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Austin, UT could play in battle for telecom millions

Monday, March 13, 2017 by Chad Swiatecki

Austin and the University of Texas have the potential intellectual and research firepower needed to compete for a portion of $100 million in National Science Foundation and private tech industry money and in-kind services aimed at creating city-scale advancements in using wireless data in everyday life, and improving the infrastructure that data requires.

The award process, which begins this year, was announced during a Friday panel at South by Southwest titled “Wireless Network Innovation: Smart City Foundation” that brought together local and federal government leaders with managers of telecommunications giants Intel and Verizon.

The Platforms for Advanced Wireless Research project was created to encourage local governments and the research universities near them to partner on “research platforms” that will open up new ways to use increasingly prevalent sensors, video and other methods of data collection. Awards will be announced in annual groups over a seven-year period.

The guidelines for the PAWR project and the eventual submission process is available at

The panel announcing the collaborative project involving 25 technology industry vendors was highlighted by Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed, who said that the country’s creative talent is flocking to innovative cities like his and Austin, and they expect to have a robust digital infrastructure available to create new companies and projects.

“Cities are ascendant, because they’re where hope meets the street,” Reed said. “Advances are coming at a time when people are bringing dreams to cities, but they have old infrastructure and these people are coming into places where things have been done a very old, same way. What we’re all going to have to figure out is how to embrace interest in cities and embrace tech to make cities a place for everyone.”

Reed said improved technology utilization is a must for leading-edge cities that want to improve services for residents and deal with pressures to reduce budgets and taxes. He also pointed to Atlanta’s North Avenue Corridor innovation district and partnerships with the Georgia Institute of Technology, Georgia State University and Emory University as the kind of public and academic pairings that could lead to a successful PAWR project application.

Joe Kochan, chief operating officer of the US Ignite nonprofit that will oversee PAWR, said the request for proposals outline is still being finalized but stressed that a combination of academic research and commitment from government leaders to marshal public resources would be needed for winning projects.

“We want this to be a real competition and need places to come with their hand up, willing to do the things to make this happen,” he said. “This can be an engine of economic development and to be a place where innovation happens. That brings people in to create an ecosystem.”

Asked after the session about the possibilities for a city like Austin, which has potential resources with the University of Texas and Texas State University nearby, Kochan said applicants should think big on the technology component of their proposals but aim at specific problems or improvements in everyday life that could be realized by improved data infrastructure.

“From a technology perspective we want it to be pretty blue sky, because there are lots and lots of sensors out there and more coming into use everyday,” he said. “From the point of view of the respondent to a proposal, I want to see things that are creative and unique to the citizens of each particular city.”

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