Idaho's High-Speed Fiber Optic Backbone

Our Mission:

IRON’s Charter Associates own and operate a dedicated high-speed fiber optic network infrastructure to support Idaho’s unique research, health care, education and government needs. The IRON network is Idaho’s dedicated connection to other research and education networks throughout the United States and around the world. IRON’s Associates own, not just rent the bandwidth they need to partner in important statewide initiatives as well as large-scale, global research projects. A high-speed network makes innovation and discovery faster and more efficient so that more Idahoans can have greater access to world-class opportunities and grow our economy. IRON’s purpose-built network addresses Idaho’s ever-growing demand for dedicated high-speed fiber optic connectivity.

Our Charter:

Established in 2007, The Idaho Regional Optical Network (IRON) will facilitate advanced networking among institutions in Idaho and the Northern Tier States. Participants include institutions of research, education, health care, state government, and partner organizations that support research, education, and economic development in Idaho and the States of the Northern Tier. The goals of IRON are to:

• Become a common voice that fosters advanced networking in support of research, health care, and education in Idaho and the Northern Tier States
• Share intellectual capital and material resources to further the development and delivery of advanced network services and applications to our communities
• Aggregate services to benefit from economies of scale
• Encourage collaboration among participating institutions and our respective academic communities
• Consolidate regional representation of our interests to the larger national and international community
• Collaborate with other organizations pursuing advanced networking

What is IRON?

IRON is a regional optical network that focuses on serving research and education in Idaho. Researchers and educators use IRON to transfer “big data” between the research universities, other educational entities, the national laboratory system, and the health sector. Without IRON, research and economic development would be significantly impeded in Idaho.

IRON was chartered as a not-for-profit, Idaho corporation in 2007. The goal was to provide high speed, low cost, bandwidth, access, and connectivity to the commodity internet, Internet2 , and surrounding regional networks for Idaho’s higher education, research, and healthcare institutions. Charter Associates include Boise State University, Brigham Young University-Idaho, Idaho Hospital Association, Idaho National Laboratory, Center for Advanced Energy Studies (CAES), Idaho State University, State of Idaho – Department of Administration, University of Idaho, and Washington State University.
In addition to access to the public Internet, Internet2, and inter-campus connectivity between charter associates, IRON also provides connectivity between Idaho’s high schools and the state’s universities for access to distance learning and college-level advanced placement courses.

As IRON matured and completed its first set of objectives ahead of schedule and under budget, IRON sought and received sponsorship from the U.S. UCAN/SEGP program. As a result, IRON has now been able to extend Internet2 access and connectivity to Lewis-Clark State College, North Idaho College, College of Southern Idaho, Northwest Nazarene University, City of Moscow, the Idaho Distance Learning Academy, and the state’s 240 high schools.

IRON is not a service provider and does not compete with telecom or private Internet providers. Rather, IRON works on behalf of its Charter and General Associates to negotiate for long term connectivity between Associates, Internet2 and the public internet in the least expensive manner possible. IRON purchases connectivity from local, regional and national providers on behalf of its Associates to realize savings through aggregated bandwidth, and the superior performance provided by a private network.

Why is IRON necessary?

An advanced, secure high-capacity network is essential for Idaho’s research, education and health care centers. It allows them to compete for large federal grants and new national research centers where requirements for bandwidth, data security and network redundancy are set at a high, non-negotiable standard. It also provides dedicated fiber-optic resources to achieve technical data transfer and storage objectives that would otherwise be unavailable in our state. These direct benefits also produce indirect benefits for many of the communities along IRON’s routes where other high-speed options are non-existent. IRON creates a dynamic virtual environment for current and future collaboration among Idaho’s research institutions and provides a strong economical foundation for the entire state.

How do Idaho’s citizens benefit from IRON?

Idaho struggles with a digital divide that keeps many communities detached from the benefits of the information superhighway. Our rugged and remote geography comes with a rich abundance of agricultural, natural and recreational resources, but limits our full participation in the information economy and puts Idaho at a competitive disadvantage to many neighboring states. By leveraging the infrastructure investments of IRON’s charter institutions, the entire state benefits in the ‘digital dividend.’ IRON is committed to providing high-speed network access in order to support education, research government, healthcare, and economic development, because in today’s world, technological progress and innovation are fundamentally essential for prosperity and growth.

What are the most important long-term technical priorities for the IRON infrastructure?

The future of research, education, healthcare and transparent government depends on adequate bandwidth. Yet growth of bandwidth continues to outpace the underlying infrastructure. IRON seeks to exponentially increase available bandwidth by converting leased circuits to owned fiber wherever possible. IRON will continue to improve redundancy to increase reliability. And IRON will expand its footprint to meet Associates’ needs.

How is IRON funded?

The founding charter associates of IRON are the principal investors in the fiber backbone. The charter associates are Boise State University, Brigham Young University–Idaho, Idaho Hospital Association, Idaho National Laboratory, Idaho State University, State of Idaho, University of Idaho, and Washington State University. Other entities can join IRON as ’General Associates’ and can benefit from IRON services.


IRON began in 2007 as a cooperative effort between several Northwest universities, the State of Idaho, the Idaho Hospital Association, and the Idaho National Laboratory. The objective was to establish a Regional Optical Network (RON), a dedicated high-performance network for higher education and research institutions to secure access to the nation’s two very high speed (10 gigabits/second), fiber optic broadband networks: Internet2 and the National Lambda Rail (NLR). This link was essential for Idaho to remain plugged in and competitive with other research and innovation centers around the country.

IRON was the 38th RON established in the United States and since then, IRON Charter Associates, vendors, contractors, and service providers have invested more than $2.5 million to create a regional broadband infrastructure. IRON’s fiber routes stretch from Coeur d’Alene to Salt Lake City, and from Seattle to Idaho Falls. IRON continues to expand access across the state, linking new sites and upgrading connectivity and bandwidth to continually meet the performance and reliability requirements of Idaho’s growing research community. In 2014, IRON completed a statewide backbone upgrade to 10 Gbps with the completion of new segments linking Boise, Salt Lake City, Pocatello, and Idaho Falls. New access points were added in Twin Falls on the College of Southern Idaho campus and a new, high-performance fiber ring was built between associate locations around Idaho Falls connecting the Idaho National Laboratory, the Center for Advanced Energy Studies, U of I, ISU and BYU-I.

The Future:

In today’s global society, a high-speed network isn’t just good to have, it is essential. Economic development through education, research, government, and healthcare all depend on high-speed connectivity between our institutions and the rest of the world.

The Idaho Regional Optical Network (IRON) began seven years ago with the mission to deliver an economically feasible, technically sound, and achievable network design that would provide clear benefits to the citizens of Idaho. It accomplished this and continues to improve on a daily basis. Prior to IRON, none of Idaho’s higher education institutions were connected directly to each other. IRON sought to change that, and succeeded.

As Idaho grows IRON will be there to provide high-capacity bandwidth and services at low cost to its Associates. IRON meets its Associates’ increasing needs through constant focus on planning and partnership. IRON’s Charter Associates volunteer their time and expertise in order to keep costs low. This shared governance ensures transparency and fiscal prudence. After over seven years of operation, the IRON model has shown its value.