Monday, November 28, 2011

NextGen11 conference report day 2: securing the right investment

Day 2 of NextGen11 (my report of day 1 here) began with a presentation from Rob Hamlin of Arqiva on the potential of wireless technologies to deliver broadband to rural and remote areas. Arqiva's LTE trials in Preseli (more here) demonstrate "the economic and technical viability of a neutral-host wireless network as a route to extending broadband Internet services to areas with no broadband coverage (‘notspots’) and those with speeds lower than 2Mbps throughout the UK, estimated at 10% of UK households." The Preseli trial was the first live LTE trial in the UK to use the 800MHz spectrum freed up by digital TV switchover and can deliver speeds of over 50Mbps. Arqiva's solution would offer wholesale access to all service providers and new entrants to maintain competition; the company previously offered this submission to the Welsh Assembly on the opportunities wireless technologies offer in Wales.

Next, Trent T.Holmes gave an overview of Thales' experiences of building and operating the Digital Region network in South Yorkshire. The first phase of the network build is on track to be completed in December 2011. This will include 545km of new fibre optic duct, 36 exchanges, and 1,359 street cabinets. When completed, the network will cover a population of over 1.3 million citizens, 546,000 homes and 40,000 businesses. All four local authorities in South Yorkshire are already accessing Public Services Network (PSN) services across the network. News coverage earlier this year focused on the problems the project was experiencing in securing takeup, with some speculation that the project could be sold, but a more recently it was reported that a new ISP had signed up to deliver services via the network - hopefully a sign that things are looking up?

A further three parallel workshops followed, I attended the one on finance and procurement. James Saunby of GreySky Consulting offered advice on getting the best deal  for superfast broadband deployments, for councils, communities, and suppliers. In particular, James highlighted the importance of gaining public sector commitment, as a major user of communications services. Delivering the requirements of the public sector over commercial superfast broadband infrastructure (rather than over separate dedicated networks) can provide additional guaranteed revenues throughout a region, making more areas commercially viable by helping to close the investment gap (an approach taken by Sunderland City Council, working with BT). While connecting the last 10% is challenging, James is confident it can be done, noting that securing revenues  may not be as difficult as might first appear: if there is no other form of broadband available, take-up can be rapid, reaching 70% or even higher very quickly. "Self-dig" also has an important role to play in reducing costs, as being demonstrated in Cumbria, with scale being important too: combining community projects can make a collective exercise far more commercially viable than multiple disparate approaches, underlining the importance of planning and a strong business case.

Michael Armitage of Broadway Partners spoke next, offering some reflections on state aid issues and concerns, as well as investment opportunities. Michael suggested that the demand case is sufficiently strong to encourage investment, and that mechanisms are in place in the form of "long term, patient money" but these are not currently being utilised. He flagged the Enterprise Investment Scheme (EIS) as an example of such a vehicle, in that it is is designed to help smaller higher-risk companies to raise finance by offering a range of tax reliefs to investors who purchase new shares in those companies. The right investors in this space are ones that are able and prepared to wait for a guaranteed return, as opposed to investors requiring a return in a much shorter period. Returns are sufficiently attractive if the interests of investors, beneficiaries, suppliers and intermediaries are properly aligned. A new perspective is required: one example of a "different take" on the current situation is to view business rates on fibre as an opportunity rather than a problem: they can provide a means for a local authority to service a municipal bond, issued to fund investment in NGA infrastructure, by providing a guaranteed income stream to service the debt? Lastly in this session, Clive Downing of NYnet covered alternative models for broadband delivery, including gap funding, design build operate (DBO), digital community hubs and public sector networks, covering the pros and cons of each.

