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February 10, 2009

From Digital Campus to Connected Community to Digital Nation

The Chronicle of Higher Education posted an edited version of this blog below. Given the continuing high wire act in Washington around the stimulus package, those interested in a national broadband policy should be looking at alternatives (to stimulus). Here's one nascent idea...

It may be too late.

After the elections in November, I wrote a small group of colleagues suggesting that those of us interested in education and broadband had a ‘once in a generation’ opportunity to shape a national broadband platform for education and global competitiveness.

The candidate’s election platform was well informed. As President-elect, a genuinely distinguished group of technology leaders were engaged in transition activity. As the stimulus land grab unfolded, broadband remained in the mix. America was seemingly focused on re-gaining its once pre-eminent status as a global leader in broadband as an enabler of a globally competitive, new high technology economy composed of knowledge workers and members of an expanding creative class.

And then the predicable happened. In contrast to the policy development of broadband most everywhere else in the OECD, America’s broadband policy will be ‘policy’ in basically name only. It has always been clear that the States would receive the lion share of stimulus funding. Governors have their long list of billions of dollars of infrastructure projects that are ‘shovel-ready.’ In most cases State CIOs and other public sector interests told their Governors that the most important broadband stimulus investments could be made to support connecting State agencies (including public schools and Universities) and helping those organizations with ‘next generation’ technology. Telcos and other ‘trusted’ vendor partners offered engineering and cost modeling for the sizing requirements demanded by the Governors. Architects of the DSL nation (incumbent carriers) while fighting some of the public interest policy wonk language in the stimulus package are basically satisfied that they will be able to help States (and Counties and Cities) build ‘next generation’ technology for the narrowly defined public sector and maintain a virtual monopoly on the consumer’s broadband experience. If the Feds, through the NTIA, are prepared to subsidize the build-out to the hitherto economically ‘challenging’ areas, like rural America and/or inner city America, then so much the better. Of course this is not the whole story nor does the current FCC headed up by Michael Copps nor the next FCC have to settle for this framework going forward.

The regulatory environment needs an overall. This is the realm of public policy. I have proposed that we model America’s broadband future on the standards and expectations currently managed and operated at many of our Universities and Colleges across the country. Most University CIOs would suffer significant indigestion at the suggestion that our interests in defining, planning, and operating our networks and services be built on the managed service model of the architects of the DSL nation. We enjoy, and we are truly fortunate, to have a completely different technology architecture, business and service model. America’s pursuit of a world leading broadband network policy framework should be an extension of the huge and robust gigabit networks developed at our world-leading universities and colleges. I do not mean just a blueprint. I mean a real physical extension of the university-campus network backbone. Connecting public sector institutions into a converged and layered network focused on local community contexts and priorities enables collaboration and shared services with health care, libraries, governments, museums, p-12 education, and public broadcasting to mention just a few. In the first instance, and certainly from an technical architecture perspective, community networks, as we might call this model, are a more evolved and intelligent design than the way most of our public sector and commercial/consumer networks are designed. Community networks are designed as tightly bounded geographic hub and spoke (or star) configurations around local points of presence. Most traditional networks are designed to be ‘home runs’ between the building somewhere on the carrier’s network and the central point of presence, close to a drain to the Internet. Leveraging geographic proximity to facilitate true an authentic collaboration is reflective of a new stage of maturity and community-readiness for technology enabled and delivered services. Layering public access over top of community networks with both a portfolio of wireless and fiber to the premise activities is a relatively trivial technical design requirement. These community assets can connect back to their city/community campus and then to the Internet. Communities connected in this manner become a large extended ‘campus’. A national broadband policy based on replicated fractals of community networks across the country is a major step in the right directions. What connects community networks to each other are regional optical networks and national backbone infrastructures that connects the regional networking activities. Who might have that kind of infrastructure to advance the public interest? Universities for the past 20 years have, with significant public investment, built a quilt of regional optical networks and two national backbones.

It’s never too late for good policy. If we’re going to assist the new administration in developing a true national broadband policy in the public interest, the enormous talents of your university technologists and faculty research community need to be summoned to work with each other, Mayors, Governors and Federal agencies along with thought leaders and leading providers in the private sector, to architect a 21st century blueprint for a broadband nation.

Lev Gonick is CIO of Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Ohio and Chair Emeritus of OneCommunity, a regional community network connecting 22 counties, 1500 facilities, including more than 1000 schools, cities, counties, health care systems, universities, libraries, museums and public broadcasting authorities.

Posted by lsg8 at February 10, 2009 01:15 AM and tagged

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