GigU+Gigabit SquareAs many as six communities could get gigabit networks as the result of a partnership announced today between the University Community Next Generation Innovation Project, also known as Gig.U, and Gigabit Squared, a little known company that refers to itself as a “digital economic development corporation.”

On a conference call with reporters today, Gigabit Squared President Mark Ansboury said the company will invest $200 million to build passive optical networks and to support the development of community services in as many as six university communities affiliated with Gig.U. Gigabit Squared will be the network operator and the network will use an open access model that allows other service providers to use the network, Ansboury said.

The company expects the venture to be profitable because it will not only consider current demand but also new applications that could generate future demand. “It requires a new business model” and “leveraging what’s next,” said Ansboury.

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That approach is quite similar to that of Gig.U, a group of more than 30 universities that have come together with the goal of gaining networks supporting speeds of up to 1 Gb/s for residents of their communities. By aggregating demand and sharing best practices, the universities hope to attract network operators to invest in high-speed network deployments. Gigabit Squared was one of numerous entities that responded to a request for information issued by Gig.U members last year.

At least two universities – Michigan State and the University of Maine — already have announced plans for high-speed networks as a result of that RFI process. And several other entities, including Google, also have built or are planning networks supporting speeds of up to 1 Gb/s to residential users.

But according to Gig.U Executive Director Blair Levin, Gigabit Squared is the first entity to plan a multi-community gigabit deployment. “To see Gigabit Squared emerge so strongly proves that America needs an upgrade and there are innovators willing to step up to get it done,” said Levin on today’s conference call.

Gigabit Squared is asking Gig.U members to submit proposals for high-speed networks in their communities, from which Gigabit Squared will select the communities where the company will deploy high-speed networks. According to Ansboury the networks could serve small neighborhoods with 5,000 to 10,000 residents up to larger projects serving populations as great as 100,000.

Ansboury outlined two separate proposal deadlines – one in July and one in October. Communities selected will be announced beginning in November and into the first quarter of 2013.

Although some people have questioned the need for gigabit networks, Levin argued that “excessive” bandwidth will breed innovation. He noted, for example, that Mark Zuckerberg was able to start Facebook because he had huge amounts of bandwidth available to him on the Harvard University network.

Allowing a “wonderful sense of abundance” in university communities with high-speed networks could help support development work in fields such as robotics and gene sequencing, Levin said. But in addition, he said, it should help generate new opportunities that no one has thought of yet.

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