We then reconvened for a session on policy and regulation, with presentations from David Clarkson of Ofcom and Kate McGavin of DCMS. David outlined Ofcom's regulatory strategy and approach in relation to NGA, focusing on sub-loop unbundling (SLU) and physical infrastructure access (PIA) as mechanisms to promote investment, particularly in rural areas, and local loop unbundling (LLU) and Virtual Unbundled Local Access (VULA) as mechanisms to promote competition. In Ofcom's view, current generation broadband will continue to have a significant role over the next few years, something echoed by the current takeup rates of superfast services, with the regulatory framework therefore having to continue to support current generation access during the transition to NGA. People's propensity to pay for NGA services (or the lack thereof) remains a key challenge, underlining the importance of demand stimulation in driving investment.

Kate focused on market activity and the "arms race for speed" (something I've also covered here), broadband’s place at the heart of government policy and policy developments to enable roll-out. Whilst I commend the way many Government departments have joined up in recognising the importance of broadband, the Department for Education currently seems absent from this discussion. While the Government-commissioned report of the James Review of Education Capital published in April 2011 contained a number of specific recommendations on the provision of broadband for schools, including the recognition of the need to "leverage the value of existing public sector broadband networks, aligned with the roll out of superfast broadband and working with commercial providers, local authorities, and regional broadband consortia to establish a minimum bandwidth standard of 10Mbps for primary schools and 100Mbps for secondary schools", the subsequent DFE consultation document on the implementation of the James Review's recommendations contained no reference to broadband at all. Given the extensive reach of existing schools' broadband networks into rural areas, and the continuing importance of meeting schools' increasing broadband requirements, this would seem an opportunity to join up with wider broadband policy missed. However, it is very encouraging to see this recent acknowledgement by DFE of technology's potential for education. More to come in the new year, according to the speech.

I missed the next set of parallel workshops; following these, Crister Mattson of Acreo presented findings from a study into the socio-economic impact of fibre to the home provision in Sweden. 44% of all households and businesses in Sweden now have access to at least 100 Mbps broadband. The study found benefits in terms of increased economic activity (with increased GDP due to increased employment), savings in municipal and regional public sector costs for data and telecommunications and added value for end users, for example in terms of the increased value of residential premises resulting from the provision of enhanced broadband connectivity. Following a panel session on NGA leadership challenges, Mark Kellet of Magnet Networks gave an overview of the lessons learned from previous fibre deployments, in terms of provisioning and adoption; a key risk here is overestimating demand in the short term while underestimating demand in the long term. However, consumers' speed requirements are only moving in one direction...upwards.

The conference closed with a panel discussion on lessons learned and the way forward. For me, the key messages from this year's conference were the importance of planning, the need for sound business models and securing the "right" kind of investment, with technical issues and concerns being almost a secondary consideration once these foundations are in place. While concerns and frustrations remain over the speed and nature of NGA deployments in the UK, the overall mood seemed (to me at least) generally positive, acknowledging that we have come a very long way over the last few years, particularly in the recognition of broadband in both national and regional/local policy, to support economic growth and deliver a range of benefits for society.

However, we still have a long way to go. I think developments over the next 12 months will be crucial, meaning that NextGen12 is highly unlikely to be any less engaging than previous NextGen events.

Monday, November 21, 2011

NextGen11 conference report day 1: progress?

The NextGen11 conference took place last week (on 15-16 November) in Bristol (presentations here). Here's my report, to follow on from my accounts of the 2009 and 2010 NextGen conferences.

The conference opened with a video address from Neelie Kroes,  Vice President of the European Commission and European Digital Agenda Commissioner, who made her position on the importance of superfast broadband very clear:
"...the Internet is an economic essential for everyone. From businesses small and large, to academia, to the creative industries, fast broadband is the digital oxygen allowing this ecosystem to thrive and boosting growth. It is hard to imagine a confident and prosperous Europe in 2020 without it."
She went on to mention the two current EU consultations (on cost methodologies for wholesale access and non-discrimination obligations), in the context of establishing the right regulatory environment to drive increased  investment in superfast broadband, together with the funds being made available for broadband through the Connecting Europe Facility.

