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March 21, 2010

Universities and The National Broadband Plan

Today's lead editorial in the New York Times, along with an OpEd piece by Harvard law professor Yochai Benkler make the case for leveraging the FCC's "Connecting America" National Broadband Plan to create a competitive and open access broadband future to enable a 21st century, globally competitive America. America's higher education community can and should play a major role in leading the nation's long overdue first national broadband plan. Our role can include an assurance that there is an open access option in support of broad public policy goals.

The six leading goals of the Plan include a baseline commitment for affordable access to broadband, leading edge commitments to ultra broadband connectivity for a significant number of households, public anchor tenants in every community with robust capacity to support next generation applications and services, a focus on safety and energy services, and an acknowledgement that mobility is one of the most compelling experiences associated with broadband. America's leading research and education networks have applauded the National Broadband Plan. The Plan's recommendation for One Gbps Connectivity Goal For Community Anchor Institutions positions our regional and national research and education networks, one of our genuine national strengths, for extending the connectivity by provisioning services to schools, libraries, colleges, museums and other community education assets that are still isolated and or not well served. Working with the FCC, our community's broadband leaders have collaborated with a broad coalition of public network champions to develop a comprehensive "Unified Community Anchor Network" (UCAN) touching perhaps 200,000 community anchor institutions envisioned by the FCC.

Building out UCAN is a multi-billion dollar undertaking. Leveraging the more than 60,000 institutions already connected to our regional and national research and education networks provides an undeniable and critically important jump start in completing this hugely important foundational highway building project. If someone asked me, I think funding a multi-phased UCAN is an undertaking of herculean proportion and should be a national priority. UCAN should be a clarion call for inter-agency collaboration at both the federal, state, and coordinated regional level. A deliberate choreography among transportation, education, economic development, general services administration, research, labor and job training, health, energy, and bevy of regulatory agencies is vital. Not unlike the imperative for national security coordinated activity, UCAN calls for nothing less than a national and integrated approach to building out this unified network. The stakes are too high to let the network design, funding, and operation unfold in a business as usual fashion.

UCAN is the beginning but hardly the end of what we in Higher Education should and can contribute to the national broadband plan. Let's recall, there are over 60,000 institutions and community pubic anchor "middle mile" assets already connected to the research and education community networks. In parallel to the highway building project, network R&D activity over the past 40 years has driven innovation and productivity gains, which has aided economic growth and community development. The five goals of the National Broadband Plan, beyond the highway building activity presents an historic opportunity for universities. Next generation research on wireless networks and new protocols for transporting voice and data services are made possible only because we have R&E networks. New sensors and technologies for energy grid and energy management activities can move from computerized simulations from our labs to testbed projects around our universities as part of the broadly endorsed President's Climate Commitment. Many of our great universities are physically located in inner-city settings. We all have responsibilities for public safety. Next generation integrated public safety services over IP using our networks and college neighborhoods for testbed facilities are all ready to come out of the lab and get road tested.

At the heart of America's Universities 21st mission is our capacity to introduce a whole new range of network enabled health and wellness services and advanced education experimental and research activities. Universities and colleges across the nation should align university-based strategic work with what will likely be a century of national investments and national policy goals associated with our national broadband plans. An active commitment to engage in a comprehensive manner with the 6 goals of the national broadband plan will advance a bold 21st century research and education agenda. In addition to supporting research and education we are positioned to contribute significantly to open access and support the conditions for a more competitive and generative network ecosystem. The future of our great universities is intimately and inextricably connected to the health and well being of the cities and neighborhoods within which we live, work, and study. Our network research program can and should reach out beyond the confines of the geographic boundaries of our universities. The social, economic, health, and educational challenges facing the nation are not limited to our research labs and our institutional boundaries. To the extent that we are committed to addressing the great and nasty challenges of our age we need to be deliberate in developing a research agenda and an infrastructure capacity that allows us to contribute to the major policy issues of our day. As we design and build our research platforms that take us to the neighborhoods and communities around our universities our network architecture should be informed by a commitment to open access. This means that we should develop business models and models of network operations that support our research and education program and, at the same time, allows for competitive commercial and non-profits services and offerings to be run over that same network capacity. As we see all around the world, this approach leads to a messy vitality of competitively-priced products and services being offered in the marketplace. Universities have an opportunity to pilot and test this approach. Here in Cleveland, at Case Western Reserve University, we have begun a small set of such research programs.

According to the Plan, "America’s top research universities continue this R&D effort today in their efforts to experiment with very fast 1 Gbps networks (gigabit networks). For example, Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, with 40 institutional partners, vendors and community organizations, is planning a University Circle Innovation Zone in the economically impoverished area around the university to provide households, schools, libraries and museums with gigabit fiber optic connections. Case Western expects this network to create jobs in the community and spawn software and service development for Smart Grid, health, science and other applications, as well as foster technology, engineering and mathematics education services."

Later this week (March 25th) we will be providing a demonstration of the early fruit of the Case Connection Zone at our Gigabit Breakfast Club. As noted in the Wall Street Journal and Business Week, the morning will focus on alpha demonstrations of big broadband offerings in health and wellness, STEM education, household energy management, and neighborhood safety. The end point in these demonstrations is our newly opened Alpha House, a public briefing center. The Alpha House is part of our first 104 home Beta Block research program. A second Beta Block and Alpha House are now in the early design stages.

If you are interested in more details, or a visit to the Alpha House, feel free to drop me a line. Circle May 6th for another update on the Beta Block here at Case Western Reserve during our Community CollabTech and then a series of public demonstrations as part of the annual Hessler Street Fair.

Lev Gonick
Case Western Reserve University
Cleveland, Ohio
March 21, 2010

Posted by lsg8 at March 21, 2010 10:20 AM and tagged

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