GigU+broadbandThe Gig U initiative aimed at bringing high-speed broadband to university communities nationwide is beginning to bear fruit. Dave Gift, vice provost for libraries, computing and technology for Michigan State University, told Telecompetitor this week that at least one service provider is seriously interested in making 1 Gbps service available in target areas of Lansing and East Lansing—a result he credits in large part to MSU’s participation in Gig U.

“We’re using the unique demographics of university communities to encourage more rapid provisioning by commercial providers of gigabit or faster connections,” said Gift.

The service provider he referenced is a competitive carrier that already operates a fiber network in business, high-tech and university areas of the community and already offers 1 Gbps service on a limited basis. To support 1 Gbps service more broadly the service provider in many cases needs simply to extend fiber an additional “tens of feet,” Gift explained. But getting a permit to install fiber across a street traditionally has been no simple matter.

Gift is hopeful that the process will be easier moving forward because community leaders have talked to area officials about a new option for laying fiber called “microtrenching,” which is considerably less disruptive than traditional fiber installation methods. Because microtrenching techniques create only 10-inch deep trenches, the risk of cutting into water pipes or electrical cables is eliminated, Gift said. Accordingly the permitting process for microtrenching is expected to be expedited substantially.

Microtrenching was one of several broadband deployment best practices that were identified as part of the Gig U initiative, which now includes 37 U.S. universities. Last year the universities gathered together information about bandwidth demand in their communities and as a group, went through an RFI process with the goal of finding strength in numbers in working with commercial providers. That process drew responses from 24 commercial network operators, who said communities could help facilitate deployments by, among other things, simplifying the permitting process for microtrenching.

For now Gift said the service provider involved is likely to make 1 Gbps service available “at a price point that is significantly higher than the point the national [group] is driving toward.” But as more customers sign on for high-speed service, Gift is hopeful that the price will come down.

Beyond the High-Tech Corridors
The Lansing/ East Lansing/ MSU community may be ahead of some other Gig U communities because community leaders—including several economic development organizations–chose to initially target areas of the community where they expected to see the greatest demand for 1 Gbps service from businesses, student apartment housing complexes and the like. In contrast, some other Gig U communities set broader availability targets.

But eventually community leaders in the Lansing area hope to see 1 Gb/s service extended beyond the initial target area. With that goal in mind, they have been talking to the cable company that already has broadband network infrastructure throughout a large part of the community.

“That may be our best bet to get [high-speed service] more broadly available,” Gift said, adding that he sees a “very high level of excitement” from local representatives of the cable company and “good support” from headquarters.

Gig U Next Steps
All 37 Gig U participants plan to meet later this month to review responses to the RFI process and to discuss next steps. Some member universities are “very interested” in banding together in working with service providers while others, like MSU, may act more independently, said Ellen Satterwaite, program director for Gig U.

“We didn’t want to hold anybody back,” said Satterwaite, noting that Gig U is intended to be a “lightweight support organization” that gives members a high degree of autonomy.

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