President McRobbie

Telecom research needs free hand to thrive

Note: The following op-ed appeared in the Ft. Wayne Journal Gazette on Feb. 10, 2012.

Our state is fortunate to have a vibrant and growing telecom industry that provides essential, high-speed digital connections for education, businesses and homes. Indiana is also home to one of the most successful higher education data networks in the country.

Smithville Communications is a private telecommunications company at the forefront of deploying fast Internet and communications services to homes and businesses in 17 Indiana counties. And Indiana University is a nationally and internationally renowned leader in high-speed research and education networks for colleges and universities.

The foresight of Indiana’s governors and legislators has created the conditions for private firms such as Smithville and the IU-led I-Light network to flourish together. I-Light was created in 1999 as the nation’s first fiber-optic research network for research and education among Bloomington, Indianapolis and West Lafayette (Purdue). Starting in 2006, it was expanded to connect almost all of the state's colleges and universities, including Ivy Tech campuses.

When I-Light needs a new circuit to another campus, it uses a public bidding process among Indiana telecommunications companies. Smithville has competitively won some of those bids, with other firms also earning business. That’s just good and fair business, which benefits I-Light, the state and the telecommunications industry.

The state’s approach for telecommunications is working to advance Indiana. Just last week, IU announced that Indiana is the first state in the nation to connect at 100 gigabits to the nation’s new research network. This means that Indiana colleges and universities can continue to push the frontiers that make our universities some of the best in the world and use I-Light to help win millions of dollars in federal research grants.

Likewise, private companies sometimes want to work with the state’s best research professors on a specific project. For those very specialized needs, I-Light and private telecommunication companies such as Smithville can come together to bring the very fastest network connections to grow jobs in Indiana. The technology parks in many of our cities also strive to incubate the state’s biotech industry and commercialize research breakthroughs in Indiana.

It is clear that private telecommunications companies and I-Light both have a unique role in growing more successes in Indiana. Our experience in Indiana over the past dozen years shows there is value in a vibrant, competitive private telecommunications industry and a world-leading university network that partner well together.

This partnership is working, and now is not the time to impose more government regulation that would dampen the proven success of public and private telecommunications in Indiana.

Michael A. McRobbie is president of Indiana University. Darby A. McCarty is president and CEO of Smithville Communications.