COLUMBIA — MU has joined 28 other research universities in an effort to bring ultra high-speed Internet to their campuses and surrounding communities.
“Gig.U: The University Community Next Generation Innovation Project” would work to facilitate the creation of a one-gigabit network connection in participating areas. In MU's case, that would mean much faster Internet for Columbia businesses and homes.
In addition to MU, other universities involved in the "Gig.U" initiative are:
Arizona State University
Case Western Reserve University
Colorado State University
George Mason University
Michigan State University
North Carolina State University
Pennsylvania State University
University of Alaska
University of Chicago
University of Florida
University of Hawaii
University of Illinois
University of Kentucky
University of Louisville
University of Maryland
University of Michigan
University of Montana
University of New Mexico
University of North Carolina
University of South Carolina
University of Virginia
University of Washington
Wake Forest University
West Virginia University
Gig.U is a nationwide effort to bring research institutions and city leaders together in the interest of innovation and economic growth. The intention behind it is for the U.S. to remain competitive globally in the development of high-speed technologies and applications.
Other campuses involved in the initiative include Indiana University, Duke University, the University of Illinois and the University of Michigan.
University and city leaders announced their involvement with Gig.U on Wednesday. MU Chancellor Brady Deaton said he sees this project as an opportunity for MU faculty and staff, as well as the Columbia business community.
As a national research institution, Deaton said, MU researchers and scholars would benefit from the large amount of data sharing between the campus and the larger community that would be possible through the creation of the network.
*Deaton also said the project would help campus outreach through MU Extension.
First phase: seeking information
The first phase of the project includes asking current Columbia-area Internet providers what would be needed to carry one-gigabit of bandwidth and how the project could be carried out if it proceeds.
One-gigabit connectivity is far beyond network speeds currently offered in the area. For example, the highest speed offered by Columbia Internet provider Mediacom is a 50-megabit network connection, 1/20 of the speed that would be offered through Gig.U.
MU contributed $7,500, the city $6,000 and MOREnet — a unit that operates within MU to provide Internet support and services across the state’s public sector — $1,500 toward the information-seeking phase.
“Our starting position is that it is not about risk capital coming from the university or community,” Gig.U executive director Blair Levin said. Rather, funding for the upgrade of the networks would be done on the private side, he said.
Throughout the next few weeks, Gig.U officials will talk with a group of potential buyers and providers to see if this would be possible, Levin said.
Levin is based at the Aspen Institute, the mission of which is "to foster values-based leadership, encouraging individuals to reflect on the ideals and ideas that define a good society, and to provide a neutral and balanced venue for discussing and acting on critical issues."
After feedback is received, the interest level of the carriers as well as Columbia businesses will be gauged, and the coalition will move forward accordingly.
Columbia Mayor Bob McDavid said this would be a potentially disruptive technology for current Internet providers, but he stressed he wants this to be a collaborative effort.
“We want to work with them,” McDavid said. “We want them to be on board. This will be a game-changer for a lot of businesses and industries.”
Because the information request is still in its early phases, it is still undetermined which companies will receive the request, said Toni Messina, communications director for the city of Columbia.
Building on Google Fiber bid
In March 2010, former Mayor Darwin Hindman submitted an application on behalf of the city to be considered for one of Google’s ultra high-speed test networks, part of the Google Fiber Initiative.
This project has a goal of building and testing a small number of trial networks throughout the nation, with the ultimate goal of universal, competitively priced ultra high-speed Internet connections, according to the Google Fiber website.
Work done by the city to apply to be a part of the Google Fiber Initiative helped put a basic infrastructure in place throughout Columbia to prepare for the type of broadband that Gig. U would bring to the area, McDavid said.
“The biggest disappointment I’ve had in serving Columbia is how close we came to landing that deal,” McDavid said. Kansas City, Kan., and Kansas City, Mo., were instead chosen to participate in the project.
Despite that disappointment, those efforts helped create a team dedicated to the goal of bringing ultra high-speed Internet to the area, McDavid said.
“This is a collaboration that formed in that initiative and will survive and thrive in the future,” he said.
Missouri has another major effort in place: trying to bring high-speed broadband to more of its citizens.
MoBroadbandNow is an initiative to build a partnership between the public and private sectors to extend broadband access across the state from its current 79 percent to 90 percent by the end of 2014, according to the initiative’s website.
Although the initiative and the Gig.U partnerships are not currently connected, Gary Allen, vice president for information technology for the University of Missouri System and chief information officer for MU, said the two organizations are clearly compatible, and he foresees a potential for their collaboration in the future.
McDavid urged the public to see the importance of Columbia leadership in the project.
“Hop aboard the Gig.U train,” McDavid said. “We won’t be satisfied in the caboose. We are going to drive the train.”