{Editor’s note: Joe Freddoso is president and chief executive officer of MCNC, which operates the statewide North Carolina Research and Education Network, or NCREN.)

RESEARCH TRIANGLE PARK, N.C. – Can high-speed networks really help us meet the world’s grand challenges like trying to feed a world of 9 billion people by 2050?

Chris Vein, chief innovation officer for Global Information and Communications Technology Development at the World Bank believes it.

Researchers in this world of big data need to collaborate more. Researchers must approach the world of big science and big data with the four V’s of discovery: Volume, Velocity, Variety, and Veracity. That’s what Renssellar Polytechnic Institute (RPI) President Shirley Ann Jackson believes.

Blair Levin author of the National Broadband Plan and now Senior Fellow at the Aspen Institute says government should heed the wise words of St. Francis: Preach the gospel and if necessary use words. Blair said sometimes government and government regulatory agencies focus too much on the words and not enough on the action steps.

Myra Best, executive director at DigiLEARN, Jane Patterson, president of Jane Patterson & Associates and former executive director of the e-NC Authority, Phil Emer, director of technology planning and policy at The William & Ida Friday Institute for Educational Innovation at NC State University, and MCNC Chief Technology Officer Mark Johnson painted a great picture of how policy, planning, advocacy and action led North Carolina to having 98 percent of North Carolina’s K-12 schools connected to dedicated fiber. This is the highest recorded rate of fiber connection in the country.

Myra, Jane, Phil and Mark gave attendees at the Broadband Communities Conference in Austin, Texas last week a view of the complexities of working across and between government, public education, and nonprofit as well as for-profit to accomplish a goal of equity of access to education in K-12.

These were just some of the highlights of last week’s Internet2 Global Summit in Denver and the Broadband Communities Summit in Austin. It truly was a gigafied week.

In Denver, I saw first hand how researchers, faculty and students are using the new Internet2 100 gigabit network, and how the network is helping speed collaboration and discovery in areas as diverse as weather prediction, energy grid management and medical discovery.

Dr. Jackson’s presentation was a highlight for me, because RPI works with IBM and others to harness the power of super computers linked by the Internet2 network. Researchers are beginning to collaborate across disciplines and are finding that one researchers “trash data or extemporaneous data” is another researchers “treasure data.”

The result is a pace of scientific discovery that is unmatched in history.

In Austin, I learned how states, cities and towns are approaching the “race to the gig” we are now seeing here in the Triangle.

For the first time, I saw that the market is becoming slightly a sellers market – with providers now interested in competing to build gigabit infrastructure in areas all around the country. The price for building fiber-optic infrastructure for last and middle-mile builds, and the price for wireless last-mile connections in less dense and populous areas are decreasing. More and more service providers are willing to look at gig service because their price of operation is shrinking.

I firmly believe we can all thank Google for generating the “gigafy” discussion.

I also believe huge assists go to Blair Levin and the team that authored the National Broadband Plan including the Triangle’s own Elise Kohn, who now runs the North Carolina Next Generation Network (NCNGN) effort, and to the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) and the Broadband Technology Opportunities Program (BTOP) for putting fiber infrastructure in the ground that can be shared with for-profit providers at very attractive rates.

Assistant Secretary for Communications and Information at the U.S. Department of Commerce and NTIA Administrator Larry Strickling and the entire NTIA team did amazing work administrating grants and helping grantees deliver on their promises. These seedlings planted five years ago are beginning to take root.

It was a great week – first seeing how high-speed connections are linking great researchers whose work is increasingly addressing the grand challenges of the human condition at the Internet2 Global Summit, and then seeing the fervor in which cities, towns and states are pursuing gigabit service at the Broadband Communities Summit.

Thankfully, North Carolina is in the position to again lead others in this race.