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A Boost n Broadband >>> How the Oklahoma Community Anchor Network is improving rural Internet service <<<


By Gail Banzet-Ellis I


n a world of video chats, virtual universities and cyber retail shopping many rural Oklahomans admit they’re still searching for a reliable high- speed Internet connection. For most of these residents, Internet access is limited to a satellite provider, digital subscriber line (DSL) or even


dial-up, but these options can be pricey, sporadic and slow. Broadband service is becoming more common, but small bandwidth often prevents full utilization of the Internet. That’s why higher education institutions, libraries, hospitals and city governments are welcoming a new alternative. One year ago, OneNet, the Internet service provider of the Oklahoma


State Regents for Higher Education, boosted the capabilities of rural broad- band through a federally funded project known as the Oklahoma Community Anchor Network (OCAN). In early 2010, the State Regents, the Offi ce of Management and Enterprise Services (formerly the Offi ce of State Finance) and the Oklahoma Department of Transportation teamed up to apply for a grant developed by the National Telecommunications and Information Administration and the Broadband Technology Opportunities Program. “With a lot of unserved and underserved areas of broadband service,


Oklahoma was identifi ed as a good candidate for this type of opportunity,” said Vonley Royal, chief information offi cer of the Oklahoma State Regents for Higher Education and executive director of OneNet. When state offi cials learned Oklahoma had won the $74 million grant, installation began on 1,005 miles of fi ber optic along OneNet’s footprint, a path that leads from the Panhandle down to Broken Bow, Okla., Royal said. After three years of construction, OneNet completed the project and launched OCAN in August 2013. The program designated 33 state and tribal colleges and universities, rural hospitals and libraries as “community an- chors” to offer a faster connection with larger bandwidth. For many of these locations, the luxury of high-speed Internet is now available for the very fi rst time. “OCAN has the potential to change the quality of life and experience throughout the state by expanding broadband services to areas that have not had this level of connectivity in the past,” Royal said. “We’re expanding out to many small K-12 schools and trying to get the word out to rural com- munities about what resources are on their doorstep.” Community anchors such as Southeastern Oklahoma State University


(SEOSU) in Durant, Okla., previously used a 500-meg broadband connec- tion, but OneNet’s expanded service opened up a new virtual world of opportunity for its 4,000 students and faculty on four branch campuses.


26 WWW.OK-LIVING.COOP


“OCAN took what OneNet was doing and increased the capacity on a pretty amazing scale—about twentyfold at our campus,” said Dan Moore, SEOSU’s executive director of information technology and a property man- ager in the Southeastern Electric Cooperative service territory. “OneNet’s distance learning and research network is an amazing resource for our state. Technology, such as our cloud services, is no longer bound by geographical limitations, and we can use video conferencing to put faculty in several places at one time.” Moore said OCAN is most effective as a community investment that increases the availability of education resources statewide. Among SEOSU’s many collaborative projects, the university partners with the Choctaw Nation to provide online language courses that preserve its native heritage. Also, SEOSU offers classroom space to students enrolled in the nursing program at East Central University. “We can now use IETVs (Interactive Educational Television) to beam the


classes back and forth between campuses,” Moore said. “The possibilities are pretty exciting.”


A small group of rural public libraries are among OCAN’s community


anchors, but the Oklahoma Department of Libraries has seized an oppor- tunity to improve its entire network thanks to OCAN. The department blended funding it had received from a separate grant with the benefi ts of OneNet’s expanded services. “OneNet provided the structure and the Oklahoma Department of Libraries funded video purchasing equipment,” said Susan McVey, director of the state department of libraries. “We’ve been able to bring in authors to speak to participants in our summer reading program, offer health informa- tion about chronic disease programs and even stream yoga classes. It’s all broadcast at one location and shared at multiple libraries.” With the help of OneNet’s larger bandwidth and faster speeds, some public libraries are able to offer continuing professional development cours- es in health care and other fi elds through videoconferencing. These facilities host college classes for local residents as well as online training for future


“OCAN has the potential to change the quality of life and experience throughout the state.”


- Vonley Royal, executive director of OneNet


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