$200 million funds new Gigabit Neighborhood Gateway Program

The new program from Gig.U and Gigabit Squared aims to use a public/private partnership model to bring high-speed broadband networks to university towns in the U.S.
Written by Mari Silbey, Contributor

Google’s not the only company investing in gigabit broadband networks. Today, Gigabit Squared joined forces with Gigabit University (Gig.U) and announced $200 million in funding for development of the Gigabit Neighborhood Gateway Program. The program aims to bring gigabit fiber networks to six communities in the United States, and is based on a public/private partnership model.

Gig.U launched in July of 2011 and now has more than three dozen members comprised of research universities and their surrounding communities. The organization’s broad goal is to accelerate the deployment of high-speed broadband networks. However, the venture with Gigabit Squared adds a new dimension with both significant investment dollars, and access to strategic resources. The program will rely on help from technologists who have worked on other community-based broadband deployments, including those in Chattanooga, Tennessee, Lafayette, Louisiana, and more.

The executive director of Gig.U, Blair Levin, says he doesn’t expect every community in the new program to build out a gigabit network in the same way. But he does believe that with this early experimentation it will be possible to create a sustainable and replicable model that can be adapted for different region’s specific needs in the future. He also emphasized in a press conference today the importance of finding a way to show success in gigabit deployments without the need for ongoing government support. As the former orchestrator of the U.S. National Broadband Plan, Levin presumably knows a little something about the trade-offs that come with government involvement.

As for what new gigabit communities will do with their high-speed broadband, Levin cited genetic sequencing, 4K resolution video and robotics as examples of applications with heavy bandwidth demands. However, both he and Mark Ansboury, president of Gigabit Squared, also pointed out that the most exciting part of building gigabit networks is the fact that we don’t know yet what other applications have yet to be envisioned.

The mayor of Urbana, Illinois, Laurel Prussing, puts it a different way. With her university town already a member of Gig.U, Prussing says, “Broadband is absolutely critical for university communities, just as much as classrooms, labs, roads and residence halls are.”

Meanwhile, it’s important to note that the new gigabit program will use an open-access model with its fiber infrastructure. That means that communities will be able to offer access to their networks for development of services and applications by third parties. That could even include allowing Internet service providers to buy capacity for their own network offerings.

It’s not clear yet how ISPs will respond to the new program’s approach. They have repeatedly opposed municipal broadband projects in the past, but the private investment component here adds a new twist to the story.

Gig.U and Gigabit Squared are releasing a request for proposal today for university towns that want to participate in the Gigabit Neighborhood Gateway Program. The program is accepting applications in two phases, with one cut-off date at the end of July, and one at the end of October of this year. Initial funding awards are expected in November.

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