How will America lead in developing the next generation of Internet applications if other countries use more advanced networks than those used in the United States?

How will America’s research universities — today the leading such institutions in the world and the most important asset for economic leadership in the global, knowledge based economy of the 21st Century — continue to lead in international research if researchers, faculty, and students in other research communities have access to far better tools than those available to our research communities?

These two questions have profound implications for the American economy and society. We enjoy a leadership position today in many aspects of the broadband ecosystem because of investments made decades ago, just as we enjoy a leadership position in research institutions because of investments made in centuries past. That leadership, however, will not go unchallenged. In a climate of greater international competitiveness and constrained public investment, our leadership in both areas requires new approaches if it is to be sustained.

To meet the dual needs of strengthening our research institutions and our leadership in developing next generation applications, a group of leading research universities, working in partnership with their local communities, has come together to form the University Community Next Generation Innovation Project (“the Project”).

Our mission is simple: accelerate the deployment of world-leading, next generation networks in the United States in a way that provides an opportunity to lead in the next generation of ultra high speed network services and applications.

Through an RFI process, the Project will work with current and potential network service providers, as well as others, to create a critical mass of next generation test beds by accelerating the offering of ultra high-speed network services to their communities. While economic hurdles impede upgrading networks in all communities, those hurdles are smaller in university communities as they enjoy characteristics that both lower the cost of deployment and increase demand, making them the most attractive targets for initial next generation network deployments.

The Project will build on foundation stones already in place, such as organizing done through the Google Community Fiber initiative, to create an environment in which private risk capital has sufficient incentives to provide next-generation services. This effort will focus business leadership and policy makers on a critical but often overlooked point: from both an economic and a policy perspective, a small amount of financial capital and political capital focused on upgrading university communities can yield major gains for both the future of America’s leadership in research and for the American economic leadership.