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In his post-Iowa caucus roundup, New York Times columnist Tom Friedman asks what candidates would be talking about if the campaign were about moving America forward. One topic, he writes, would surely be how to help the United States navigate the IT revolution and the changing global economy. Seismic changes in technology have given people cheap ways to innovate and collaborate, and those individuals have converged into new “ecosystems” of production.

He points to Gig.U as leading the charge.

The best of these ecosystems will be cities and towns that combine a university, an educated populace, a dynamic business community and the fastest broadband connections on earth. These will be the job factories of the future. The countries that thrive will be those that build more of these towns that make possible “high-performance knowledge exchange and generation,” explains Blair Levin, who runs the Aspen Institute’s Gig.U project, a consortium of 37 university communities working to promote private investment in next-generation ecosystems.

The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill is part of the broad-based group of universities and communities across the country that has launched Gig.U, a university community next generation innovation project. Gig.U seeks to accelerate the deployment of ultra high-speed networks to leading U.S. universities and their surrounding communities to drive economic growth and a new generation of innovations addressing critical needs such as health care and education.

Larry Conrad, vice chancellor for information technology and chief information officer, is an active participant in the Gig.U project.

“The Gig.U initiative is potentially very exciting for Carolina, North Carolina and the nation. I’ve seen first-hand what happens when you put dramatically higher bandwidth in the hands of smart, creative, and motivated people at universities: they come up with new, innovative, and sometimes revolutionary ways to do things which were simply not possible to do before,” said Conrad.

“High speed networks fundamentally redefine what it’s possible to do. Past innovations like Google, Facebook, Netscape, and indeed the Web itself all came out of research university settings. No one knows what the next Facebook type innovation might be or where it will come from, but it seems a safe bet it will come out of research university communities like the ones in the Gig.U initiative.”

According to Conrad, the Gig.U project hopes to come to agreement with one or more private sector providers to build out several high bandwidth test-beds across the country in the immediate vicinity of the research universities participating in Gig.U. At present, the Gig.U partners are evaluating the results of a Request For Information (RFI) done in the fall of 2011.

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