Sixteen hundred miles of fiber optics is connecting the commonwealth after the completion of a three-year project called the Pennsylvania Research and Education Network (PennREN).
The $120 million project was launched by a non-profit membership organization called the Keystone Initiative for Network Based Education (KINBER).
Bruce Taggart, KINBER chairman, said the broadband’s enhanced bandwidth, or capacity, will make it faster and easier for institutions such as libraries, universities, K-12 schools, healthcare facilities and unserved or underserved communities to use high-definition video, real-time videoconferencing and share data.
“With all the applications that are coming to market very quickly, whether it’s media, streaming video, access to digital images, online courses, all those are high bandwidth intensive applications,” Taggart said. “So we talk about broadband, it’s having the bandwidth to be able to use those applications.”
PennREN is part of a federal program to bridge the technological divide across the country.
Taggart said he really hopes K-12 schools and community colleges in unserved or underserved rural areas take part in PennREN.
“Cause right now, they’re probably struggling a bit … and again, it’s probably not going to happen in the next year or two, but we hope that sooner or later we will get up into sort of the unserved and underserved population because that was one of the keys to the grant of the whole stimulus and the broadband program of the Obama administration,” Taggart said.
Taggart said PennREN’s broadband is considered a “Middle Mile Network,” which means KINBER takes the network services to one of 39 central locations, or nodes.
The large institutes — libraries, schools, hospitals — can then connect to the nearest node to access unlimited bandwidth.
According to Taggart, PennREN will not be competing with big companies such as Verizon and Comcast because they are considered “last mile providers” who take the connection to actual homes and smaller locations.
Taggart said KINBER hopes to work with the Last Mile Providers to connect all the schools in Pennsylvania to PennREN.
Taggart said KINBER is not sure what the future will bring, but they are sure it will require big bandwidth.
“So we built the network, there’s a lot of potential in it, we have a lot of bandwidth, but all of us who started this project, four, five years ago, when we look back let’s say in the year 2020, we will not have anticipated what the uses will be or the PennREN network,” Taggart said. “We’ll say, ‘didn’t see that one coming’ just like everything else.”