Oklahomans have always had a pioneering spirit. They staked their claims to a land rich with promise and potential and built the foundation of our great state from the ground up. Their ability to innovate and push boundaries continues to be reflected in modern Oklahomans, as small communities are connected to the rest of the world through an advanced technology network that creates truly unlimited potential for the state. OneNet’s precedent of staying on the leading edge of technology also reflects these pioneering qualities and shows as much potential for growth and development as the first Oklahomans.
Former state Sen. Ben Robinson formulated the beginnings of the OneNet network during his travels in the early 1990s. The root idea was to successfully and efficiently connect schools in Oklahoma. Robinson proposed creating one integrated state network that would maximize state-owned and commercial infrastructures. The result would lead to a public-private partnership and would save huge amounts of money for the state. This model led to the creation of OneNet.
In 1992, OneNet was created with $14 million from a $350 million statewide capital bond issue approved by voters. Robinson was instrumental in securing this funding for the state fiber optic network. A business plan was developed and approved that established OneNet as a division of the Oklahoma State Regents for Higher Education (OSRHE), and OneNet became fully operational in 1996. That same year, Governor Frank Keating hosted the first live public demonstration of OneNet at the headquarters of Chickasaw Telecom, Inc. in Oklahoma City.
At the time of OneNet’s inception, Gary Smith served as the executive vice chancellor and chief operating officer for the state system of higher education. In this role, he was involved in the planning, development and oversight of OneNet’s beginnings. He provided leadership for OneNet until his retirement in August 2000.
OneNet’s first chief technology officer, Mike Erhart, is known as the original architect of what is today OneNet. He helped convince legislators and Governor Keating that the entire state would benefit from the savings a statewide network would provide. Erhart served as OneNet’s CTO from 1992-1998.
OneNet signed its first major equipment contracts with Unisys Corporation and Sun Microsystems in January 1996. In an effort to continue moving forward, OneNet became full partners with Southwestern Bell and the Oklahoma Telephone Association in May 1996. These partners filed tariffs with the Oklahoma Corporation Commission to set special, reduced rates for dedicated telephone circuits that had the potential to connect as many as 2.2 million Oklahoma OneNet users statewide.
OneNet created another vital partnership in September 1996 when it merged with the Oklahoma Telemedicine Network (OTN) in an effort to spread costs and allow the telemedicine network to charge lower fees. Later that year, OneNet began video transmission services.
In February 1997, the Oklahoma Department of Libraries (ODL) awarded a $325,000 grant to the Oklahoma State Regents of Higher Education to purchase a license to use FirstSearch, an electronic information service offered by the Online Computer Library Center (OCLC). All Oklahoma libraries and other public entities gained access to 612 periodicals, the World Book encyclopedia and other resources. As a result of this new resource, offered through OneNet, libraries saved thousands of dollars in material and online service costs.
Over the next two years, OneNet continued to grow and innovate. In October 1997, Latimer County General Hospital became the first Oklahoma hospital to digitally send X-ray or CT scan films to another location through OneNet. In addition, as of the fall of 1998, OneNet was transmitting about 1,000 videoconferences every week.
In 1999, OneNet began providing Internet2 connectivity for the major research universities in Oklahoma. Internet2 is an advanced networking consortium led by the research and education community. Through OneNet, the Internet2 network became available in May 2002 to all institutions of higher education, as well as career technology centers, K-12 schools and libraries in a new technical category, Sponsored Education Group Participant (SEGP).
In 2000, with the retirement of Gary Smith, Bill Shafer became the executive director of OneNet. Bill served as executive director until 2001, when Kurt Snodgrass was appointed vice chancellor for OneNet. Following Kurt, Nancy Connally assumed the leadership of OneNet in March 2010 as the interim vice chancellor for information technology, telecommunications and OneNet.
OneNet became a member of the National LambdaRail Consortium (NLR) in June 2004. NLR was an ultrafast network with capacity up to 873,000 times greater than the current household internet at that time. This network was dedicated to providing a national-scale infrastructure for research and experimentation for higher education and a variety of industries. OneNet’s connection to the NLR network was a paradigm shift for research in Oklahoma, enabling better collaboration, high-speed data transmission and a greater competitive edge for the hundreds of millions of dollars in federal research grants. OneNet was an active participant in NLR until it was disbanded.
Von Royal was appointed executive director of OneNet in July 2011. As executive director, Von provides leadership for all levels of the OneNet organization. He began his career with the Oklahoma State Regents for Higher Education in 1989 and has served in a variety of positions leading into his current role.
OneNet’s first network was a “hub and spoke” infrastructure, with hubs at Oklahoma City and Tulsa and spokes that reached every corner of the state. That network had a bandwidth of 45 MB. In 2005, OneNet executed an upgrade to the original hub and spoke technology but kept the basic infrastructure the same. In 2011, OneNet implemented its first major network infrastructure upgrade. The upgrade increased bandwidth capabilities from 45 MB to 100 MB in some areas and 1,000 MB in others. This upgrade was essential to ensuring broadband access across the state, as many of OneNet’s clients had bandwidth needs that surpassed the network capability prior to this upgrade.
Just one year later, in keeping with both the trend of development and the spirit of the Sooner state, OneNet jumped ahead of the scheduled launch and was the first in the nation to connect to Internet2’s 100GB optical upstream network. Internet2 is currently the operator of the nation’s fastest, coast-to-coast research and education network. This new faster connection enables OneNet to offer high-capacity broadband services that expand the computing capabilities of our state’s educators and researchers.
While OSRHE continues to provide administration and leadership for the network, OneNet has forged partnerships with other state agencies, including the Office of Management and Enterprise Services and the Oklahoma Department of Transportation, to maximize the state’s information technology services and eliminate redundancy in the state’s network assets. While the network was first established to connect Oklahoma’s schools, OneNet now serves local and state governments, tribal organizations, research centers and laboratories, colleges, universities, public and private schools, libraries, hospitals and clinics, military bases and nonprofit organizations.
Epitomizing the resourceful, inventive pioneering spirit of the first Oklahomans, OneNet is constantly revising its long-term goals and moving forward with new projects and ideas. On July 31, 2013, the Oklahoma Community Anchor Network (OCAN) became fully operational. OCAN is an optical ring of 1,005 miles of fiber. The network’s 10GB connection reaches 35 Oklahoma counties and also connects 33 community anchor institutions, including state colleges, universities, hospitals and local libraries, to the state’s existing networks. OCAN offers high-speed broadband services to rural and underserved Oklahoma communities and removes the barriers, creating opportunities for innovation and growth.
OneNet completed another ambitious project in 2015 with the deployment of its own 100GB network. This build-out is designed as a ring that connects Oklahoma’s higher education research institutions. The ring connects Oklahoma State University’s campuses in Stillwater and Tulsa and the University of Oklahoma’s Norman campus to OneNet’s Oklahoma City hub site. This high-speed network is 100,000 times faster than before and will be crucial in enabling OU and OSU to expand their research efforts and partner with other researchers across the country and around the globe.
Just like the Sooners during the Oklahoma Land Run of 1889, OneNet is hopeful and optimistic about the future. Since the beginning, the organization has held true to its mission: to advance technology across Oklahoma. OneNet’s far-reaching vision is to be the leading internet and network service provider for the state of Oklahoma. Through pioneering the latest technology and advancements, OneNet will tailor every project toward fulfilling that vision. The spirit of innovation will continue to motivate all of OneNet’s planning and strategies and to reverberate throughout the organization.