Neelie Kroes' address was followed by Chris Holden, President of the Fibre to the Home Council Europe. Europe is currently a long way behind other parts of the world in terms of FTTH penetration, with 4.6m FTTH subscribers: China has 46m. The UK, as of June 2011, has 4,500 FTTH subscribers and 567,300 homes passed out of 25m households. On the basis of current takeup, the UK will reach "fibre maturity" (10% takeup) after 2020. In Europe, unlike most other regions, incumbents are not currently the major providers of FTTH, and this will remain the case. Meeting the EU target of 50% subscribers with >100Mbps service requires maybe 80% availability, which seems very challenging, underlining the importance of "good old-fashioned marketing" to increase takeup and demonstrate the case for further investment. It will be interesting to see the outcome of the current EU consultations in this regard.

Suvi Linden, former Minister of Communications, Finland, and Commissioner, United Nations Broadband Commission for Digital Development, spoke next. The Commission provides an advocacy role for broadband, in the belief that "broadband connections are an essential element in modern society, like roads or electricity." The evidence Suvi presented of the impact of broadband on economic growth (from the Commission's report Broadband: A Platform for Progress) was particularly striking: each 10% increase in broadband penetration generates a 1.38% increase in GDP in low/middle income economies, and a 1.21% increase in high income economies. Suvi also described the targets set out in the Commission's Broadband Challenge, published in October 2011: that broadband should be universally available and affordable, with high takeup and usage as a result. She went on to describe policy developments in Finland, in particular, the Government's recognition that "broadband has become a basic service" and the consequential importance of ensuring universal availability. By the end of 2015, all permanent residences in Finland should be within two kilometres reach of a high-speed connection permitting at least a 100Mbps service; this will require partly subsidised high-speed connections for around 130,000 households in rural areas.

Next up was Bill Murphy, Managing Director NGA, BT. Bill described developments in Cornwall, where BT is rolling out a variety of next generation broadband services. 71 cabinets are now live with 2000+ customer connections, provided by 12 communications providers. Bill stressed that affordable, effective next generation broadband services can and are being delivered over copper via FTTC, that BT was also looking at FTTH and that there was no reason why the approach taken in Cornwall couldn't work elsewhere. He also flagged developments in Northern Ireland, where NGA is available today to 85% of businesses and 75% of lines are connected to a fibre-enabled cabinet (reaching 89% by March 2012), connecting 44,000 customers, with 1,200 more being added every week. More widely, BT plans to deliver ADSL2+ services to 90% of the UK, possibly more (including this exchange I hope?) and currently has more than 300,000 subscribers to its Infinity service, with c.50 external service providers using BT's fibre services. Alternative technologies under consideration to reach the last 10% include white space technologies (as being trialled on the Isle of Bute in Scotland, satellite (BT is working with Avanti in Cornwall) and 4G mobile services (also being trialled in Cornwall with Everything Everywhere, in St Newlyn East and the surrounding area of South Newquay, with around 200 participants). In reference to the current debate about BT's physical infrastructure access (PIA) offerings, Bill pointed out that PIA represents a small part of the cost of deploying fibre; we should "move on" and simply "get on and do something".

In answer to Bill's challenge, Keith Vinning of Fujitsu was next, providing an update on Fujitsu's plans to provide a wholesale broadband infrastructure in rural areas, as announced earlier in 2011. Fujitsu is not seeking to provide retail broadband services and is looking to deliver via the funding being made available by BDUK, subject to its inclusion on BDUK's procurement framework (more here) and winning business from local authorities purchasing via the framework once it's in place. On the subject of funding, Keith suggested that the £17bn committed to the High-Speed Rail project would be better spent on broadband (a view echoed here) and also explained that, like BT, Fujitsu is looking at a range of access technologies as it is simply not economic to deploy fibre everywhere. Successful PIA trials have been undertaken in Greasby in the Wirral, with services being provided to customers by TalkTalk and VirginMedia over BT's ducts and poles from the  serving exchange to customers' premises. Overall, Fujitsu's experience of working with Openreach had been "positive"; while there remains work to do to "industrialise" processes to enable roll-outs at scale, the company is "optimistic" about the future. However, the limitations on what PIA can be used for remain a concern, particularly the fact that PIA can't be used to provide backhaul for wireless services in rural areas. Keith closed by stressing the importance of driving demand for superfast broadband, reiterating the importance of matching aspirations with the amount of funding available.

