seal  Purdue News

August 2003

State 'Lights' up roadway to more high-paying jobs

James Bottum
vice president of information technology and
chief information officer


At our feet lies the future.

Just under our feet, to be precise. It's called "dark fiber," the unused capacity of fiber-optic cable. The private sector built this network of high-speed Internet cable in the e-commerce boom days of the 1990s, but now it lies dormant, waiting for a little investment to develop it into a statewide information superhighway. Its destination: high-technology jobs for Indiana's future.

James Bottum

This superhighway will transmit rivers of data, making today's Internet seem like a country road. And these rivers will flow not just to large towns, but also to many smaller communities across the state.

The state of Indiana understands the project's intrinsic value to the state's economic development. In fact, in late 2001 the state threw the switch on the first phase of this network – I-Light – connecting Purdue and Indiana universities and IUPUI to the superhighway, allowing scientists and technologists to collaborate easily from a distance. This year, the Indiana General Assembly agreed to invest $5 million each year for two years toward the $15 million second phase of the project, called I-Light 2.

I-Light 2 aims to expand the breadth of the state's current information infrastructure to additional communities and institutions throughout the state. Think of I-Light 2 as akin to when the state built major highways to our smaller and more rural areas. The impact to these communities of the information infrastructure is no less than when major highways came to these areas. Simply put, I-Light 2 is about everyone having the capability to move together to embrace the information economy. I-Light 2 will link Purdue, IU and IUPUI with smaller campuses and outlying communities. Once Lake County is connected, then it's tantalizingly close to Chicago – connecting Indiana with Illinois' I-Wire network and others as far away as California.

What will the benefits be?

Imagine medical technologists in different locations collaborating on the construction of a "virtual heart" that allows unprecedented early diagnosis of coronary disease. Or picture a rotating, three-dimensional image of a complex auto part transmitted by I-Light 2 from an Indianapolis parts manufacturer to the home office of a Big Three automaker in Detroit and a design firm in Germany to solve a complex engineering problem from several points of view. Or consider a farmer near New Albany who could download daily satellite images of weather patterns that could be incorporated into precise nutrient and pesticide treatments, increasing corn and soybean yields and protecting the environment.

That is the potential of I-Light 2. It will bring these capabilities to the entire state. In the process, I-Light 2 will make all of Indiana attractive to high-tech businesses, which will choose to base themselves elsewhere if this vital piece of e-infrastructure is not available. Consider how much more attractive I-Light 2 will make Indiana to the next Apple, Microsoft or biotech startup venture that has a choice of where to locate its home office.

In tight economic times, every decision we make comes at the expense of other competing priorities. Investment in I-Light 2 offers us an opportunity to change this paradigm and make an investment to realize our hidden assets and improve our economic advantage. The state of Indiana is wise to act now. We cannot afford to wait. Economic recovery may very well depend on leveraging our digital resources to gain a competitive advantage.

The next step in the evolution of the Internet is here. Indiana's economic future is here, right under our feet and available at bargain prices. It is up to us to take that step now, or watch as other states take it first.