Universities are working to bring ultra-high-speed broadband to college towns

by Ava L. Parker on August 25, 2011

A number of communities could soon find out what broadband can really do.

A group of universities around the nation have formed an organization to bring the next generation of broadband to their campuses and — here’s the good part — gigabit-level service to homes and businesses in the surrounding communities.

The 29 universities of the Gig.U partnership reach from the University of Alaska, in Anchorage, Fairbanks, and other cities, to Arizona State University, in Tempe, to the University of Florida, in Gainesville. Each is a research institution — a heavy user of the Internet.

All colleges rely on Internet connections for both their administration and their academics. Research institutions, however, place much greater demands on communications — they are broadband-eating beasts.

Maintaining global leadership
Research universities need high-powered Internet connections to bring together scientist from different universities across the nation and around the globe, working in collaboration.

Sharing the data, especially real-time data, takes a strong connection, much more than a home or business might require.

The institutions of Gig.U are concerned that their current high-speed connections soon will prove inadequate. Research projects of greater complexity and involving broader collaboration will require more broadband than most universities can now access.

Without more broadband, Gig.U warns, American research universities could lose their ability to compete with research programs at institutions abroad.

There’s more than just university research at stake. “America’s global leadership in many areas results from its leadership in creating and maintaining the world’s leading research universities,” said Michael M. Crow, President of Arizona State University. “As the world accelerates towards a knowledge-based economy, global leadership in generating economic growth and jobs will depend even more on these research institutions.”

A market-based approach
So, if the need is real, what’s the solution — how will the network upgrades happen?

Gig.U’s strategy is to ally each university with its local community to create increased demand for the next generation of broadband, then work with local communications companies to build the higher capacity.

Gig.U says the business case for ultra-high-speed networks improves where a community enjoys high density, strong institutional and residential demand, favorable demographics, significant network assets, and a stable economic base.

Research universities and their surrounding communities meet all these criteria, Gig.U argues, so they are the most attractive markets for next-generation broadband.

“We intimately understand that for American research institutions to continue to provide leadership in areas important to U.S. competitiveness, we have to act to improve the market opportunity for upgrading to gigabit networks in our university communities,” said Lev Gonick, vice president of information technology services at Case Western Reserve University, a Gig.U member. “We believe a small amount of investment can yield big returns for the American economy and our society.”

So, if you live in one of these 29 communities, what will a gigabit of broadband do? It will dramatically speed up digital communications. A full-length movie could be downloaded in less than 1 minute — not the hour or more it takes now.

As the advocacy campaign by One Economy and the Broadband Opportunity Coalition has shown, broadband access generates new opportunities. Without it, people and communities fall behind. They can’t compete.

The same applies to broadband’s next level. Communities that have next-generation access will enjoy options that those without will never see. “Meaningful economic growth will be much more difficult without ultra-high-speed broadband,” said Bernie Machen, president of the University of Florida.

These universities are doing what research institutions should do — look to the future, anticipate problems, develop solutions. Their Gig.U approach uses market forces to move the universities and their communities to the forefront. They could, with luck, launch the next wave in digital communications and global competition.

  • Ava L. Parker of Jacksonville, Florida, is the president of Linking Solutions Inc., a business-development and community-outreach firm, and a partner in the law firm of Lawrence & Parker, PA., and the voice of The AvaView, a blog on digital action and consumer protection.

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  • S.W.

    Glad to hear that these universities are embracing broadband! It’s going to give their individual programs, students, and hometowns the resources they need to soar above and beyond other areas / institutions around the country.

  • John_Q_Public

    This is such an innovative approach to building out next-gen broadband and stimulating demand within local communities. Let’s hope that this spurs additional initiatives focused on bringing this vital technology to more communities across the country.

  • JCraigDC

    Great idea.  Larger pipes will definitely benefit the community at large.  Lets hope that efforts are in place to help the community take advantage of such a great opportunity.

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