Keeping us from our lunch was futurist Rohit Talwar, but fortunately Rohit spoke eloquently and passionately about the potential of superfast broadband. He began by considering how to get politicians and society at large excited about superfast broadband, citing the approaches taken to infrastructure development by China and India. China has adopted the "build it and they will come" approach, whereas India waited for demand to emerge. China's economy is now three times the size of India's. Rohit argued that broadband is fundamental both to growth and the future well-being of society, given current economic turbulence, the "power shift eastwards", ageing populations and environmental issues and concerns. But we must always remember that what technology makes possible is what will drive demand, not the technology itself.

After lunch, Edgar Aker of the Prysmian Group flagged the importance of national policies and plans and the right regulatory environment in driving investment and competition in NGA. He commented that eastern Europe is leapfrogging straight to fibre provisioning for broadband, bypassing current generation services. This business case for rural broadband is key, with the FTTH Council Europe's FTTH Business Guide a key resource to support planning and development. This was followed by a panel discussion about the future Internet, with Dave Carter of the Manchester Digital Development Agency memorably demanding to know when we'd all have the flying cars he'd been promised in visions of the future in his youth...!

Day one closed with a series of three parallel workshops; I attended the one on technology choices for NGA. Simon Barrett of Avanti covered satellite possibilities and opportunities. James Enck of CityFibre Holdings outlined the company's plans to become "a new force in UK fibre infrastructure", following the acquisition of the assets of the troubled Fibrecity project (more on this here and here). Dinesh Patil of Telefonica O2 explained the huge impact smartphones continue to have on mobile networks and the steps being taken to accommodate ever increasing demand. For example, major sports events now create huge localised demand, as stadium crowds access live coverage and commentaries on their mobile devices. Next year's London Olympics are likely to be particularly challenging in this regard. Finally, Paul Sexton-Chadwick of The Cloud/BSkyB described how wifi is addressing the shortcomings of 3G mobile connectivity, particularly in the light of Ofcom's revised timetable for the UK's 4G spectrum auctions.

That wrapped up day one, my report of day two to follow shortly.

