The University of Texas-Pan American will be able to connect with other Rio Grande Valley educational and research institutions through a fiber-optic network recently funded by a $15.7 million federal grant awarded to Valley Telephone Cooperative.
The Rio Grande Valley Med/Ed Fiber Optic Network will include the placement of more than 150 miles of fiber-optic cable throughout the four-county region (Hidalgo, Cameron, Willacy and Starr). Co-applicants and anchor institutions will include UT Pan American, UT Brownsville, South Texas College, Texas State Technical College, and the University of Texas Health Science Center.
"This is a great opportunity for the four counties and the educational systems that will benefit from this service," U.S. Representative Rubén Hinojosa, a strong supporter of the project, said.
"These universities and colleges will be able to use this free service for their administrative and financial records, crucial research, and distant learning. It will also connect the multitude of health and medical services around the Rio Grande Valley."
George Bennack, a director in UTPA's Department of Community Engagement, said University staff contributed to the development of the project.
"We participated in discussions early in the developmental stage to help shape and form the scope of the project. We introduced some of the key players and also played a pivotal role in securing the critical information required to submit a competitive proposal," Bennack said.
Some of the most critical information was provided by UTPA's Division of Information Technology, which is headed by Bob H. Lim, vice president for information technology. The information provided by Lim's division showed a savings to UTPA of $6 million over the life of the project, according to Bennack.
But cost savings don't tell the entire story, Bennack said.
"This fiber-optic network includes the UT Regional Health Science Center and connects about 20 campus locations for the Valley's colleges and universities. The network also allows connection to the UT and Texas A&M systems through fiber-optic transport gateways," Bennack said.
The network is expected to provide tremendous potential for future research facilities in the area Bennack said.
"The 10 Gigabit fiber-optic network has been designed to pass through the McAllen Foreign Trade Zone and could easily support future facilities, such as regional efforts to build a research and education park that would take full advantage of the immense broadband capabilities that the network will provide," he said.
Competitive grant funding was provided by the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA), through its Broadband Technology Opportunities Program (BTOP). The BTOP program is funded through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.
Total project costs are budgeted at $22.4 million. As the applicant organization, Valley Telephone Cooperative will provide a matching contribution of $6.7 million - an amount that is 30 percent of total project cost.
"Valley Telephone is very interested in the economic development of the South Texas region and believes that a strong partnership with UT Pan American is a key to regional development," said Dave Osborn, CEO and general manager of Valley Telephone Cooperative.
Construction of the Rio Grande Valley Med/Ed Fiber Optic Network is expected to start this year and take three years to complete.