A 2008 report showed many West Virginia colleges didn't have access to Internet2.

West Virginia students, educators, and researchers are getting a much-needed boost in high-speed internet service after a local campus agreed to share its superior internet connection with colleges and K-12 schools that have lagged behind in advanced connectivity.

Technology officials at Marshall University—a 13,000-student private campus in Huntington, W.Va.—announced July 7 that it would team up with the West Virginia Higher Education Policy Commission to share its Internet2 connection with the state’s undergraduate colleges, community colleges, technical schools, and health-care and government agencies.

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Internet2 is a nonprofit consortium that works with research campuses to make high-speed internet service more widely available. West Virginia is the 40th state to make Internet2 available to educational institutions.

A 2008 technology assessment of West Virginia schools’ high-bandwidth connectivity showed that no predominantly undergraduate institutions, technical colleges, or community colleges had access to Internet2, largely because “low population density and rugged terrain have discouraged these types of investments from the private sector,” according to a Marshall University report.

That means “the costs and efforts associated with connecting the state’s research infrastructure to world-class research networks are significantly larger than they might be in other areas.”

Marshall University technologists said many of the state’s campuses haven’t had access to state-of-the-art web networks like Internet2 because of school size and budgetary restrictions.

With the new internet connection, West Virginia K-12 schools and colleges will be able to collaborate with educators and students worldwide, participate in live deep-seas explorations, or practice telemedicine and use other web-based medical applications, for example.

“In rural states like West Virginia, Internet2 is the leveling agent that allows us to compete and collaborate globally while still remaining in our beautiful state,” said Jan Fox, senior vice president for IT and chief information officer for Marshall University.

Funding for West Virginia’s Internet2 project will come from a National Science Foundation grant to West Virginia’s Experimental Program to Stimulate Competitive Research.

The NSF grant was part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, the massive federal stimulus package passed in 2009.

Marshall University received $525,000 to enable its Internet2 connection last year.

While Internet2 has remained a favorite of campus technologists nationwide, web search giant Google also has announced plans to bring high-speed internet to communities with limited access.

Google announced last February a handful of experimental internet networks around the country to ensure that tomorrow’s systems can keep up with online video and other advanced applications that the company will want to deliver.

Google’s plans would include connection speeds 100 times faster than today’s connections, and they could be key for rural colleges hoping to expand broadband web access to students and faculty.

The demand for more broadband connections was evident in August 2009, when the federal government announced it had received requests for nearly $28 billion from groups that want to expand high-speed internet service in the United States.

The total requests outstripped available broadband stimulus funds seven to one.

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