A consortium of higher-education associations, public interest groups and high-tech companies today formed a partnership named AIR.U (Advanced Internet Regions) to deploy Super Wi-Fi networks to upgrade the broadband available to underserved campuses and their surrounding communities. By using unlicensed access to unused television channels (TV “white spaces”), universities and neighboring communities will be able to significantly expand the coverage and capacity of high-speed wireless connectivity both on and off campus. ?
AIR.U will focus on upgrading broadband offerings in those communities that, because of their educational mission, have greater-than-average demand but often, because of their rural or small town location, have below average broadband, the group says. The consortium’s initial goal is to plan and deploy several pilot networks in diverse university communities and create a roadmap for the rapid deployment of sustainable, next-gen wireless networks as white-space equipment becomes available in 2013.
Last December the FCC certified the first commercial devices and geolocation database that will be needed to help ensure that white-space devices operate only on vacant TV channels and do not interfere with television reception. Nationwide certifications of a variety of equipment makers and database operators are expected in the coming months. ??
The founding higher-ed organizations collectively represent more than 500 colleges and universities nationwide. Founding partners also include Microsoft, Google, the Open Technology Institute at the New America Foundation, a think tank based in Washington D.C., the Appalachian Regional Commission (ARC), and Declaration Networks Group, LLC, a newly created organization established to plan, deploy and operate Super Wi-Fi technologies.??
“Expanded broadband access has been an unaffordable hurdle in rural, underserved communities. The opportunity to acquire and leverage spectrum and broadband assets will go far in addressing the competitive disadvantage their absence created,” comments Robert Rucker, vice president/Operations & Technology at the United Negro College Fund. “This effort will enable selected institutions and all the constituents they serve to have the enhanced, sustainable capacity needed to more fully experience the information age, and the ability to participate and contribute to it.”?
ARC Federal Co-Chair Earl F. Gohl, noting the urgency of providing high-speed Internet access in rural Appalachia, welcomed the partnership: “Appalachian communities cannot afford to wait for high-speed service to be delivered to them. Partnerships like this one put existing spectrum assets to work, and as a result, more quickly provide rural communities the high-speed service they need in order to compete with the rest of the world.”??
The idea for AIR.U arose during the Gig.U Request for Information process, in which a number of rural colleges that were not eligible to join Gig.U realized that their constituents needed gigabit connectivity just as much as larger research-based university communities. At the same time, New America and other respondents identified Super Wi-Fi as a powerful, low-cost and well-suited path for providing this necessary upgrade to rural and underserved higher-ed communities.
The AIR.U consortium expects one or more pilot networks will be operational by the first quarter of 2013.