversees higher education, and he uses a roadway analogy to describe this super-fast superhighway.
CONLEY: “We’ve basically taken 71 and 70, and made it ten stories high. So we’ve made it all - you can pass so much traffic on that. And then as people build tributaries to it, think about where that branches. It’s almost like a tree. It just goes from there, just keeps branching.”
Despite the obvious advantages -- for example, the ability to download movies or send big batches of family pictures and videos in just seconds -- the average Ohioan won’t be able to access the network.
But Conley and others say Ohioans will benefit from improved products, more jobs and a better state economy. The state spent $13 million to upgrade the network, which officials had hoped to have up and running earlier this year, but the plan was delayed when the decision was made to expand it to Portsmouth and Wooster.