Gig.U aims to bring 1Gbps fiber to campus communities

Group garnered inspiration from Google Fiber project

Any community looking enviously at the new Google-built fiber network in Kansas City, Kan., could soon be in luck if it's located near a major university.

More than 29 universities on Wednesday announced their involvement in the new Gig.U initiative that aims to attract service providers to their communities to build out high-speed fiber networks that will deliver the same 1Gbps connectivity that residents and businesses in Kansas City will soon enjoy.

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"What happened with the Google Fiber initiative was that a lot of communities organized themselves ... as a place for Google to build out a network with 1Gbps connectivity," says Blair Levin, a fellow at the Aspen Institute and the executive director for the Gig.U project. "I and some other folks started talking about how to accelerate the deployment of more next-generation networks and our answer was to focus on university communities."

The idea works like this: Universities from around the country are letting fiber providers know that they're very interested in providing a market for next-generation fiber networks that will give both their campuses and at least some portions of their communities access to the fastest Web services available.

The schools' first step in this process will be to issue a request for information to "current and potential service providers regarding new approaches to bringing such networks to our communities." The universities figure that by acting as a single bloc of potential buyers they can convince providers that the market for building high-speed fiber networks will be lucrative and worth their investment. Levin notes that this is basically a reverse of the Google Fiber approach where Google announced it was ready and willing to supply a lucky community with fiber. In this case, it's the communities that are announcing they're ready and willing to pay for that fiber and are looking for suppliers.

"The market is looking for predictability and for an assessment of readiness," says Lev Gonick, the CIO for Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland. "What Blair and his team have done is corralled the private sector together and said that there really is demand here."

Gonick says that if the initiative is successful in attracting 1Gbps fiber network service providers to Case Western campus, it will let the university expand its 1Gbps fiber-to-the-home (FTTH) research program that currently connects about 100 homes near campus. With an expansion, he says that the FTTH network could reach key local institutions such as the nearby Veterans Administration hospital.

"We're looking to create a smart and connected community in Cleveland," he says.

Levin says that while it would be nice to have service providers provide FTTH for entire communities, the results will differ for each university and that schools may have to settle for covering only a portion of their communities at the start. In the meantime, he and the universities in the program will wait to see the impact that Google's fiber network will have on Kansas City when it rolls out sometime in 2012.

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