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President Obama signed an executive order Thursday to create a national 1 gigabit per second broadband network (pdf fact sheet), under a newly created non-profit partnership called US Ignite.

The network would serve as a test bed for next-generation applications in areas such as education, health care and clean energy.

The National Science Foundation is the lead Federal agency for US Ignite, and will expand its initial 4-year, ~$40 million investment in the Global Environment for Networking Innovations (GENI) project, which currently connects more than a dozen universities with ultra-high-speed, programmable networks. About 100 partners (pdf) are helping US Ignite, with some providing in-kind backing, including Cisco Systems, Juniper Networks, NEC and Hewlett-Packard.

The National Telecommunications & Information Administration says that six of the companies building or upgrading plant with Recovery Act broadband grant money — Merit Network, UTOPIA, Utah Education Network, Urbana-Champaign Big Broadband, and Internet2 — are joining US Ignite.

Verizon will test speeds up to 300Mbit/s in homes, businesses and institutions in Philadelphia, and support apps such as over-the-top video on TVs and portable devices. Comcast will work with universities to test new apps in its lab. The city of Chattanooga, Tenn., has agreed to provide access to its existing 1Gbit/s network.

US Ignite is starting off with agreements with 25 cities across the country that will form the initial branches of the national network.

NSF has also announced an award to the Mozilla Foundation to host an open innovation challenge, called Mozilla Ignite. This challenge will invite designers, developers, university researchers, entrepreneurs and other visionaries across America to brainstorm and build next-generation applications in areas of national priority that take advantage of advanced networks.

They’re looking for app ideas in Advanced Manufacturing, Education and Workforce Technologies, Emergency Preparedness and Public Safety, Healthcare Technologies and Clean Energy and Transportation.

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