Monday, November 14, 2011

UK broadband update

Speaking at last week's Westminster eForum: Delivering the UK's Broadband Future, Simon Towler of the Department for Culture, Media & Sport (DCMS) gave a thorough overview of recent broadband developments in the UK:
  • Ofcom's first infrastructure report (which the regulator is required to submit to the Secretary of State for Culture, Media & Sport every three years), published on 1st November 2011, shows that 58% of UK premises now have access to superfast broadband.
  • On 31st October, BT announced it was accelerating its fibre rollout, delivering fibre broadband to two thirds of UK premises by the end of 2014, one year ahead of its original target of 2015.
  • A few days earlier on 27th October, Virgin Media, as part of its third quarter 2011 results, reported that it was "on track for rolling out 100Mbps, the country’s fastest widely available broadband service, right across our network by mid 2012 with over eight million homes already able to access this superfast speed."
  • Coverage in the Guardian described a "broadband speed arms race", following an announcement by Openreach (the division of BT responsible for its access network) on 3rd October of the "early market deployment launch" of its fibre to the premises products in six areas; these will offer download speeds of 110Mbps, and upload speeds of 30Mbps, "with even quicker speeds expected in 2012 and technology capability of up to 1Gbps in the future".
  • Secretary of State Jeremy Hunt previously identified a "need for speed" in his May 2011 speech to Race Online 2012's National Digital Conference, something echoed by a recent survey by  the Communications Management Association (CMA) which reported that businesses constrained by current broadband are demanding higher speeds.
  • In a similar vein, a recent study conducted jointly by Ericsson, Arthur D. Little and Chalmers University of Technology in 33 OECD countries quantifies the isolated impact of broadband speed, showing that doubling the broadband speed for an economy increases GDP by 0.3%.
  • This speech was where the Government first set out its targets that all homes and businesses in the UK should have access to at least 2Mbps and that superfast broadband (>24Mbps) should be available to 90 per cent of people in each local authority area by 2015. These will provide an important step towards the EU broadband targets, as set out in the Digital Agenda for Europe, that by 2020, fast broadband coverage at 30Mbps should be available to all EU citizens, with at least half of European households subscribing to broadband access at 100Mbps.
  • The definition of superfast broadband as >24Mbps derives from Ofcom's context and summary for its 2010 consultations on the wholesale local access and wholesale broadband access markets: "Super-fast broadband (i.e. broadband with speeds greater than 24Mbps) will provide consumers and businesses with higher speed and more capable services, which are likely to enable the use of a wide range of new and innovative applications.  These could, for example, include super high definition and 3D video services, more effective teleworking and telemedicine. "
  • Allocations to local authorities were announced by Broadband Delivery UK (BDUK) in August, with the first three successful areas (Devon & Somerset, Norfolk, Wiltshire) being announced in May and two further areas (Rutland, Suffolk) getting the go-ahead in September
  • Jeremy Hunt's May 2011 speech also contained the phrase "must be mobile" - something borne out by the findings of Ofcom's 2011 Communications Market Report, which described the UK as a "nation addicted to smartphones", with over a quarter of adults and nearly half of all teens now owning a smartphone and 37% of adults and 60% of teens "highly addicted" to them.
  • Mobile data rates continue to surge, as recently described by the likes of Cisco (also see here) and Ericsson.
  • In the UK it is the Government's intention that the private sector should lead the way, supported by intervention in areas the market alone will not reach. In addition to BT and Virgin Media's plans, earlier in the year Fujitisu announced its intention to work in collaboration with Virgin Media, TalkTalk and Cisco to deliver next generation internet services to 5 million homes in rural Britain (and is currently running an FTTH trial in Greasby in the Wirral, more here).
  • More recently on 3rd November, City Fibre Holdings announced its plans to invest up to £500 million to build further metro networks and pure Fibre-to-the-Premises networks in a unique citywide deployment, providing gigabit services in towns and cities across the UK, to connect 1m homes and 50,000 businesses, with rollout commencing in early 2012.
  • Openreach at the beginning of October made its second reference offer on physical infrastructure access (PIA, or duct and pole sharing), setting out lower pricing. PIA complements another regulatory element, virtual unbundled local access (VULA) which I've covered previously on this blog here and here. VULA allows competitors to deliver services over BT's new NGA network, with a degree of control that is similar to that achieved when taking over the physical line to the customer (as happens in the case of local loop unbundling, LLU). The Openreach products delivering the 110Mbps/30Mbps FTTH services mentioned earlier in this post are examples of VULA in action.
  • A consultation on new deployment of overhead lines for fibre delivery is "imminent", with new guidance on microtrenching and streetworks to be published by the end of the year. Wayleaves are also being investigated to help further facilitate and streamline broadband investment and deployment. A report on the lessons learned from the four superfast broadband pilots first announced in 2010 (Cumbria, Hereforshire, the Highlands & Islands and North Yorkshire) is also to be published before the end of the year.
  • Returning to mobile, a number of new technology trials are underway, including BT and Everything Everywhere's trialling of 4G/LTE mobile services in Cornwall, Vodafone's femtocell trials in the West Berkshire village of East Garston, for which it is now seeking 12 locations to take part in rural mobile coverage trials and the BBC, Microsoft and others' trialling of white space technologies in Cambridge.
  • Wireless and satellite technologies continue to be the most likely cost effective solution for the most remote areas; to this end on 3rd October the Chancellor announced an investment of up to £150 million to improve mobile coverage in the UK, to improve the coverage and quality of mobile services for the 5 to 10 per cent of consumers and businesses that live and work in areas of the UK where existing mobile coverage is poor or non-existent. The Government will aim to extend mobile service coverage to 99 per cent of the UK population, with the necessary procurement beginning in 2012.
This week sees the NextGen11 conference in Bristol which likely to reveal further announcements of interest. Watch this space...

