After two years of work, a project that seeks to provide high-speed Internet access to rural and underserved Oklahoma communities is nearing completion.
The Oklahoma Community Anchor Network project celebrated its two-year anniversary in July, and officials say the project is about 88 percent complete. Leaders hope to see the network expand to serve more communities after the project completes its initial objective.
The project is a joint venture by the Oklahoma Department of Transportation, the Oklahoma Office of Management and Enterprise Services and the Oklahoma State Regents for Higher Education's OneNet division, which serves as the state's telecommunications network for government and education.
The project is funded through a $74 million grant from the U.S. Department of Commerce's National Telecommunications and Information Administration as a part of the agency's Broadband Technology Opportunities Program.
The three agencies are providing broadband Internet access to 32 “community anchors” in underserved areas across the state, said Von Royal, executive director of OneNet.
Sites act as nodes
The sites include college campuses, libraries, hospitals and tribal offices, which act as distribution nodes and allow telecommunications companies to provide broadband access to homes and businesses, Royal said.
“It's a public-private effort that's being put forth,” he said.
The network is scheduled to be fully operational at the 32 sites by July 31. At that point, leaders hope to identify more sites nearby to include in the program, said Sonja Wall, the network's program manager.
Initially, Wall said, the state identified the 32 sites that would be easiest to reach and had the highest need. Once that network is in place and the federal grant period has ended, OneNet will begin expanding to other sites.
Once complete, the network will increase the capability of many kinds of services in rural areas, Royal said. For example, officials at Seiling Community Hospital plan to use the system to increase the hospital's ability to use telemedicine, or the use of telecommunications technology to provide clinical care across distances.
“There's a huge amount of telemedicine that takes place across the state,” Royal said. “But one of the biggest obstacles that they're facing is connectivity.”