CHAMPAIGN — Tenants in the University of Illinois Research Park may soon have more choices of Internet providers, and potentially service at lower rates.
The research park also is moving ahead with plans to eventually hook up to the Big Broadband fiber optic network being installed around Champaign-Urbana as part of the $31 million UC2B project.
For the first project, what's being called "Layer 2" networking, the UI Research Park will spend about $35,452 in the coming months to install switches in current research park buildings that will allow additional telecommunications providers access to existing university fiber.
The UI installed and owns the fiber currently in the research park. The UI has offered this service through CITES, the Campus Information Technologies and Educational Services, and networking also has been provided by a few other companies, such as Champaign Telephone Co. and AT&T.
The Layer 2 project, which involves allowing additional providers leasing "ports" on research park building switches, "will allow multiple providers to access the same fiber ... enabling competition," research park Director Laura Frerichs said. Companies will still set their own rates, she said.
"We're trying to create a more competitive situation," she said.
Companies like Pavlov Media, Windstream, Volo as well as CTC and Comcast could all possibly offer service to companies in the park.
Frerichs said tenants and interested tenants often talk about the need for high bandwidths because many communicate regularly with corporate headquarters via video teleconferences or they need high bandwidths to work with large amounts of data for data mining projects or in mechanical simulations.
That same framework — having the UI install and own the fiber and allowing different providers to offer service — will likely be adopted for the next phase of the research park as it expands on land east of First Street and south of the I Hotel to Windsor Road.
This spring construction will resume on the Fourth Street and Hazelwood Drive extension projects and the university is considering hiring a contractor to at least lay the conduit for the fiber in that area. The project is estimated to cost the UI Research Park about $215,000.
Because no new buildings are planned to be under construction in that area during this current fiscal year ending June 30, 2013, members of the UI Research Park Board of Managers on Monday directed staff to move ahead with the installation of the conduit, but wait on installing the fiber. The conduit, essentially a pipe, would contain the fiber that would connect to the Big Broadband network. The fiber could be installed later when new buildings are being planned.
The timing of adding the conduit is somewhat critical because that section of the research park is currently under construction and will be throughout the spring and summer, according to Frerichs. If the university were to install this spring landscaping such as trees there, then wait to install the conduit, the UI may have to dig them up later.
"It's not that it couldn't happen later, but it could be more costly," Frerichs said.
Adding the strands of fiber into the conduit later, however, would not be costly because the actual cost of fiber is minimal compared with the costs of the conduit construction.
Because the UI Research Park budget relies on income from the leasing of university land to the developer but it also receives direct university financial support, it is not clear if the university will have to follow state procurement laws which govern the bidding process.
The research park has received an estimate for installing the fiber from Western Utility of University Park. Western Utility is handling the boring and installing of the conduit and fiber for UC2B.
"We need to follow up to determine the proper course of action on it. We want to make sure we're complying with any laws we need to follow," Frerichs said.
In other research park news, developer Peter Fox and the university are still drafting a land-lease agreement for land near the corner of First Street and Windsor Road.
He has proposed building a residential and commercial development there.
"We're inching forward. One of the issues currently is since we began down the process, two significant pieces of land opened up: WDWS and Worden-Marten (both on South Neil Street). What I'm concerned about is the amount of retail competing on Neil Street," Fox said.
Construction on the residential component of the project may start in the middle part of this year, he said.