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Indiana's Larry Landis: Mapping Provides a Guide for Broadband Policy

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Broadband Census Indiana (Sidebar)

Editor’s Note: BroadbandCensus.com has been surveying the state of broadband deployment and broadband data within each of the United States and its territories. Click here for the Indiana article.

As part of BroadbandCensus.com’s goal of mapping out broadband speeds, prices, availability, competition and reliability, BroadbandCensus.com recently sponsored (with Carnegie Mellon University, the University of Texas at Austin and Virginia Tech’s eCorridors Program) the “Broadband Census for America Conference” on September 26, 2008. Indiana Utility Regulatory Commissioner Larry Landis was one of the speakers at the event.

The spring 2009 conference, “Broadband Census for America: The New Administration,” is tentatively scheduled for Friday, March 27, 2009.

October 22 – Indiana Commissioner Larry Landis is one of the most knowledgeable state utility regulators on telecommunications and broadband.

In 2005, Landis was named to the Federal-State Joint Conference on Advanced Telecommunications Services, of which he is now State Chair, by Michael Powell, then-chairman of the Federal Communications Commission. Last year he was appointed to a second four-year term on the Indiana Utility Regulatory Commission by Republican Gov. Mitch Daniels.

Through his service with the National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners (NARUC), Landis has been a first-hand observer of state efforts to improve broadband connectivity, and, in so doing, to obtain data on broadband infrastructure.

In a conversation with BroadbandCensus.com, Landis reflected on the value of various efforts to obtain broadband data. He also made reference to his earlier work in the private sector, and the impact that high-technology tools can have on such efforts.

“Before I joined the Indiana commission nearly six years ago, I did marketing consulting and worked closely with a company which employed GIS (geographical information systems) mapping technology as an integral part of its core product offering,” he said.

“As a result, for over a decade I have had a great respect for the power of mapping technology to inform business decisions and shape public policy. Nearly three years ago, when I was appointed to the Federal-State Joint Board on Universal Service, and charged with reforming the way in which support was provided for customers and companies in high-cost areas, we took a very close look at the issue. Again, GIS technology was quite useful and provided insights which would not have been achievable without that tool.”

The Commissioner summed up his thoughts on the impact of good data on policy-making with the following reminder: “If you are trying to decide where you are going to go, it sure helps if you have a map to guide you on your way. In that regard, things haven’t changed much since the days of Lewis and Clark. But the quality of the tools is incomparably superior.”

Having participated in recent forums with state and national policy makers to discuss efforts across the country to better assess the availability and quality of broadband service, including Pike & Fischer’s Broadband Policy Summit IV and the fall 2008 Broadband Census for America Conference (both held in Washington), Commissioner Landis said he understands the range of challenges impacting broadband data initiatives.

He noted that there are different models being developed at the state level to obtain “actionable data” on broadband. The proliferation of such initiatives offers a great deal in the way of “best practices” for other states to utilize in addressing their own unique broadband needs.

For example, the challenge of obtaining and sharing quality data on broadband infrastructure without compromising broadband carriers’ proprietary and competitively sensitive information has been cited by many state officials involved in broadband data initiatives. Landis said that many state models overcome this hurdle.

“Generally speaking, telecom providers have been more comfortable with an independent, public-private entity which can provide additional contractual guarantees as to the confidentiality of that data,” Landis said.“This approach has the added advantage that the entity which administers the program has a singular, rifle-shot mission, focus and approach. Quite a few successful state programs are built on this independent public-private model.”

While Indiana has not explicitly developed a public-private entity for broadband data gathering, distribution, and coordination of wide-scale efforts to improve the infrastructure, Landis sees many opportunities for such efforts in the Hoosier state.

“Here in Indiana, the Indiana Economic Development Corporation (IEDC), which has proven highly successful in attracting new businesses and growing existing businesses even in challenging economic times, is built on just such a public-private model.”

Landis hopes that improved data on broadband will be a key contributor to larger policies to incentivize the expansion of broadband services in Indiana.

According to Landis, Indiana has already seen a great deal of progress in improving broadband because of a shift to less regulation. Indiana was one of the first states to pass a state-wide video franchising law, enabling Bell and other telecom companies to enter the pay-television marketplace without obtaining permission from county officials.

Landis also cited the efforts of Indiana University’s Research Network Operations Center, the work of Lt. Governor Becky Skillman’s Rural Development Program, and a variety of state-chartered fiber networks for delivering better broadband to vital educational and rural sectors.

In spite of progress by commercial carriers, Landis sees acute challenges ahead.

“We have come to what I called the ‘remnant’ at last month’s Broadband Census for America Conference: those who are beyond the reach of current technological limitations, and are therefore not currently served by land lines, by cable or by fixed wireless…. That’s what the current discussions in Indiana are focusing on.”

Broadband Census Resources:

Indiana Universities Leading Broadband Investments On- and Off-Campus

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Broadband Census Indiana

This is the 17th of a series of articles surveying the state of broadband, and broadband data, within each of the United States and its territories.

