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A start-up company plans to announce Wednesday that it has raised $200 million to deliver ultrahigh-speed Internet service in six communities surrounding research universities around the country.
The company, Gigabit Squared, will work with Gig.U, an alliance of public and private universities that want to build islands of superfast networks to foster economic development and to promote services like education, health care and scientific research in the communities.
The six communities have not been named. Gigabit Squared, based in Cleveland Heights, Ohio, is in negotiations with its first university and says it will make announcements about timing and participation later this year.
Mark Ansboury, the company’s president and co-founder, said the investment in high-speed wired networks was needed because American telephone and cable companies had shifted their focus to wireless systems, which are convenient but much slower.
“The big carriers built their fiber-to-the-home systems, but we have really seen them pull back in recent years,” he said.
He noted that the United States was falling behind other nations that have moved aggressively to build high-speed Internet infrastructures. It ranked 13th in average connection speed in a survey last year by the network service provider Akamai; the world leader was South Korea, followed by Japan, Hong Kong, the Netherlands and Latvia.
The world’s fastest city was Daegu, South Korea, at 21.8 megabits per second, followed by five other South Korean cities and eight cities in Japan.
Boston, with an average bandwidth of 8.4 megabits, was fastest in the United States but ranked just 51st on the Akamai list.
The United States has not always trailed in broadband speeds. In 1996, @Home, an Internet service provider started by a number of cable companies, charged $40 a month for download speeds up to 5 megabits.
“A decade and a half later we’ve basically doubled our download speeds and we charge roughly the same,” said Milo Medin, the designer of the @Home network service. Today he is vice president of access services at Google, where he is leading an effort to demonstrate the value of ultrahigh-speed networking.
Last year Google selected Kansas City, Mo., to build a prototype for speeds of at least a gigabit — 1,000 megabits per second. The company originally said it would offer the service in the first half of this year, but the date has slipped and Mr. Medin said the details would be announced soon.
Google has already deployed a small demonstration network in homes next to the Stanford campus.
“When our first user was installed, the first thing they did was test the speed of the network and then they downloaded a movie from Apple’s iTunes service,” Mr. Medin said. The service said the movie would take about two and a half hours to download, but it took five minutes.
Gigabit Squared described the next generation of Internet service as two gigabits — about 2,000 megabits per second, roughly 71 times the speed of a standard cable modem.
Still, there is some debate about the value of ultrahigh-speed networking. Most Internet engineers agree that very few applications require such high speeds, except in specialized areas like scientific research and remote medical technology. But proponents argue that the same thing was true in the period between dial-up Internet service and today’s higher-speed links.
“If you treat the communications space as entering into an era of abundance rather than scarcity,” said Reed Hundt, a former chairman of the Federal Communications Commission, “you can imagine very different use cases.”
Only by deploying next generation networks will it be possible to determine whether services like advanced online education systems and remote medical diagnosis and health care are really the wave of the future.
Gig.U is the brainchild of Blair Levin, former director of the government’s 2010 National Broadband Plan, which originally called for high-speed network islands around military bases. Mr. Levin later settled on university communities as a better starting base for future Internet services.
Even though major communications firms are not pushing toward higher speeds, there are pilot efforts at gigabit networking in several states, including Tennessee, Louisiana and California.
For example, Sonic.net, a regional Internet service provider based in Northern California, is offering gigabit networks to homes on several blocks in Sebastopol, north of San Francisco.
The service is $59.95 a month, said Dane Jasper, Sonic.net’s chief executive, who added, “It’s the fastest and cheapest broadband in America — although it’s admittedly a small footprint.”