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Geoff Daily

App-Rising.com covers the development and adoption of broadband applications, the deployment of and need for broadband networks, and the demands placed on policy to adapt to the revolutionary opportunities made possible by the Internet.

App-Rising.com is written by Geoff Daily, a DC-based technology journalist, broadband activist, marketing consultant, and Internet entrepreneur.

App-Rising.com is supported in part by AT&T;, however all views and opinions expressed herein are solely my own.

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August 18, 2008 9:26 AM

Innovation Happening On College Campuses, Just Not In Classroom

Late last week I had one of the most exhilarating conversations of recent memory as I had a chance to talk with Bill St. Arnaud for the first time. Bill is a visionary when it comes to customer-owned fiber networks, and I'm working on a post detailing the trial he's got underway in Ottawa for introducing a new paradigm in fiber deployment, and trust me, it's a good one.

But for now I wanted to share another interesting observation he made during our call.

To preface this, Bill works with CANARIE, which is basically Canada's equivalent of Internet2, an ultra-high-bandwidth network that connects universities and research institutions.

During our conversation we began discussing the unfortunate reality that most universities have not yet fully embraced the use of broadband and in particular are not utilizing the opportunities these big bandwidth networks provide to find and develop new, innovative applications.

This is something I know I've been frustrated by, especially in places like Lafayette, LA, where last April I had a chance to chat with the head of the computer science department at the University of Louisiana-Lafayette. I had expected and hoped to find him inspired by the big network being put into place, excited over the possibilities for this network to be a teaching aid, to drive curriculum, and to help spark the imagination of students to develop new apps, but instead he seemed relatively disinterested. Not that he wasn't personally excited about the network, but he didn't seem too anxious to find ways to incorporate its use into his curriculum.

Bill confirmed that this tends to be the case among CANARIE's universities as well. While there is a fair amount of HD videoconferencing being done, for the most part other than that CANARIE's users only tend to utilize the network for pushing around large data sets more quickly then they'd be able to do otherwise. There just isn't a lot of innovation happening in the classroom either in the use of the network or the development of new apps that can take advantage of all this bandwidth.

But then he made a really interesting comment. For him, it's not that innovation isn't happening on college campuses, it just isn't happening in the labs or classrooms. Instead he shared that if you want to find innovation on a college campus, go to the dorms and see how the students are using their access to high bandwidth connectivity. That those are the users who are finding new ways to take advantage of the fat pipes that are commonplace among dormitories on college campuses.

While some might point out that much of this so-called innovation stems from illegal activities like unauthorized file-sharing, I still think Bill's really on to something here. These are the users who made Facebook a huge success, that watch a ton of online video, that are creating videos to upload for others to see, that are eager to try out new applications and that have the time to do so, and that have the creative energy to dream up new applications that enrich or make easier in some way their lives through the use of broadband.

So when it comes to innovation through broadband on college campuses, don't look in the classroom, look to the dorms, where an eager populace of early adopters are pushing the boundaries of what's possible in an era where bandwidth is no longer scarce but overabundant.

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