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Research and education networks in Indiana, Michigan, and Ohio announce partnership in the fight against COVID-19

I-Light, Merit, and OARnet team up to provide internet access and support online learning, research, and state and local government initiatives to aid communities amid pandemic

BLOOMINGTON, Ind.—Statewide research and education networks (RENs) in the Midwest, including I-Light, Merit, and OARnet, in conjunction with their private sector partners, are collaborating to provide internet connectivity, digital infrastructure, and broadband expertise to support higher education, research, K-12 schools, and state and local governments in coping with the COVID-19 health crisis.

This partnership recognizes that network availability is vital to living, learning, and working amid the coronavirus pandemic. The partnership has been facilitating the large-scale transition to online learning and remote working across Indiana, Michigan, and Ohio and supports rapidly formed, high-intensity, collaborative research at the states’ universities and other sites.

This project was a shining example of what we can accomplish together—multiple state agencies working as one with our private partners to complete something that was nothing short of amazing in record time.

Nathan Huskey, chief information officer, Ohio Department of Health

In the health sciences specifically, the partnership enables an increase in network traffic and reduces barriers to network sharing in support of medical and epidemiolocal researchers developing treatment protocols and cures against COVID-19.

“From opening up internet bandwidth at no additional cost during the pandemic emergency to securing vendors and private sector partners who can architect and extend Wi-Fi at public buildings and school buses to provide internet for Ohioans at home, we understand that acting quickly and collaboratively in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic is imperative,” said Pankaj Shah, OARnet executive director. “In the spirit of innovation and joining together, we are excited to form this timely partnership with Indiana and Michigan to continue to support our imperative higher education and K-12 communities, as well as state and local governments through the current emergency and beyond.”

OARnet’s support dates back to March, shortly after COVID-19 cases were officially detected in Ohio. Ohio Department of Higher Education Chancellor Randy Gardner and OARnet staff reached out to their communities to offer subsidized expansion of network bandwidth to better serve what was expected to be a dramatically increased need for online learning and teleworking arrangements.

This partnership recognizes that network availability is vital to living, learning, and working amid the coronavirus pandemic.

“When it became clear that COVID-19 was going to disrupt the spring semester at our colleges and universities, Governor DeWine asked the Department of Higher Education to be as flexible and supportive as possible in assisting them,” Chancellor Gardner said. “As part of that, OARnet—part of our OH-TECH consortium—stepped up to offer a temporary bandwidth increase at no additional cost to those campuses requesting it.”

One initiative the new REN partnership helped build was an IT network connection from the Ohio Department of Health (ODH) to ODH’s Receipt, Stage, and Store [RSS] warehouse. The RSS supplements and re-supplies state and local resources during large-scale public health and medical emergencies.

"This project was a shining example of what we can accomplish together—multiple state agencies working as one with our private partners to complete something that was nothing short of amazing in record time," said Nathan Huskey, chief information officer with the Ohio Department of Health. "I appreciate all of the work that both our partners did to make this happen so quickly and professionally." 

COVID-19 has brought to the forefront issues that compound difficulties in e-Learning, internet capacity, and research opportunities. Collectively we believe this partnership will benefit the user communities in our states and possibly beyond.

Dave Jent, IU associate vice president of networks

In addition, I-Light, Merit, and OARnet are offering to collaborate with other neighboring states and educational communities such as the Big Ten Academic Alliance to win the fight against COVID-19.

"Research and education networks have a strong, decades-old tradition of collaboration on an everyday basis—and this has prepared us well for crisis situations,” said Joseph Sawasky, president and chief executive officer of Merit. “Interconnecting our high-performance networks; sharing technical knowledge freely; developing public/private partnerships in a regional ecosystem; supporting university research in multi-institutional initiatives; and having formal arrangements for mutual aid are part of our DNA."

“I-Light and Indiana University are pleased to work with OARnet and MERIT in a partnership to provide collaborative and innovative solutions to issues facing all of us today,” said Dave Jent, IU associate vice president of networks. “COVID-19 has brought to the forefront issues that compound difficulties in e-Learning, internet capacity, and research opportunities. Collectively we believe this partnership will benefit the user communities in our states and possibly beyond.”