Who Needs Google? 1Gbps to Eastern Cleveland

March 24th, 2010 by · Leave a Comment

An article over on ArsTechnica caught my eye this morning – a 1Gbps last mile fiber project in eastern Cleveland being spearheaded by Case Western Reserve University, which itself is almost an island amidst one of the most desperately poor sections of town.  It’s one I know well, as the school happens to be my alma mater – I spent four years there carefully not stepping off campus on my way to an engineering degree.  CWRU is taking its own fiber network, which has always been ahead of its time, and extending it off campus to those who basically have no access at all.

The first 104 homes are already being wired, each getting two fiber strands running back to the main equipment room – no shared architecture here.  They aren’t doing it with stimulus money, and they aren’t waiting for Google or any other corporate giant to come along tie a little bow around it and set it on their lap.  They hope to learn how broadband can help such communities climb back into the modern world, and perhaps with a little luck actually do more than just learn how.  They even mention two building owners planning to use the bandwidth to monitor each other’s buildings, offering a somewhat uncomfortable answer my own earlier question about what people could possibly do with 1Gbps.

When they went to local ISPs for some moral support, they got nothing.  I’m not sure why that ought to be the case, given that 72% of homes in the area don’t have any internet access at all – not even dialup.  I think snubbing an effort like this is a mistake.  If it is true that broadband can bring new hope to communities like this, then it can’t possibly hurt them to help an economic turnaround on their own turf.  It’s not as if CWRU is planning to replace the local ILEC, and no provider – ILEC, cable or anyone else – is going to extend fiber to the home into an area that can’t even spring for dialup anytime this decade or even next – so where’s the competitive harm in an FTTH research network trying to change that?

Far from disapproving, local providers should be helping this project out with their own expertise.  They’d do more good per dollar spent than they manage with most of their other charitable donation activity simply because they *do* have that expertise.

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