Tuesday, November 08, 2011

US Ignite - building gigabit applications

Further to my last post on gigibit test beds, I came across US Ignite, a project "to spark the development of gigabit applications and services in areas of national priority".

US Ignite will perform three activities:
  1. Stitching together a national at-scale network testbed of cities and campuses with real users, which can be used as a platform to launch novel gigabit applications and services;
  2. Creating novel gigabit applications and services by funding researchers, developers, and entrepreneurs working in areas of national priority; and
  3. Developing a Public Private Partnership that will govern the contributions made by industry to this pre-commercial effort; coordinate developer community efforts; and convene the Partners for strategic planning and sharing of best practices.
This quote sums up nicely the dilemma the project is hoping to address, the "chicken or the egg" broadband question:
"The US Ignite initiative aims to accelerate gigabit application development and use across the country by breaking a fundamental deadlock: there is insufficient investment in gigabit applications that can take advantage of advanced network infrastructure because such infrastructure is rare and dispersed. And conversely, there is little new investment in advanced broadband infrastructure because there are few advanced applications to justify it. US Ignite will break this deadlock by providing incentives for imagining, prototyping, and developing gigabit applications and by building out a pre-commercial high-bandwidth infrastructure on which people and organizations on campuses and in cities can innovate."
The project is still at an early stage, publishing a request for whitepapers from interested institutions and commercial partners. Further information in this blog post from the US Office of Science and Technology Policy; a project to keep a close eye on to ensure we don't limit our ambitions to the constraints of the present, as I've said previously.

Tuesday, November 01, 2011

US broadband test beds: exploring 1Gbps possibilities

As I mentioned in my previous post, here is a quick overview of three projects in the USA trialling 1Gbps broadband connectivity for homes and businesses.

