WASHINGTON — Lafayette is teaming up in the brand-new US Ignite Partnership in a national broadband effort that federal officials said could make the city the “living lab for health innovation for the U.S.”
The White House on Thursday morning will announce the beginning of the private-public US Ignite effort as well as a signed executive order from President Barack Obama intended to fast-track the expansion of the nation’s broadband Internet infrastructure.
Lafayette and the University of Louisiana at Lafayette are part of 25 communities and 60 universities nationwide with an existing broadband base chosen to participate in the US Ignite effort from its launch.
The partnership is designed to better link the nation electronically and create more advances in areas like health care, education, workforce development and public safety, said Tom Kalil, deputy director for the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy.
A fax machine is useless if only one person has one, Kalil said, so the goal is to jumpstart advances in right-sized communities with strong existing broadband access and then eventually grow from 25 communities to at least 200 linked together.
“What we’re able to do is have a network of networks,” he said. “We think it’s the right time to take the next step.”
The White House announcement reads that, “Through US Ignite, Lafayette will be an active partner in developing the future of healthcare through the power of gigabit networks and software-defined networking — addressing such complex societal challenges as childhood obesity, aging in place, emergency medicine, and workplace health.”
Ramesh Kolluru, director of the ULL Center for Business and Information Technology, is helping lead the effort from Louisiana, and he is participating at the White House event Thursday morning.
Lafayette was a great fit for this project because of the combination of the city’s research capabilities, broadband infrastructure and modest city size, Kolluru said.
The city-owned Lafayette Utilities System broadband system, called LUS Fiber, in April announced it would begin offering a gigabit-per-second Internet speed that is more than 100 times faster than the typical broadband Internet connection. The gigabit service also is roughly 10 times faster than what had been LUS Fiber’s premium offer of 100 megabits per second.
With the upcoming federally mandated Health Information Exchange forcing the transfer of medical records online, Kolluru said, he sees Louisiana ultimately serving as a national model and moving out of 49th rankings nationally on all the good health lists.
Such potential innovations range from parents always having easy access to their children’s immunization records, he said, to the elderly receiving health-care services from their residences through broadband teleconferencing and sensors.
“We are going to bring health care to where you are,” Kolluru said.
He said the partnership advanced rapidly in just a few months after preliminary conversations with Todd Park, who headed technology for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, and who was promoted in March as the nation’s chief technology officer. The first Cajun Code Fest computing competition in April at ULL also impressed federal officials, Kolluru said.
“Silicon Bayou, aka Lafayette, Louisiana, is the best kept secret reservoir of innovation mojo in America,” Park said at the time.
As a major partner in US Ignite, the National Science Foundation announced it is expanding its initial four-year, $40 million investment in the Global Environment for Networking Innovations project, called GENI, and invest an extra $20 million to link more research universities.
But that does not mean a lot of extra federal money is heading directly to Lafayette.
Kolluru said the project is in its early stages and “the funding is still an evolving piece of this puzzle.”
But apart from partnering with plenty of local and statewide entities, Kolluru said major corporations like Microsoft, Intel and Northrop Grumman are all expressing interest in teaming up with the Lafayette efforts.
“If it works in Lafayette, it can work in the rest of Louisiana and more,” he said. “There’s no reason it can’t work in Mississippi or Kansas.”