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AIR.U Consortium Looks To Boost Bandwidth in Underserved Colleges

A consortium of higher education groups, technology companies, and non-profits is aiming to upgrade wireless broadband infrastructure in underserved colleges and their surrounding communities.

Known collectively as "AIR.U" (for "Advanced Internet Regions"), the group "will focus on upgrading broadband offerings in those communities that, because of their educational mission, have greater than average demand but often, because of their rural or small town location, have below average broadband."

This summer, the group will work on developing a plan for building next-generation wireless networks at a number of pilot sites with the aim of deploying "Super Wi-Fi" networks at selected sites as equipment becomes more widely available, according to information released by AIR.U last week. Super Wi-Fi uses low-frequency "white spaces" that fall between the frequencies used for television broadcasts. These lower-frequency signals penetrate thick walls better than the 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz frequencies used now in 802.11g/n wireless data communications and can carry information over longer distances. The first commercial white space devices were certified by the FCC just about seven months ago.

"Expanded broadband access has been an unaffordable hurdle in rural, underserved communities. The opportunity to acquire and leverage spectrum and broadband assets will go far in addressing the competitive disadvantage their absence created," said Robert Rucker, vice president for operations and technology at the United Negro College Fund (one of the founding organizations of AIR.U), in a prepared statement. "This effort will enable selected institutions and all the constituents they serve to have the enhanced, sustainable capacity needed to more fully experience the information age and the ability to participate and contribute to it."

Other founding organizations and corporate partners include Gig.U (a consortium of 37 universities with the aim of accelerating the deployment ultra-high-speed network services), Google, Microsoft, the New England Board of Higher Education, the Corporation for Education Network Initiatives in California, the National Institute for Technology in Liberal Education, the Open Technology Institute at the New America Foundation, the Appalachian Regional Commission, and Declaration Networks Group.

"Colleges in rural areas will be the greatest beneficiaries of Super WiFi networks because they are located in communities that often lack sufficient broadband, their needs are greater and there is typically a large number of vacant TV channels outside the biggest urban markets," said Michael Calabrese, director of the Wireless Future Project at the New America Foundation's Open Technology Institute. "This combination of factors makes them ideal candidates for utilizing Super WiFi spectrum to complement existing broadband capabilities."

According to AIR.U, the first pilot Super Wi-Fi sites are expected to be operational in the first quarter of 2013. Additional details can be found on New America Foundation's site.

About the Author

David Nagel is the executive producer for 1105 Media's online K-12 and higher education publications and electronic newsletters. He can be reached at dnagel@1105media.com. He can now be followed on Twitter at http://twitter.com/THEJournalDave (K-12) or http://twitter.com/CampusTechDave (higher education). You can also connect with him on LinkedIn at http://www.linkedin.com/profile/view?id=10390192.

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