Five Colleges award contract for fiber optic project

By Carol Angus

Five Colleges, Incorporated has awarded a contract to Adesta LLC to design and build a fiber optic communications network connecting the five campuses to each other and to a carrier-neutral facility in Springfield, from where they will access Internet and Internet 2.

Adesta, which has been operating since 1988, designs, builds, and supports multi-discipline network infrastructures to serve commercial, industrial, and governmental entities worldwide. The contract and the new fiber optic network are being handled through Five College Net, a limited liability company (LLC) whose sole member is Five Colleges, Incorporated. When completed, the network is expected to give the campuses vastly increased data network capacity, add redundant links to handle network outages, and reduce the costs of local circuit charges for data communications services.

According to Donna Baron, Five College director of Information Technology, the selection of a vendor follows two years of deliberations and negotiations overseen by the Five College Information Technology (IT) Governing Board, whose members include the Five College directors of information technology, the executive director of Five Colleges, Incorporated, a vice president for finance, and a dean of faculty. The governing board was charged with studying and reporting on current and anticipated networking needs of the five campuses and making recommendations for addressing those needs.

In its report, the IT Governing Board noted that colleges and universities located in rural areas often lack the networking infrastructure to accommodate the explosive demand for bandwidth in recent years, a demand fueled by advances in computing speed and innovative applications as well as changing expectations on the part of researchers, teachers, and students alike.

The report also cited the rising cost of leasing circuits to connect the campuses to their nearest points of access to the Internet and Internet 2 as factors in recommending that the schools collaborate to build their own infrastructure and network. In the fall of 2002, the Five College board of directors agreed with the IT board''s recommendations and sanctioned the issuing of a request for bids for a "dark optical fiber network" designed to meet the research and teaching needs of the schools for the foreseeable future.

The network that the Omaha-based company Adesta will build calls for a 29-mile ring of fiber connecting the five campuses to each other with a 12-mile leg into a primary carrier hotel in nearby Springfield. "Five College Net looks forward to working with Adesta," Baron said. "We have been as impressed with their knowledge of construction as with their sensitivity to the process of seeking right of way access from owners of local properties."

A technical team representing the campuses and reporting to the IT directors, will work with Adesta in laying out the design and will also make decisions about equipment and establish a plan of operations.

"A project of this scope," says Five College executive director Lorna M. Peterson, "could not have been undertaken without the well established record of successful collaboration among the schools and the forward-looking vision of the Five College board of directors. Both of those factors, coupled with the proximity of the schools to one another, have enabled them to work together for a common solution to their pressing need for bandwidth to serve the research and teaching missions of these institutions over the long term."

As planning for Five College Net goes forward, Baron says, the schools will remain "cognizant of community needs and supportive of efforts such as the Pioneer Valley Connect broad band initiative," which seeks to attract new telecommunications services to benefit the region.