A new U.S. initiative could light a fire under the country’s brightest app developers.

Called the US Ignite Partnership, the public-private effort between the federal government, cities, universities, broadband providers and ultimately, citizens, seeks development of approximately 60 next-generation applications over the next five years that capitalize on the untapped potential of high-speed broadband networks.

Launched on June 14, the partnership will bring work to 25 cities throughout the U.S. The goal is to combine the power of municipalities, universities, vendors and the federal government to create a nationwide high-speed broadband test bed to work on new applications centered on six high-priority areas — education and workforce development, advanced manufacturing, health, transportation, public safety and clean energy.

According to a statement on the partnership’s website, there’s approximately $500,000 in monetary awards for ideas that make it to a design and development stage.

The effort will piggyback on the work being done by the National Science Foundation (NSF) with its Global Environment for Networking Innovation (GENI) project. The NSF will be the lead federal agency for US Ignite. The foundation funds GENI, which is a “virtual laboratory” created by 300 researchers and 60 universities to experiment with Internet advancements.

“Now NSF will encourage the next steps for research on GENI,” said Farnam Jahanian, assistant director of NSF’s Directorate for Computer Information Science and Engineering, in a prepared statement. “Experiments at-scale will transform cybersecurity, network performance and cloud computing research, and will jumpstart applications, which have the potential for profound societal and economic impacts.”

Christopher Mitchell, director of the Telecommunications as Commons Initiative of the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, and a national expert on community broadband effort, was supportive of US Ignite, but cautioned that in order to develop next-gen apps to the highest potential, broadband capability must be expanded.

In an email to Government Technology on June 13, Mitchell said only four communities in the U.S. have complete citywide access to gigabit connections for anyone at any time. Those cities are Bristol, Va.; Morristown, Tenn.; Lafayette, La.; and Chattanooga, Tenn.

The latter two communities have already agreed to be partners with NSF in US Ignite. Mitchell said the initiative will give additional exposure to those cities and others pursuing high-speed broadband infrastructure.

“I am excited about US Ignite because I think it’ll unleash the power of the networks communities are building which are so much higher-capacity than anything the private carriers are doing,” Mitchell said in an interview with Government Technology. “You have the best networks in the nation built by communities. But they alone don’t have the capacity to develop these next-gen applications, and US Ignite can fill that role.”

Getting a Head Start

Mozilla, the nonprofit organization behind the Firefox Web browser, concurrently announced an open innovation challenge called “Mozilla Ignite” that encourages people to take part in the overall US Ignite Initiative. According to Mozilla’s blog, the brainstorm part of the challenge runs through Aug. 23rd, with $15,000 in prize money at stake.

Santa Monica, Calif., is one of the cities that agreed to team with the US Ignite Partnership. The city already has established SM City Net, its own public fiber network, laying the foundation for next-gen application development. The city’s network comprises more than 60 buildings and provides speeds from 100 mbps to 10 gbps for users. Speeds up to 100 gbps are expected by the end of the summer.

According to a press release, Santa Monica plans to explore a variety of bandwidth-heavy applications that involve municipal operations and city priorities. Early topics being considered include telemedicine, virtual learning, regional telepresence and smart grid technology.

“When we found out about Ignite, we went ‘oh, this is great’ because we’ve always been looking at tying our hospitals regionally and getting UCLA out of Santa Monica through other business partners,” said Jory Wolf, Santa Monica’s chief information officer, in an interview with Government Technology. “But this is a much better partnership than having to lease it from a commercial provider.”

Because Santa Monica already has developed SM City Net, it has attracted a number of new media and high-tech businesses, Wolf added. The city hopes its connections with GENI will help link its researchers, businesses and startups with others in the areas of health, welfare and education.

Instead of GENI having a large presence in Santa Monica, the city’s own network will serve as the conduit to the pool of researchers within GENI to push along application development and meet the goals of US Ignite.

“There are an enormous number of companies and institutions that will benefit from this and be able to connect to GENI and participate in ways we hope will foster broadband-rich applications,” Wolf said.

Brian Heaton  |  Senior Writer

Brian Heaton is a senior writer for Government Technology. He primarily covers technology legislation and IT policy issues. Brian started his journalism career in 1999, covering sports and fitness for two trade publications based in Long Island, N.Y. He's also a member of the Professional Bowlers Association, and competes in regional tournaments throughout Northern California and Nevada.