Under the newly-formed Gig.U program, 29 American universities have joined forces to build a high-speed Internet network to serve the communities surrounding their campuses. The bandwidth the colleges are proposing to provide isn’t your average wi-fi– the one-gigabyte connections are fast enough to download high-definition movies in under a minute.

Gig.U hopes to lure high-tech startups in fields like health care, energy and telecommunications to the areas near the universities, many of which are located outside of major cities. Gig.U believes that by creating digital ecosystem new businesses, ideas and education models will thrive.

But what works in the middle of America would work even better in the middle of America’s emerging capital of the digital economy. That’s why the Rest San Francisco community is so interested in bringing the power of fast and Universal Internet Access to San Francisco. And that’s why we are so interesting in following the Gig.U story – and seeing if we can bring this kind of university/town partnership to San Francisco.

The U.S. Ranks 30th in Bandwidth Available To The Public

A recent study by the World Economic Forum found that while the United States ranks fifth in overall network readiness capability (meaning we have the tools and technology) – it came in a lousy 30th in network bandwidth available to the general population. The participating universities believe it is crucial in order to increase our bandwidth ranking and build a tech frontier that fosters innovation to eventually help the United States become more economically and academically competitive internationally.

High-Speed Internet Has Shown It Brings New Business

Last year, Case Western Reserve University set up a pilot program named Case Connection Zone in a several-block area near the campus in Cleveland, Ohio. The Case Connection Zone offers a one-gig network to 104 homes adjacent to the university. Within three months of the program’s inception, three startups moved to the neighborhood. This is a classic example of Civic Return on Investment – government and government sponsored organizations like universities making small investments that pay big dividends.

If Gig.U can continue this successful model, it would not only be good for the university, but also it could actually create jobs and new opportunities for those graduating from the university and those families hoping to do well enough to send their kids and grandkids to universities. And by providing communities with free high-speed Internet, Gig.U is not only luring start-ups but it’s also helping to close the digital divide – something Reset is focused on here in San Francisco.

Where are San Francisco’s Universities?

There is certainly good news coming from San Francisco’s universities and an emerging cluster of higher education providers. The University of San Francisco (USF) has already taken steps to help bridge San Francisco’s digital divide. Each year USF donates 150 refurbished computers to Bay Area non-profits, focused on expanding educational opportunities and spreading social justice. For the past 10 years, USF has also partnered with the Tenderloin Tech Lab to help close the digital divide by providing computer access and training to homeless and low-income residents in San Francisco’s Tenderloin area. The partnership is aimed at teaching participants skills to find work through online job sites, and find available resources such as housing, food stamps, health care and public transportation.

But just imagine the potential benefits of USF or San Francisco State University or both joining Gig.U. More than 20% of San Franciscan households have no access to the Internet. And in today’s society Internet access is an essential tool in educational achievement, finding employment, and participating fully in civic life. San Francisco claims to be the capitol of the world’s digital economy.

We’ll keep you updated as this story progress. But you can help close the digital divide right now by signing our petition to support Universal Internet Access for all San Franciscans.

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