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State-Subsidized Fiber-Optic Network Runs into Trouble

January 17, 2012

INDIANAPOLIS - Bills have been introduced in both chambers of the Indiana General Assembly to slam the brakes on nearly all expansion of I-Light, the state-created and subsidized fiber-optic network that links Indiana University, Purdue, and other universities in Indiana.

Dave Jent, associate vice president of networking at IU, says the university signed an operating agreement with the state and was instructed to link the institutions. Now, telecommunications companies are upset with the deal, saying they're losing business.

Jent says IU is following the agreement.

"Sure, we provide a great value, I think. But again, and I said this in the testimony the other day, this is exactly what the governor's office told us to do: create a high-quality service for the least possible cost to the institutions."

Bill author Senator Travis Holdman says the state's involvement is unfair to telecommunications companies that want to provide the same services to those schools.

Holdman says another issue is Indiana University's interest in expanding I-Light to its medical facilities, after IU's investment in Clarian hospitals.

"They want to make that I-Light network available to physicians' offices, to their clinics, to their hospitals. And once again, it appears to be a government-subsidized entity that's making a run on private business."

Dave Jent says I-Light has not shut out telecommunications companies.

"I-Light turns back into the same community who's arguing against us nearly a million dollars a year in I-Light buying coefficient services, last-mile services, fiber connectivity, you know, other kinds of services that I-Light needs to operate its network."

John Koppin, president of the Indiana Telecommunications Association, doesn't think the possible expansion of I-Light to IU's hospital facilities is fair.

"We certainly do not want to see this subsidized, state-owned network building into health care facilities, hospitals and other kinds of clinics across the state, which are very large customers of the telecom industry."

IU believes linking the medical centers is appropriate under the terms of the operating agreement, along with linking other educational research facilities.

Leigh DeNoon, Public News Service - IN