Gig U. crucial to transform region

Opinion | Lansing State Journal | March 3, 2012

Developing and promoting super-high-speed broadband connectivity — an initiative announced last week by community and business leaders — is an important development in Greater Lansing’s quest for a sustainable 21st Century economy.

It complements the high-speed data networks already in place at Michigan State University and seeks to expand university-level service to select regions and corridors in the Lansing area. The goal is one gigabit service, blazingly fast compared with in-home Internet service.

For business, schools, government and at home, powerful broadband capability is a utility, like roads, water or electricity. Without it, a region is disadvantaged.

The quest for high-speed connectivity was set in motion by Google’s search for a community to test its broadband fiber network. It chose Kansas City. What developed from the Google initiative was a partnership of 37 universities, MSU among them, with the goal of accelerating the growth of high-speed networks to university communities.

In the Lansing area, the partnership refers to itself as Gig U. It has taken a strategic approach to identifying where to focus development of high-speed networks and has worked with the region’s Internet providers to match their plans for expansion, that is, where they view revenue opportunities and areas having the greatest potential for growth. Also, they have included local governments with the aim of reducing regulation and jurisdictional disputes.

By identifying common interests and goals, the Gig U. group has set the table for the next phase of the project. The Lansing Economic Area Partnership is ideally positioned for a handoff, particularly as it relates to the Michigan Avenue corridor. This is the spine of a high-speed access corridor stretching from the Capitol to Meridian Mall.

LEAP manages the Michigan Avenue Corridor Improvement Authority and is banking on targeted state assistance for transportation, business incubators and innovation, loans to high-tech firms, cleanup and other improvements. “From an economic development perspective, Gig U. is another great piece of the Michigan Avenue creative zone,” LEAP president and CEO Bob Trezise said of the opportunity.

State money and support certainly will advance the project. But even without funding, LEAP will need to oversee the project. Its agenda is regional and its mandate is economic development. It has the expertise and muscle to make it happen.


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