The high-tech, high-touch learning environment at Fort Hays State University will soon become even more technologically advanced thanks to a major contribution from Nex-Tech, a Hays telecommunications provider.
"Nex-Tech, and its parent company, Rural Telephone of Lenora, have been long-time supporters of our university," Dr. Edward H. Hammond, FHSU president, said during a Friday morning news conference. "We are here to accept another major gift from Nex-Tech that will greatly enhance our communication capabilities."
President Hammond and Larry Sevier, chief executive officer of Rural Telephone/Nex-Tech, announced that Nex-Tech would install fiber optic cables in two locations: a two-gigabyte Ethernet circuit between the FHSU campus in southwest Hays and the university's Sternberg Museum of Natural History adjacent to Interstate 70 in northeast Hays; and a 20-megabyte symmetrical Internet connection south to the University Farm.
The value of the gift will be $240,000 for the Sternberg connection and $6,000 for the farm connection, for a total of $246,000, which includes free service for the first five years.
"Nex-Tech understands that Fort Hays State University, and its inter-campus network infrastructure, is critically important to Hays, Ellis County and western Kansas," Sevier said.
"We greatly appreciate the generosity of Nex-Tech and Rural Telephone, and I want to emphasize how valuable these two lines of communication will be to the FHSU mission," President Hammond said. "This will give us connectivity between the campus and the museum that will extend university services to the Sternberg with speed and efficiency that were not available previously. Perhaps more importantly though, this is the missing link that will allow us to create a back-up communication system in case the campus is ever hit by a disaster. We will install computer servers at the museum that will allow uninterrupted communication over the Internet in the event of service disruptions on campus. It is not an exaggeration to say that this new line of communication between the campus and the museum may someday keep the university operational during a crisis."
In addition to making campus services more quickly and efficiently available to the University Farm, the president said there also was a hidden benefit in that new line of communication. "The farm has direct line-of-sight to the FHSU soccer stadium in the new Hays Sports Complex," he said, "so this will allow us to provide wireless communication between the field and the campus for athletic training and for health emergencies."
The Nex-Tech gift was made possible in part because of the recent Broadband Stimulus Plan. Under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, Rural Telephone and its wholly-owned subsidiary Nex-Tech were jointly awarded Broadband Stimulus grant funds of $49,588,807 and loan funds of $51,612,842 to develop broadband services in un-served and underserved areas of central and western Kansas.
To most effectively utilize the Broadband Stimulus funds, and to provide the maximum benefit to the greatest number of households and businesses, two complimenting technologies are being deployed.
"We are building a Fiber-To-The-Premise network in combination with WiMAX technology to provide sustainable, viable, high-speed communication services at affordable rates," Sevier said.
This massive construction project will impact 21 towns and 26 rural areas spanning over 4,600 square miles in Decatur, Ellis, Gove, Graham, Norton, Osborne, Phillips, Rooks, Sheridan, Smith and Trego Counties in Kansas. Upon completion in December 2012, the expanded network will provide broadband services to nearly 23,000 households and businesses within the Rural Telephone and Nex-Tech footprint, including 335 community anchor institutions such as schools, libraries, hospitals, clinics, county health agencies, law enforcement agencies, senior centers and disability centers.
"We have a wonderful, long-standing partnership with Fort Hays State University," Sevier added. "One aspect of the partnership we are most proud of is the commitment to retaining area students. Of the more than 470 employees of Nex-Tech, Rural Telephone and Nex-Tech Wireless, more than 25 percent are FHSU graduates or current FHSU students."
The fiber between the campus and Sternberg is scheduled to be completed within six months, and the fiber to the University Farm is scheduled to be completed within nine months, hopefully in time for the grand opening of the soccer stadium in September.
The partnership between Rural Telephone/Nex-Tech and FHSU has a long history. Following are some of the contributions the companies have made to FHSU:
· The addition of the FHSU school channel to the Nex-Tech cable television lineup, so the school channel can be broadcast to more than 50 central and western Kansas communities;
· The installation and hosting of a free, public Wi-Fi hotspot at the Sternberg Museum;
· Sponsorship of various FHSU athletic events;
· Financial support for FHSU's Docking Institute of Public Affairs;
· Supervision of culminating Capstone Projects for seniors in the Department of Informatics;
· Contributions toward technology efforts in various academic departments, including the donation of funds to purchase wireless laboratory equipment in December 2003 for an advanced technology laboratory, and the donation of equipment and staff expertise in fall 2005 that allowed FHSU to be one of only a handful of universities nationwide to offer coursework and applied laboratory experiences in Voice over Internet Protocol technology; and
· Joint workshop opportunities to educate businesses and public organizations on networking infrastructure, data security and other critical issues.