ALAN SCHER ZAGIERCOLUMBIA, Mo. (AP) â¿¿ The University of Missouri announced Wednesday that is joining an effort by some of the country's top colleges to build "ultra" high-speed data networks in their local communities. The project is known as Gig.U: The University Community Next Generation Innovation Project. The 29 participating schools include Arizona State, Duke, Florida, Michigan, New Mexico, North Carolina, South Florida and Wake Forest University. The Aspen Institute, a Colorado-based nonprofit, initiated the effort. The schools and their local partners will solicit proposals from telecommunications companies in their area. They hope to quickly build high-speed broadband networks in communities with low unemployment and heavy demand for such services. "These networks drive economic growth," said University of Missouri chancellor Brady Deaton. "It will turn the entire city into a laboratory for high-bandwidth technology." Columbia Mayor Bob McDavid said the city was eager to participate after losing out to Kansas City, Kan., earlier this year as the first place to receive search engine giant Google's new super-fast broadband network, which will provide Internet connections of one gigabit per second. "The train infrastructure of the 1800s is now the bandwidth of our time," he said. "It's not an (information) pipeline anymore. It's a river. It's a torrent." The city, state and the university will share the initial $15,000 project costs but expect private investment to drive most of the effort. "We are talking scores of millions of dollars," McDavid acknowledged. Project organizers hope the effort in some of the country's most prominent college towns â¿¿ from Bloomington, Ind. to State College, Pa. â¿¿ will drive domestic production of the next generation of Internet applications in an increasingly crowded global marketplace. "A small amount of financial capital and political capital focused on upgrading university communities can yield major gains for both the future of America's leadership in research and for the American economic leadership," a project summary states. ___ Alan Scher Zagier can be reached at http://twitter.com/azagier.