Lansing area part of Gig.U super-high-speed Internet initiative

By Matthew Miller | Lansing State Journal | February 29, 2012

Like a thousand other communities around the country, the Lansing region made a pitch two years ago to become a test site for Google Inc.’s super-high-speed broadband fiber network and came out empty-handed.

The prize went to Kansas City.

But, according to Steve Webster, CEO of the Prima Civitas Foundation, the competition set something in motion that didn’t end when the Internet search giant announced a winner.

“It caused all of us across the country to aspire higher and higher for the sort of innovation that would come with that kind of connectivity,” he said.

On Tuesday morning, Webster and a handful of community and business leaders gathered at the foundation’s offices in downtown East Lansing to announce their own plan to pave the way for what Google might have done: bring widespread 1-gigabit broadband service to mid-Michigan, 100 times faster than what’s available to most homes and businesses in the region.

“This is a highly focused partnership between governmental units, economic development organizations and broadband suppliers to build a capacity in this region that competes on a global level with broadband connectivity anywhere,” Webster said.

The plan is both to lower barriers to investment by getting local municipalities to expedite, for example, the permit process for installing new broadband networks and to “aggregate demand,” as Webster put it, convincing potential users to locate their businesses in certain key areas “so that the number of users per dollar invested goes up.”

The first targeted areas, identified because they have significant numbers of high-tech, health care and engineering companies, will be a corridor that extends from downtown Lansing to Michigan State University, the Capital Region International Airport “Aerotropolis,” the University Corporate Research Park just southwest of MSU’s campus, parts of Hagadorn and Okemos roads, and areas in south Lansing near Cedar Street and Interstate 96.

Webster said the community is “exquisitely close” to having all of the fiber-optic cables in place to make the first stage of the plan a success, though a wider distribution of 1-gigabit services would require more substantial infrastructure upgrades. The intention, he said, is to “let the marketplace tell us next where to go.”

The plan is part of a national effort called The University Community Next Generation Innovation Project, or Gig.U, spearheaded by three dozen major research universities, MSU among them.

MSU President Lou Anna Simon said the impact of super-high-speed Internet would go beyond lightning-fast page loads. It would help to refashion the region’s image.

“This sort of high-end bandwidth, as part of a geographic place, is an attractor,” she said.

“It creates a personality or a character for a place that is easy to understand when you are outside of that place.”

Travis Stoliker, marketing and sales director for Liquid Web Inc., the Delta Township-based Web-hosting company, talked about the company’s founder, Matthew Hill, running his first Web company through servers in New Jersey because the local capacity just wasn’t there and about Liquid Web ultimately investing in its own fiber-optic lines.

“Not only are companies like Liquid Web and all of the companies in this area going to benefit from this, the other people that are going to benefit are the people like Matt Hill who are now 16 and sitting in their house and don’t have the connection to actually start a company like Liquid Web,” he said.

“By adding gigabit connection to the home, anybody is empowered to do that.”

To read the full article from the Lansing State Journal, click here.

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