The first example is the high-speed optical fiber network developed by EPB offering services to over 100,000 homes and businesses in the metropolitan Chattanooga and surrounding rural areas. From an EPB press release:
"Powered by Alcatel-Lucent’s gigabit passive optical network (GPON) technology, Chattanooga’s new network will accommodate speeds of up to 1 gigabit-per-second (Gbps), which is more than 200 times faster than the current national download speed average. Every home and business within EPB’s 600 square-mile, nine-county service area will be able to access the network, making it the most comprehensive product of its kind in the United States...EPB, Chattanooga’s municipal electric utility, is using its fiber-to-the-home network as the backbone for its Smart Grid which will provide increased power reliability, greater operational efficiency and more power management tools for the utility’s electric customers. In addition to its Smart Grid functions, the fiber-to-the-home network can also provide communications services to business and residential customers, including very high-speed Internet access, (high-definition) IPTV and phone services."
Important as the "smart grid" functionality described above is, the fibre infrastructure is capable of delivering much more: the 1Gbps broadband service for homes and businesses was launched in September 2010. This from Ars Technica:
“…(EPB) uses the fiber to power its own "smart grid" electrical program, and deploying the program everywhere adds value to the electrical system. But once the fibre's in place, it can be used for TV, Internet, and phone service without digging any new trenches; indeed, even upgrading the entire network to support 1Gbps service was relatively inexpensive, since it only required an electronics upgrade at central locations.”
A refreshing example of joined up thinking. EPB readily admit that takeup of the 1Gbps service is so far limited, it is sanguine about the future potential of the service. From the same Ars Technica Article:
"...(EPB) "hasn't been flooded with calls" for the service, says David Wade, Chief Operating Officer...Indeed, even this may be overstating current demand; only 6 or 7 Chattanooga residents and "several businesses" have ordered the high-end service, which launched with a $350 per month price tag...This doesn't particularly concern Wade. "We knew that the capacity had to be there before people could start creating applications that could utilize the capacity...It's like bringing electricity to the Tennessee Valley" in the early twentieth century, he said. (EPB was founded in 1935.) Before power arrived, there were limited applications for it, but stringing power lines to every home and businesses provided a huge boost to the local economy and spurred all kinds of additional use. Just as with electrification, EPB has decided to run fiber to every home and business, including the third of its customers outside the city, because the benefits of fiber connections don't decline with population density…While few customers buy the 1Gbps tier, many use slower EPB Internet services, but at least the network is ready for the future at relatively minimal cost.”
Customers' use of upload bandwidth is interesting:
"Network speeds are real—if you pay for 30Mbps, you get 30Mbps—and are symmetrical (the same speed in both directions). Chattanooga has also seen surprising use of its upstream connections, even though some question just how much uploading customers want to do. "If you're limiting upstream traffic, you're not going to see upstream traffic," Wade counters.”
In keeping with this spirit of innovation, a competition was recently announced to " to foster the development of gigabit per second Internet applications and business ventures" - more in this EPB press release.

The second example is Google's fibre to the home project in Kansas City, as mentioned on this blog previously here. Following Google's original project announcement in February 2010, it was revealed in March 2011 that Kansas City had been selected as the location for the initiative. The project's homepage is here and there have been some interesting announcements on both the Google Fibre Blog and the Gigabit City website. I was very pleased to see this in one of the sets of FAQs on the Google Fibre Blog:
"Q: What schools will receive free Internet service? Will you include religious and private schools? A: As part of our agreements with Kansas City, Kansas, and Kansas City, Missouri, Google will connect hundreds of educational and public entities as we build out our network. Each city will determine those locations."
This post suggests things are still at the planning stage, with a view to service launch in early 2012, while this one describes some of the demand stimulation activities being undertaken with local businesses (see here for details of further similar activities). So not much to report as yet, but definitely a project I'll be keeping an eye on.

Finally, the Case Connection Zone, a research project with the goal of bringing 1 Gigabit Internet connectivity to the neighbourhoods surrounding University Circle and Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Ohio. According to this press release, the project served as a prototype for the Gig.U initiative (another project to watch) described in my previous post. The Case Connection Zone was featured in chapter 7 (research and development) of the US National Broadband Plan, published in March 2010:
"America’s top research universities continue this R&D effort today in their efforts to experiment with very fast 1Gbps networks (gigabit networks). For example, Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, with 40 institutional partners, vendors and community organizations, is planning a University Circle Innovation Zone in the economically impoverished area around the university to provide households, schools, libraries and museums with gigabit fiber optic connections. Case Western expects this network to create jobs in the community and spawn software and service development for Smart Grid, health, science and other applications, as well as foster technology, engineering and mathematics education services."
Much more information in this presentation, this blog post and also on YouTube.

These projects offer an interesting insight into the possibilities offered by high speed broadband connections. These words, from the Ars Technica article about EPB's 1Gbps service in Chattanooga, neatly encapsulate the common philosophy and approach that underpins all three of them:
" it for the future, not the present, and then encourage people to grow new applications that take advantage of abundance rather than conform to scarcity."
That last bit feels the right way around to me: while we need to be pragmatic about the capabilities of the marketplace and the economic realities of rolling out next generation networks more widely, we also need to create space for innovation, rather than limit our ambitions to the constraints of the present.