Ohio Department of Higher Education (ODHE) Chancellor Randy Gardner and OARnet have announced the $12.1 million Last Mile Enhancement Program to increase broadband speeds by 1,000% at 40 Ohio colleges and universities.
The award will also enable all 87 OARnet-connected colleges and universities to double their internet subscriptions for two years beginning Jan. 1, 2021. The added capacity will enable more bandwidth-intensive applications and better facilitate remote instruction.
Supported by the Governor’s Emergency Education Relief (GEER) Fund, the program enables OARnet to work with commercial “last mile” providers to upgrade connections to its ultra-fast 5,500-mile fiber optic backbone at each of the 40 institutions.
“COVID-19 accelerated a pre-existing trend in the expansion of remote and hybrid learning,” Chancellor Gardner said. “The Last Mile Enhancement Program enables Ohio’s faculty and instructors to continue delivering high quality academic experiences in this new environment.”
The 40 institutions include community, technical and four-year colleges and universities, both public and private, whose networks experienced unprecedented demand after the sudden shift to remote and hybrid learning models because of COVID-19. Their connections to OARnet will increase from one Gigabit per second (Gbps) or less to 10 Gbps, an improvement that could, for instance, shorten a transfer of one terabyte of data from 160 minutes to 16. It could also dramatically increase the number and quality of simultaneous student video connections to a remote classroom platform.
The cloud services, collaboration tools and video conferencing platforms that enable virtual learning require more bandwidth than many small and midsize institutions expected to need so soon. The Last Mile Enhancement Program offers immediate relief of these strains and lays the groundwork for the continued integration of technology into teaching and learning.
"As schools adapt to the challenges of the pandemic with online and hybrid classroom options, many have experienced an increased burden on their broadband systems and have been unable to meet the demand for online learning," State Senator Bob Peterson said. "I am pleased that our colleges and universities will soon be able to better provide remote learning options."
Established by Congress as part of the federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, the GEER Fund assists the K-12 and higher education institutions most impacted by the pandemic. The U.S. Department of Education awarded grants from the fund to each state’s governor for further distribution.
“Governor DeWine and Chancellor Gardner have made a very strategic investment in the midst of COVID-19,” said Pankaj Shah, executive director of OARnet. “Not only does it alleviate immediate budget pressures on institutions as we help them navigate hybrid learning, it also provides for the growth in their use of broadband over the next three to five years.”
The Last Mile Enhancement Program institutions include:
- Antioch University
- Art Academy of Cincinnati
- Belmont College
- Bluffton University
- Capital University
- Central Ohio Technical College
- Chatfield College
- Cincinnati State Technical and Community College
- Clark State Community College
- Cleveland Institute of Art
- Cleveland Institute of Music
- Columbus College of Art and Design
- Eastern Gateway Community College
- Edison State Community College
- Franciscan University
- Hebrew Union College
- Hocking College
- Lake Erie College
- Lakeland Community College
- Lourdes University
- Malone University
- Marion Technical College
- Methodist Theological School in Ohio
- North Central State College
- Northwest State Community College
- Ohio Christian University
- Ohio Dominican University
- Owens Community College
- Rhodes State College
- Southern State Community College
- Terra State Community College
- Tiffin University
- Union Institute and University
- University of Northwestern Ohio
- University of Rio Grande/Rio Grande Community College
- Walsh University
- Washington State Community College
- Wilberforce University
- Wilmington College
- Zane State College
About OARnet: Since 1987, OARnet has delivers technology-based solutions that reduce costs, increase productivity and improve customer service. As a division of the Ohio Department of Higher Education's Ohio Technology Consortium (OH-TECH), OARnet serves Ohio's education, health care, public broadcasting and government communities. Other members of the consortium include the Ohio Supercomputer Center (OSC) and the Ohio Library and Information Network (OhioLINK).
OH-TECH Communications Manager