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UC ANR Project to Extend Broadband to Rural Researchers Recognized with CENIC Innovations Award

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The University of California Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources (UC ANR) is being recognized for its work to extend high-speed broadband to UC researchers in rural communities across the state by connecting UC ANR sites to the California Research and Education Network (CalREN). UC ANR has been awarded the CENIC 2018 Innovations in Networking Award for Broadband Applications.

Project leaders being recognized at UC ANR are Tolgay Kizilelma, Chief Information Security Officer; Tu Tran, Associate Vice President for Business Operations; and Gabriel Youtsey, Chief Innovation Officer.

“The Internet at Kearney was like a drinking straw delivering and retrieving information, when what we needed was a fire hose,” said Gabe Youtsey, Chief Innovation Officer for UC ANR. “High-speed, broadband Internet at our Kearney Research and Extension Center, just south of Fresno, will allow UC ANR to lead innovative, on-farm agriculture technology research and extension for UC in the Central Valley. It will allow UC researchers to share big data and big computing with colleagues at campuses and globally.”

Until recently, UC ANR facilities had been hamstrung by poor Internet connectivity, hindering their ability to support the academic researchers and Cooperative Extension scientists who are engaged with community and industry partners to ensure that California has healthy food systems, environments, and communities. Extending from the Oregon border in the north, through the Sierra foothills and Central Valley, along with the Pacific Coast, and south to the Mexican border, these facilities are situated among California’s rich and unique agricultural and natural resources. This allows for the application of scientific research to regional challenges and issues. Today, nearly all research and data analysis involve remote collaboration. To work effectively and efficiently on multi-institutional projects, researchers depend heavily on high-speed networks and access to large data sets and computing resources. The high-speed broadband connection also provides a new way for Cooperative Extension advisors to collaborate with farmers, naturalists, and others in these rural regions.

In 2016, CENIC began working with UC ANR to connect their nine Research and Extension Centers to CalREN, thereby equipping them with Internet speeds comparable to those found on UC campuses. For example, the UC Hopland Research and Extension Center in Mendocino County and the UC Desert Research and Extension Center in Imperial County are both connected at 500 Mbps, five times their previous level of connectivity.

Due to the remote locations of most of these facilities, the work involved in identifying suitable pathways for connections between each site and the CalREN network was extensive. Engineers from CENIC and UC ANR collaborated on network design, deployment, and troubleshooting to equip these facilities with the high-speed Internet they need. High-speed connectivity with significant bandwidth now enables researchers to use infrared cameras to collect data on how crops respond to heat, among many other electronic tools. Farmers who are unable to visit the Research and Extension Centers can now connect virtually to real-time video streams and benefit from the latest information.

Also now connected to CalREN is one of UC ANR’s Citrus Research Center and Agricultural Experiment Station in Riverside County. In the process of being connected are Elkus Ranch, the environmental education center for Bay Area youths; the UC ANR administrative offices in Davis; and 30 UC Cooperative Extension sites.

“You can’t do big data with dial-up Internet speed,” said Jeffery Dahlberg, Director of the UC ANR Kearney Research and Extension Center. “Before this upgrade, our Internet was slower than my home Internet speeds. Now we have speeds more like you will find on UC campuses.”

Dahlberg noted that high-speed Internet is a powerful research tool that enables researchers to collect and share data in real time. “For instance, a researcher can use an infrared camera in a field collecting readings to determine how a crop responds to heat as it changes throughout the day, but even this modest instrument needs significant bandwidth,” he said. “We now have the bandwidth to do that.”

“Getting the CalREN network to UC ANR researchers has been an absolutely critical undertaking. Forging this partnership with UC ANR leaders and innovative ISPs who serve rural California has opened our eyes to some imaginative ways to connect many more of our associates in rural and agricultural communities,” said Louis Fox, President and CEO of CENIC. “We hope to connect many more UC ANR sites and more rural community anchor institutions in the coming months.”

The CENIC Innovations in Networking Awards are presented each year at CENIC’s annual conference to highlight the exemplary innovations that leverage ultra-high bandwidth networking, particularly where those innovations have the potential to transform the ways in which instruction and research are conducted or where they further the deployment of broadband in underserved areas. The CENIC conference will be held March 5 – 7, 2018, in Monterey, California.

 

About UC ANR • ucanr.edu

The Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources (UC ANR) is a statewide network of University of California researchers and educators dedicated to the creation, development and application of knowledge in agricultural, natural and human resources. UC ANR's advisors, specialists and faculty bring practical, science-based answers to Californians, working hand in hand with industry.