Cox Subsidiary Looks To Link Ocean Staters

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Under a deal that has implications beyond the classroom, Cox Business Services LLC is now providing the new school of local-access connections to a Rhode Island Internet education and research consortium.

The arrangement will not only introduce competitive local access services in the Ocean State, but it also may lead to expanded services reaching residential cable-modem customers.

The deal between Cox and the Ocean State Higher Education Economic Development and Administrative Network (OSHEAN) — a consortium that provides access to the Internet and Internet 2 for state institutions, hospitals and college campuses — offers group members Ethernet-based local connections to OSHEAN's network.

Before that, OSHEAN had been relying solely on local access services from Verizon Communications.

"One of the big issues we've been trying to deal here within Rhode Island is multiple providers in the local-access market," said George Loftus, executive director of OSHEAN. "Cox had been working with us from very early on to look at ways that OSHEAN could have its membership take advantage of the infrastructure they had built in the state."

That includes giving the consortium options beyond traditional T-1 and T-3 access. With Cox's Data Link service, OSHEAN members can buy Ethernet connections ranging anywhere from a T-1-esque 1.5 megabits per second (Mbps) to 100 Mbps.

Data Link uses virtual local area network connections based on 802.1Q, a variation of 802.11 Ethernet technology geared for metro area networks. In one package, the service allows the consortium's colleges and institutions to subdivide their access with channels linking to OSHEAN's network and separate, secure channels linking their remote campuses.

Then there is the small matter of price — on average, Data Link costs about 20 percent less than standard T-1 or T-3 telco offerings, according to Mark Scott, vice president and general manager for Cox Business New England. In addition, a clause in the agreement calls for deeper discounts once the consortium hits certain connection volumes.

"Customers today only have options to buy multiple T-1s or go to a DS-3 on the telecom side," Scott said. "So this allows them to extend those within the bandwidth requirement they need."

BROWN TAPS IN

Brown University in Providence was the first to tap Cox's connection offering, using it to link two campuses in the state's capitol.

Cox already had fiber out to one of the campuses in the city's Jewelry District, but it did have to build an additional fiber line to tap the other campus and the university's OSHEAN's point of presence.

"They like the ability to take advantage of the fact this network looks just like Ethernet to them," Loftus said. "Because they are able to treat this just as an Ethernet connection, people in office spaces that are serviced by Cox Business Services look like they are on the campus."

The Community College of Rhode Island has also opted for Cox connections to the OSHEAN network. CCRI has three campuses and will add a fourth, and it "really likes the ability to scale their bandwidth options as different programs grow at different campuses," Loftus said.

Johnson and Wales University is the latest to sign on. An urban campus, the university will use the Cox Data Link to connect remote buildings and provide the main link back to the OSHEAN network. The university plans to have the network set up by May or June.

"The key story here for our members is options," Loftus said. "It does provide our members with options that they didn't have before."

According to Scott, Cox is also working on a deal to connect three hospitals and satellite doctors' offices. But in the future, the arrangement may reach beyond just college campuses and hospitals.

The Data Link technology allows the creation of virtual area networks that could tap residential cable-modem users, providing an avenue for telecommuting and distance learning programs, among other things. That is significant, considering Cox's cable-modem service is available to 90 percent of Rhode Island residential areas.

"We actually have the ability to do private IP, so I can extend from that VLAN network on the OSHEAN network," Scott said. "It just then says what we started to make in our full service network really is a full service network. I can now integrate education, business applications between fiber and coax locations across the same platform."

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