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Colleges Unite to Create Faster Computer Networks

CollegeA coalition of around 29 universities across America are throwing their weight behind a plan to create ultra-high-speed computer networks in the communities surrounding their campuses. These networks would also have internet service several hundred times faster than what is now available commercially.

The project, known as Gig.U, is designed to draw high-tech startups in fields like health care, energy and telecommunications to areas around the campuses, many of which are located in the Midwest or outside of major cities. These areas would function as hubs for building a new generation of computer networks that are much faster than the current ones. In addition to that, they could also make the U.S. more competitive internationally.

At the moment, this idea is still a work in progress as the universities are reaching out to telecommunications companies for suggestions as well as corporations and nonprofits for business ideas. The universities involved include Arizona State, Case Western Reserve, Howard University, Duke, the University of Michigan, the University of Washington, the University of Chicago and George Mason University.

According to Blair Levin, a fellow at the Aspen Institute who is heading up the project, “We’re not asking for government money. We believe the right approach is to have the private sector fund the networks.”

The project aims to offer 1-gigabit connections, which are fast enough to download an HD movie in under a minute, to scientific researchers and engineers as well as the surrounding homes and businesses. By doing so, the group hopes to create a digital ecosystem that will attract new companies, ideas and educational models.

“It’s a sandbox for the research community and the residents, too,” stated CIO of Case Western in Cleveland Lev Gonick. Case Western set up a pilot program in a several-block area near the campus last year. The Case Connection Zone offers 1-gigabit fiber-optic networking to 104 homes adjacent to the university. Within three months of its inception, three startups moved to the neighborhood. “We believe a small amount of investment can yield big returns for the American economy and our society,”  Gonick stated.

The Gig.U members are located mainly in the “heartland” area in states like Indiana, Kentucky, Missouri, Montana and West Virginia. It is in this area that the program can potentially have the biggest impact on mid-size communities across the country. Some of the bigger universities already have higher-speed networks.

The universities are planning on talking to big telecommunications companies about different ways to attract new ventures to their neighborhoods via super-fast computing. After that, they will seek out business proposals for building the networks “in the next several years”, according to the group.

Source: The New York Times – Colleges Join Plan for Faster Computer Networks

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