"This is Still Us" – Opening Remarks by Blair Levin at RFI Workshop

On Monday, September 26, 2011, the University of Chicago hosted Gig.U members as well as representatives from world leading private companies to discuss the next steps in building next generation networks. The day was mostly about asking and answering questions from each other, but there were a few remarks including those by Gig.U Executive Director Blair Levin.

“We gather from across the country; some three dozen University Communities, over 50 companies, all with a variety of motivations.

But we share a common mission: accelerating the deployment of next generation networks and services in the United States.

We all agree we could advance that mission by creating a critical mass of test-bed communities with world leading networks.

And we agree that the best place for such test-beds are our university communities.

By accelerating those next generation services and networks, we can ignite a new generation of innovation, new approaches to solving some of society’s most vexing problems, and in the process, enrich our communities as well as companies.

As to this I have good news and bad news.

The good news is that we have in the room people from the communities and companies we need to achieve this mission.

There is no doubt that there are some, not in the room today, who will join us and be helpful in achieving this mission.

But the people in this room today are the core of the effort and we wanted to start here, with this group, in a setting that would allow multiple public and private conversations, because the combination of the people here, even without anyone else, can achieve great things.

Tom Friedman’s new book, That Used to Be Us, is about how the innovative leadership that once characterized all aspects of the American economy, has shifted to other parts of the world.

There is a truth to that.

But in this room, this is still us.

In this room, that innovative leadership still thrives.

The research institutions represented here are still the best and most innovative in the world.

Many of the large companies here are world leaders.

And some small companies here have technology that may lead in years to come.

By bringing together our world leading research institutions, their communities, and our world leading broadband ecosystem, we can spark activities that will cause the world to see, this is still us.

This is still an America that leads.

The bad news is that if we don’t do it, no one else will.

Yes, there are other efforts designed to achieve the same goals; efforts we should respect and admire.

We should hope for their success as it will create more fertile ground for our own.

But none have the scale of the communities and companies here today.

None can ignite the innovations of next generation networks in Maine and Southern California, in Seattle and Florida, and dozens of other cities and rural communities between those four corners.

And of course, eventually, what is happening in other places in the world in terms of next generation networks will eventually happen here.

Though by then, leadership will have shifted, has it has in other sectors, elsewhere.

So it is this Gig.U platform that has the greatest potential for accelerating the next generation of broadband activity.

This is no easy thing.

When we were doing the National Broadband Plan, we had a lot of very smart people looking at the question of how do we continue to have technological leadership.

There were no easy answers.

In yesterday’s world, one could say it was simple: to an amazing extent, AT&T and Bell labs did it.

In other countries, it is simple: the government demands it and a dominant network, facing limited facilities based competition, works internal subsidies to provide it.

Neither of those solutions will work for us.

The great business writer Peter Drucker wrote that the danger in times of turbulence is not the turbulence; it is to react with yesterday’s logic.

We have to adopt the logic of today.

It involves distributed innovation

It involves not one size fits all but a diverse number of experiments

And it involves the conversations we all will be having throughout the course of the day.

It’s a conversation that requires openness and creativity on the part of all of us.

No one should expect that any deals will be struck here today.

No one is going to say an emphatic yes.

But no one should say an emphatic no to ideas floated here.

As we consider these ideas, we should remember that there are two ways to grow one’s business.

One is to increase market share.  The other is to increase market size.

We hope all the businesses here will consider the ultra-high speed market, and the university community market, as a potentially great place to invest and gain market share.

There is nothing wrong with having those competitive juices flowing.

And there is also nothing wrong with thinking creatively about how the universities and communities can improve the business case for private sector companies by taking steps to lower the cost of deployment and improving the efficiency of the demand side.

But this project is fundamentally about growing the size of the market.

The biggest upside is not in university communities themselves, but in the innovations that university communities can drive throughout the greater economy.

The return on the incremental investment in the university community should be measured not only in the revenues from that community—which we think can be significant–but in what it would mean for the revenues in communities throughout the country.

If we remove bandwidth as a barrier to innovation for the right 1% of the country, we can increase the value of providing massive bandwidth to the other 99% of the country.

So as we look to that goal, we ought to consider new ways, and new partnerships, that may not make sense in other places, but in these test beds, in these communities, are the kindling we need to ignite that new generation of opportunity.

Let me close by noting that the journey that we are undertaking together is a quintessentially American journey.

That is, it is one done with great optimism but without a map.

Indeed, it is a journey that makes the map.

When Christopher Columbus got on the Santa Maria, he did not have a map.

He made the map.

When the founding fathers sat down in 1787 to write a constitution, they had the benefit of the writings of great political thinkers but they did not have a map for how to structure a government.

They made the map.

When Lewis & Clark headed west, they did not have a map.

They made the map.

And so in our time when Baran, Kahn, Cerf, Andressen, Metcalf, Page, Brin, Zuckerberg and so many others started moving forward on their mission, they did not have a map.

They made the maps.

And that’s what we want to do over the next few months.

Make a map for a new generation of networks and services to create a new generation of opportunities.

Thank you for being here and being part of this journey.”

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