Who will lead broadband into the future? Who will come up with the innovative technologies and services that will push the country forward in the information age? Cable companies? Maybe. Students? Quite possibly.

The White House Office of Science and Technology has this on the role of student innovation:

Students have contributed (pdf) some of the most important advances in information and communications technologies—including data compression, interactive computer graphics, Ethernet, Berkeley Unix, the spreadsheet, public key cryptography, speech recognition, Mosaic, and Google.

Today, with the right kind of support, students can play the role of innovators again—by leading the way in the development of broadband applications. In the same way that Mosaic and Google drove demand for today’s Internet, new applications could drive demand for a gigabit/second Internet and 4G wireless. Indeed, a key component of the Federal Communications Commission’s recently released National Broadband Plan is the development of new broadband applications.

Now is the time to launch an initiative that would cultivate, with student involvement, such a wave of innovation. Although it’s impossible to predict what the next generation of applications will be, universities, companies, and students could work together under such an initiative, which would serve as a sort of “Petri dish” where new ideas could incubate and grow. This initiative could be led by the private sector, encourage multi-campus and even global collaboration, build on investments already made in high-speed research networks such asInternet2 and National LambdaRail, and take advantage of a growing number of grants from the Department of Commerce’s Broadband Technology Opportunities Program (BTOP).

The initiative could have a number of elements, including:

  • Campus-based incubators for the development of broadband applications, with access to high-speed networks, cutting-edge peripherals, software development kits, and cloud computing services.
  • Relevant courses that encourage multidisciplinary teams of students to design and develop broadband applications.
  • Competitions that recognize compelling applications developed by students. Some existing competitions that could serve as models include Google’s Android Developer Challenge, Microsoft’s Imagine Cup, and the FCC-Knight Foundation’s “Apps for Inclusion” competition.
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