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Report: Gig.U Broadband Projects Offer Lessons for Gigabit Deployments

Gig.U, an organization of universities and communities dedicated to advancing networks across the United States, has released its fall 2013 update, A Gigabit Garden Begins To Grow: Lessons from the First Planting. The report briefly outlines efforts to build networks with gigabit-per-second speeds in 18 university communities around the United States and provides lessons learned from those initiatives and suggestions for other university communities looking to start or accelerate their own next-generation network efforts.

The report, written by Gig.U Executive Director Blair Levin and Program Director Ellen Statterwhite, points out that gigabit initiatives are underway in countries around the world, but says that foreign strategies are likely to be poor models for U.S. communities "as they often reflect national strategies or market structures not to be found in the United States." Private efforts, such as Google Fiber, are also unlikely to be useful as their ability to increase the number of communities they serve is "inherently flawed."

"On the other hand," wrote to Levin and Statterwhite, "all communities can benefit from the experiences" of the Gig.U partnerships, which "demonstrate that there are three strategies that all communities could, and in our view, should, develop to stimulate investments in better networks."

Those strategies, according to the report, are:

  • Asset use and improvement;
  • Regulatory flexibility to accommodate new business models; and
  • Demand identification.

Every community has assets, such as rights-of-way, duct and conduit access, or existing fiber assets, that could be improved or used more effectively to lower the cost of deploying a gigabit network, according to Levin and Statterwhite.

Cities can further reduce the cost of fiber deployment by adding fiber wherever roads are dug up. "With a 'dig once' philosophy that requires conduit or fiber installation anywhere there is road construction, cities can reduce deployment costs along roadways by 90 percent while adding less than 1 percent to the cost of construction, and also, minimizing disruption to neighborhoods," according to the report.

The authors point to the Google Fiber project in Kansas City as a good example of both regulatory flexibility and demand identification. As the service was rolled out there, rather than trying to connect the entire city with fiber, Google asked consumers for pre-commitments to buy the service. That way, the company was able to focus first on building infrastructure in the neighborhoods that were likely to use the service more and be profitable sooner.

"Whatever the choice of tactics," wrote the authors, "cities should approach the opportunity as it would if going after any important economic development project. When that happens, city agencies, anchor institutions, like universities and health care facilities, major business interests and other community institutions come together to pitch in various ways and to make the economics work for the project."

The report also includes lessons learned from the initiatives underway by universities and their community partners in the United States. Suggestions for future or ongoing projects include:

  • Organize community resources and stakeholders;
  • Learn early how municipal rules and assets will affect the cost of the deployment;
  • Start thinking about how to improve the economic effects of a deployment now. As Levin and Satterwhite wrote, "it takes a long time to plan and deploy a network — and it always takes longer than you think;"
  • Success requires quick decisionmaking as well as broad support;
  • One solution will not work for all communities. Examine multiple solutions and their trade-offs;
  • "Scale matters," according to the authors. A regional initiative may help reduce costs or draw in vendors and contractors, but it's also likely to slow decision-making;
  • Make sure community leaders understand that experiments don't always work and that there's a clear path to learn from failure; and
  • Local leadership is essential. " Above all," wrote Levin and Satterwhite, "local leadership is the single most important ingredient for success. If there are local leaders who put this at the top of their agenda, it can happen. If not, it won't."

Gig.U is a group of more than 30 "universities and communities across the country working to accelerate the deployment of next generation networks and services by using university communities as test-beds," according to information released by the organization. More information about Gig.U is available at the group's site.

To read the full report, visit gig-u.org.

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