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13 September 2011
 
A consortium of over 30 US universities hopes to accelerate deployment of high-speed networks in university towns.  By collaborating on this effort, Gig.U members aim “to lower costs for themselves and improve the business economics for the private sector entities interested in working with the members, while enhancing the benefits gained from shared information and experience”.
 
The project, launched on 27 July, is led by two distinguished policy veterans: Blair Levin, Aspen Institute Communications and Society Program Fellow and former Executive Director of the National Broadband Plan, and Elise Kohn, formerly a Policy Advisor at the Federal Communications Commission. 
 
The Gig.U members have identified the fundamental economic problem of deploying fibre-rich networks: the cost of supply does not currently meet the revenues that the demand side is willing to provide.  “However large that gap is in communities generally, that gap is smallest in university communities,” the group notes.  
 
In a university town, the cost of deployment is less, due to such factors as higher housing density, existing network assets, and a stable employment base; while the demand in such areas tends to be greater than demand by the public at large, because universities and the knowledge-based enterprises located around universities, as well as students and faculty, tend to be early adopters and “power users” of higher bandwidth services. 
 
By organizing demand through the project, university communities can improve the business case for suppliers to meet the needs of university communities. As a first step, the group has released an open letter describing the goals of the request for information (RFI) process, which is expected to generate proposals from the private sector to deliver the new networks.
 
“Our strategy is simple. Utilize the best targets for such deployment and development—university communities—as test beds,” said Levin in a statement announcing the group’s formation. 
 
By Pauline Rigby