How we'll get a gigabit to US hospitals, libraries, colleges

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One key recommendation in the National Broadband Plan was that the government support a scheme to wire hundreds of thousands of "anchor institutions" with 1Gbps fiber.

The move would mean that schools, libraries, colleges, and community centers in every town in the country could eventually have a fat pipe and a future-proof fiber connection. Not only that: both the FCC and the plan's backers envision the system being used to push faster broadband out into the surrounding community. The only question is how to pay for it all. Many of the winning grant applications for broadband stimulus money are middle-mile applications, and the government has required grant winners to be open to all last-mile providers. But this is quite limited in impact; the new proposal is far more ambitious, extending this to more than 200,000 local institutions, which could also pool resources to get bulk deals on both hardware and bandwidth. All of this would be made possible by the proposed Unified Community Anchor Network (UCAN), which would do the wiring. UCAN would not reinvent the wheel; where existing networks like Internet2 exist, they would be used or better interconnected. In addition, 30 states have state-level education networks. These could then be expanded to local anchor institutions. In places where such networks are sparse or absent, UCAN envisions building out new network capacity to link up the schools, hospitals, and community centers.

Paying for UCAN is an unsolved problem, however. The National Broadband Plan avoids getting into funding details, instead suggesting that the idea is terrific and should be funded. How? Not even the idea's backers know. All the stakeholders are gathering in April to hash out their proposed solution, which could involve leftover broadband stimulus money, additional funding requests to Congress, and consolidating many federal programs into UCAN support. Paying for the scheme remains an obvious stumbling block, but conceptual support is now in place.


How we'll get a gigabit to US hospitals, libraries, colleges