(Update, 10/22: Also see “Indiana’s Larry Landis: Mapping Provides a Guide for Broadband Policy,” BroadbandCensus.com, October 22, 2008.)

October 21 – Universities in Indiana are seeking to stay ahead of a potential traffic jam in broadband demand through investments in broadband infrastructure, cutting-edge research and rural connectivity in the Hoosier state.

According to a recent study by EDUCAUSE, U.S. universities are at the leading edge of an explosion in broadband supply and demand: availability at research institutions increased by 60% in 2007.

A network of universities in Indiana has set out to build one of the world’s premier fiber networks known as I-Light. It would support enhanced internet access in Indiana beyond university campuses, too.

In part, campus bandwidth demand is driven by music and movie downloaders seeking the next Bit Torrent tool. But that is only part of the story. The EDUCAUSE report cited faculty research as the key demand driver for the highest bandwidth-usage activity, particularly large data sets, data visualizations and other applications.

In fact, it was long before the original peer-to-peer file-sharing service Napster that Dave Jent was first facing bandwidth limits at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis, in 1998.

Seeking faster connections for researchers who needed to transfer large data sets between Indianapolis and the Indiana University Bloomington (IUB) campus – and dissatisfied with the cost estimates offered by private vendors – Jent and a team from IUB’s information technology office decided to build a network themselves.

The state assembly, led by then-Gov. Frank O’Bannon (he served from 1997 to 2003), supported the fiber connection between Indianapolis, Bloomington and Purdue.

The resulting I-Light network would also connect the universities to the global Internet2 network, which continues to be managed by the Global Research Network Operations Center at Indiana University.

The late Sen. David Ford and Indiana University President Michael McRobbie were instrumental in assuring that “coupled with the robust private provider networks in Indiana, the state has developed one of the most extensive robust backbone presences [I-Light] in the nation,” says Indiana Utility Commissioner Larry Landis.

Jent, now associate vice president for networks at Indiana University, hasn’t stopped building: the I-Light network now connects 32 higher education campuses and the network operations center will be the centerpiece of another network, Omnipop, designed to connect regional institutions beyond the state.

I-Light and other fiber broadband networks are proving critical for the research needs of Indiana’s education system.

Marianne Chitwood, I-Light’s Operations Manager, says that the value of the I-Light network is now clear within the higher education network and she uses Earlham College in Richmond, Indiana, as an example: “Earlham was depending on a few T1 connections before I-Light reached the college, and now we see them utilizing bandwidth levels that could not have been possible with those old connections.”

While Indiana’s University fiber networks have been key to facilitating premier research and vast amounts of data transfer on campus, they are also important to the delivery of fast and affordable broadband to “off-campus” Indiana households.

According to Jent, “you don’t have to go too far out of town for broadband services to run out, especially in the southern parts of Indiana where the state is behind in deploying broadband…. But the existence of our network can make business plans for commercial operators reaching rural residents in Indiana more realistic.”

Jent describes a unique collaboration in Indiana between the universities, the state government, and private sector broadband providers that is spearheaded by the Indiana Higher Education Telecommunication System (IHETS), a membership consortium that provides technology services to educational institutions in the state. IHETS is able to leverage the expertise and infrastructure of its member institutions to help lower the cost for commercial providers to extend broadband beyond the educational networks.

When it comes to extending these networks, there is a great amount of potential for wireless solutions that rely on high-bandwidth fiber backhaul to deliver needed connectivity to rural Indiana, said Jent. “The further we can push the fiber infrastructure, the easier it will be for wireless providers to reach remote consumers and businesses,” He said.

Meanwhile, when it comes to cutting-edge research and development of the wireless technologies needed to reach rural Indiana, the Hoosier state’s universities are also on the front lines.

Since 2005, Ball State University in Muncie, Indiana, has been known as one of the nation’s top wireless campuses, a concept that extends to the university’s research focus, which has BSU researchers experimenting with forward-looking wireless applications and cutting edge WiMAX technologies.

Robert Yadon, a Ball State professor of information and communication sciences and the director of the Applied Research Institute at the university, describes how the school became a model for on-campus wireless research and applications: “Strategically, it makes sense if you’re going to extend your campus beyond the bricks and mortar and into the university community and beyond. When WiMAX became available, initially in Europe, that’s when we made the early move to utilize a new frequency [802.16e] and began testing and mapping the coverage area.”

With WiMAX broadband systems in place and in use, BSU researchers were then challenged to measure and map the footprint of the experimental technology, so members of the university’s geographical information system team traveled to Europe for certification in WiMAX mapping, the first in the United States.

Today, researchers at BSU are busy gathering data to determine the success of their foray into WiMAX technology and its viability as larger-scale connectivity solution.

Jent believes such wireless solutions could be key to universal broadband access in Indiana, an objective that he sees the state being able to achieve in the near future through the cooperation of the universities, the state government and the private sector.

“There are people who are building big data networks in Indiana today,” Jent reports. “They are building in areas that have not been traditionally served and I believe we can cover the whole state in about four or five years.”

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