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Oct. 6, 2011 Volume 33, No. 7

Gig.U invites Internet providers to hop on high-speed connectivity


Collaboration could lead to faster web surfing

Faculty and staff who have become accustomed to the high-speed Internet connectivity on the University of Missouri campus are one step closer to getting a boost at home, too.

Local Internet providers are currently looking to see what it would take to bump their networks up to a one-gigabit connection in areas surrounding the MU campus. If this comes to pass, Internet users in Columbia homes, businesses and campus housing would experience much faster Internet than they currently have.

The possibility of faster Internet locally was facilitated by Gig.U — The University Community Next Generation Innovation Project.

The University of Missouri-Columbia is one of 37 U.S. research universities that have signed on as members of a collaborative effort, which launched nationally July 27, 2011. The universities and their surrounding communities hope to act as “test beds” for ultra high-speed Internet capabilities.

In September, Gig.U released a request for information, which sought to invite the private sector to join in the effort. The next step is vendor responses.

“We want to encourage vendors to think about a completely different broadband model,” said Chip Byers, director on new initiatives for MOREnet, the university’s Internet provider.

Byers said the RFI was to get community Internet providers to articulate what barriers and resources are preventing them from moving to high-speed networks.

“Realistically, not everybody needs one gigabit at this time,” said Elise Kohn, program director of Gig.U. But she explained university communities were safe bets for investors, as they are often the drivers in technology and innovation. “These are the communities that are often related to health care, for instance, and that’s part of the reason they need it.”

Kohn said part of the request for information was to entice private providers to get involved, and convince them to invest in these communities. Most private sectors do not have plans to increase their broadband speed at this time. But she said areas surrounding research universities are safe bets for investors, as many students and faculty in health care and technology fields could benefit from high connectivity at home, as well as on campus.

“We want to demonstrate that there are demands for speeds that high,” Kohn said. “There are a lot of companies that can benefit from higher connectivity.”

Byers agrees that Columbia’s entrepreneurial businesses would enjoy a boost when the project comes to fruition, he said. He added that tech-based companies like Datastorm and CarFax are the types of businesses that originate in Columbia.

“With that kind of history, what kind of businesses could spring up, and what kind of jobs are created when you get a one-gigabit community out there? What whole new industry could arise from that?”

Byers said Gig.U’s RFI has gone out to all local Internet providers, but only one or two would need to get on board to achieve the project’s immediate goals.

“In day-to-day life, more and more of what we’re doing is online now, and increasingly higher speeds will be necessary,” Kohn said. “There are a variety of sectors where we expect the university communities will be leading the way forward.”

Vendor responses to requests for information are due by Nov. 16.

-Megan Cassidy