Link to ARC home page.

ARC Partners in AIR.U Consortium to Expand Broadband Access in Underserved Rural Communities

June 2012


WASHINGTON, June 28, 2012—An Appalachian Regional Commission (ARC)–supported consortium of higher-education associations, public interest groups, and high-tech companies has announced the creation of the AIR.U (advanced Internet regions) partnership to deploy Super Wi-Fi networks that will upgrade the broadband Internet access available to underserved university campuses and their surrounding communities.

The founding higher-education organizations collectively represent over 500 colleges and universities nationwide and include the United Negro College Fund, the New England Board of Higher Education, the Corporation for Education Network Initiatives in California, the National Institute for Technology in Liberal Education, and Gig.U, a consortium of 37 major universities committed to accelerating broadband connectivity and services.

In addition to ARC, founding partners also include Microsoft, Google, the Open Technology Institute at the New America Foundation, and Declaration Networks Group, LLC, a newly created organization established to plan, deploy, and operate Super Wi-Fi technologies.

AIR.U will focus on upgrading broadband offerings in communities that, because of their educational mission, have greater-than-average broadband demand but, because of their rural or small-town location, often have below-average service. The effort will deploy technology that accesses unused television channels ("white spaces") to significantly expand the coverage and capacity of high-speed wireless connectivity both on and off campuses. Super Wi-Fi networks will transmit on much lower frequencies than current wi-fi, allowing the broadband signals to penetrate further into buildings and cover much larger areas.

ARC Federal Co-Chair Earl F. Gohl, noting the urgency of providing high-speed Internet access in rural Appalachia, welcomed the partnership: "Appalachian communities cannot afford to wait for high-speed service to be delivered to them. Partnerships like this one put existing spectrum assets to work, and, as a result, more quickly provide rural communities the high-speed service they need in order to compete with the rest of the world."

Robert Rucker, vice president for operations and technology at the United Negro College Fund, said, "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. 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."

The consortium's initial goal is to plan and deploy several pilot networks in diverse university communities and create a roadmap for the rapid deployment of sustainable, next-generation wireless networks as white-space equipment becomes widely available in 2013.

The AIR.U consortium expects one or more pilot networks to be operational by the first quarter of 2013.