US Ignite Launches Project Overcome to Fund Novel Network Solutions

US Ignite has announced a new initiative called Project Overcome which will fund five projects looking for novel solutions to broadband connectivity problems in communities around the United States.

Th endeavor, funded by a $2 million National Science Foundation grant, will “support the selection and buildout of five proof-of-concept network deployments designed to connect both rural and urban communities in novel ways.” More than three-quarters of the funding will go directly to project awards, with the aim to:

[C]ollect data to measure the technical and social impacts of different connectivity strategies [in order to] discover patterns of success that can be repeated on a larger scale across the country, and to catalog the distinctions that emerge based on variations in the communities served.

The Application Process

An RFP will come out in the next few weeks, with winners chosen by early spring. From the website, competitive applications will:

Be chosen based on the use of innovative technologies, such as mesh networks and new spectrum access solutions, as well as creative deployment models that leverage both public and private sector partners. Participating teams should draw from some combination of academic, nonprofit, industry, government, student, and volunteer partners. The five proposals ultimately selected will reflect a mix of population density characteristics, demographics, geographic regions, housing types, local and industry collaborations, and technical approaches.

US Ignite is an initiative of the National Science Foundation’s Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) which aims to advance connectivity efforts around the country. It leans heavily on creating partnerships between private, public, educational, and nonprofit entities to develop next-generation network technology, experiment with open access, and explore the potential of software-defined networks. As part of this effort it plays a role in advancing the work done by the Global Environment for Network Innovations’ (GENI) virtual laboratory. 28 cities around the country are US Ignite Communities. 

Opening Up Possibilities

In the last few months we’ve seen plenty of examples of wireless networks put together by cities in response to the ongoing public health crisis using existing, city-woned fiber assets, in places like San Rafael, California, McAllen, Texas, Champaign, Illinois, and elsewhere.

Because of the project’s timeline (they want not only deployment but significant data collected within a year of the award), successful applications will need to have political, regulatory, financial, and logistical hurdles identified with a plan for success.

Lee Davenport, Director of Community Development for US Ignite, said of the project

Because large-scale efforts to expand broadband access can take years to complete, we’ve designed this project to take advantage of innovative approaches that connect people quickly, and that have the potential to be scaled out to other communities nationwide.

In August US Ignite released "Broadband Models for Unserved and Underserved Communities" [pdf], which argued that more than a third of all US municipalities are not well served by current Internet Service Providers (ISPs). The report explored five models that communities could take to expand broadband access, ranging from fully private service to full municipal broadband, and provided a roadmap for communities looking to improve access and foster competition.