John Lewis, senior research scholar at NIU’s Regional Development Institute, moderated a panel of experts in the fiber optics industry May 30 at the DeKalb County Economic Development Corp. Broadband and Economic Development Technology Focus Luncheon.
About 150 attendees learned about the importance of high-speed fiber and broadband to economic development in the region.
Matthew Parks, director of Network & Communications Services at NIU, said the DeKalb Advancement of Technology Authority (DATA) installed 130 miles of fiber throughout DeKalb and portions of Kane and LaSalle counties using a $14.8 million grant.
DATA – a partnership between DeKalb County government, NIU and DeKalb Fiber Optic – provides high-speed Internet connections of 10 Mbps – 10 Gbps to at least 60 anchor institutions, including schools, hospitals, libraries, public safety entities and government agencies. The project will enable broadband providers to interconnect with these facilities to provide broadband to households and businesses in under-served communities.
He said DeKalb County is now “on the map” for large broadband users such as data centers or software development facilities. Extensive broadband capacity is available to support business expansion due to federal Broadband Technology Opportunity Program (BTOP) projects that include iFiber and DATA.
Clayton Black, eTeam coordinator with Broadband Illinois, said that DeKalb County was highly ranked – 13th out of 102 Illinois counties – for broadband speeds and availability of live networks.
With the ability to connect all of these institutions to NIU, the result is a “virtual sandbox” with endless possibilities for research and collaboration in the region.
Through the DATA project, NIU has the ability to connect its Family Health, Wellness and Literacy Center at Sycamore and Bethany roads and the main campus, providing redundancy for NIU data centers.
Scot Eberle, president of Fiberutilities Group of Cedar Rapids, Iowa, said DeKalb County can capitalize on its broadband network for optimal development.
“The key is utilizing this new ‘road’ to make the difference for business,” Eberle said. “Infrastructure is important because it enables applications, applications drive usage and users drive revenue and economic development.”
The DATA project replicates the successful NIUNet model that consists of a 175-mile fiber-optic loop stretching from DeKalb to Batavia to Naperville along Interstate Highway 88, connecting to Chicago, the I-WIRE Network, Argonne National Laboratory and other national research networks through Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory in Batavia.
The network loops back along Interstate Highway 90 to Hoffman Estates and west to Rockford before heading south along Interstate Highway 39 to Rochelle and back to DeKalb. Individual cities oversee and maintain their portion of the fiber-optic loop.