WASHINGTON, May 3, 2013 - It's springtime across the country, the flowers are blooming, and Gigabit fever must be in the air.
Within the past month, several major companies and communities have announced plans for Gigabit-level deployments within their communities. Several major conferences have featured the Gigabit theme, including the Schools, Health and Library Broadband Coalition event here on Thursday and Friday.
Even the Federal Communications Commission has gotten in on the act: one of the last major initiatives of outgoing agency Chairman Julius Genachowski was the workshop on "Gigabit Community Broadband Networks," on March 27, 2013.
As the Executive Director of Broadband Illinois, the statewide non-profit entity responsible for promoting internet engagement and broadband planning in the Land of Lincoln, we're very heartened by this development.
Our governor, Gov. Pat Quinn, has been at the forefront of the benefits of better broadband for many, many years.
When it comes to promoting advanced internet connectivity, many public servants talk about the importance of Gigabit-level connectivity. Gov. Quinn has acted. Well over a year ago, Quinn announced the Illinois Gigabit Communities Challenge in his 2012 "State of the State" Address.
“Through this challenge, we want our neighborhoods to become Gigabit communities with Internet connections more than 100 times faster than today,” Quinn declared in the February 1, 2012, address. “Our goal is to build smart communities that will foster the job engines of the future.” The challenge allocated up to $6 million in funds for communities seeking an award.
The next step was an open and public competition, in which communities and providers were eligible to put forward applicants that would serve at least 1,000 end users to an ultra-high-speed broadband network. Applicants for the Illinois Gigabit Communities Challenge were encouraged to demonstrate ways to improve economic opportunities, foster economic development through the expansion of “smart communities,” increase the number of residents with college degrees, connect health care professionals with their patients, and position Illinois’ universities to continue leading the nation in research, innovation, and technology.
By the June 30, 2012, deadline, Illinois had received 40 applications, from communities and providers, for Gigabit connectivity. Thus far, three winners have been announced: Gigabit Squared on the South Side of Chicago -- in a project that proposes to serve nine neighborhoods across the community; the City of Aurora, about an hour west of Chicago; and the City of Evanston/Northwest University, just north of Chicago. Additional award-winners have yet to be announced.
What does the activity in Illinois say about the viability of Gigabit connectivity?
Whether a proposed Gigabit project is on the metropolitan scale (as with Google Fiber's builds in Kansas City, KS, and Kansas City, MO) or within a portion of a city (as with Gigabit Squared's venture on Chicago's South Side), Gigabit connectivity is the next major leap in broadband access.
Over the past four years, broadband speeds and availability have been steadily increasing. The maps that we produce at Broadband Illinois, at http://broadbandillinois.org/maps, and which feed into the National Broadband Map, demonstrate substantial progress on this front. This is due to the advanced DOCSIS 3.0 cable modems, to increased penetrated and speeds of the wireless LTE standard, to rural-friendly wireless internet service providers, and to co-ops and telecom companies that have been continuing updating their fiber plants.
Now, Gigabit-level connectivity is the next major step.
Google Fiber drew headlines for this issue through its "Think Big With a Gig" campaign in 2009. That led first to the selection of Kansas City.
Also highlighting the importance of Gigabit-level connectivity has been Blair Levin, the former director of the FCC's National Broadband Plan in 2010. He's taken the ambitious goals of that plan and worked to translate them into to action through the Gig.U. consortium of 37 universities seeking Gigabit-level connectivity in their surrounding communities.
Now, it seems like everyone is getting in on the act. On April 9, 2013, Google announced that Austin, Texas, was its next stop. A few hours later, AT&T announced that it, too, would build Gigabit-level service in Austin. A little more than a week later, Provo, Utah, was in the spotlight. And just this week, the telecommunications company CenturyLink announced that it will tee up Gigabit service in Omaha, Nebraska.
All of this is a great testament to bringing the most advanced-level connectivity to cities throughout the State of Illinois, and to our country.
Google asked us to Think Big With a Gigabit. Gov. Quinn in Illinois took the next step in fostering the smart communities that will be the places for investment, jobs, and the commerce of the future.
Now, as Gigabit fever spreads across the nation, it's time for us think even bigger.
For governors and mayors and businesses across the country, and for the next Chairman of the Federal Communications Commission: Let's make high-capacity bandwidth the strategic advantage that America needs to tap into the talents of our communities, our manufacturers, our students and our entrepreneurs.
Drew Clark is the Executive Director of Broadband Illinois, a non-profit organization based in Abraham Lincoln's Springfield. You can find him on Google+ and Twitter. He brings experts and practitioners together to advance Better Broadband, Better Lives. As the designed State Broadband Initiative entity, Broadband Illinois (officially known as the Partnership for a Connected Illinois) receives funds from the U.S. Department of Commerce's National Telecommunications and Information Administration, and the State of Illinois, as well as through private sector donations.