Next-Generation Internet Plan Downgraded in Congress


Next-Generation Internet Plan Downgraded in Congress

By Neil Munro
Staff Writer

The $300 million White House plan to develop next-generation Internet technology, which has been cut back during recent congressional budget negotiations, is also running into pork-barrel disputes.

The three-year Next Generation Internet project, for which the Clinton administration requested a downpayment of $100 million dollars last February, is intended to provide technology that can boost the Internet's data-handling capacity up to a thousandfold by 2001. The project is intended to develop technology that could transfer 2.5 billion bits of data per second among at least 10 sites.

Once the technology is marketed by companies such as Cisco Systems Inc., San Jose, Calif., and Bay Networks Inc., Santa Clara, Calif., it would allow new applications including cooperative research, telemedicine or distance learning.

One immediate pork-barrel issue is the location of the points of presence, which will serve as low-cost, gigabit-capacity gateways into the improved Internet. Cities, colleges and companies located near these so-called "gigapops" will have cheaper and more reliable access to the improved Internet than more distant locations, setting the stage for a high-stakes debate over the location of the gigapops.

(in Millions)
Goal 1: Experimental Research 20 2 6 2 2 - 32
Goal 2: Next Generation Network Fabric 20 7 25 3 - - 55
Goal 3: Revolutionary Applications - 1 4 5 3 5 18
Total 40 10 35 10 5 5 105

"We want to make sure the Northwest states are connected [and] we'd like to see [that] Seattle has a gigapop," said Jack Krum-holtz, Washington representatives for Microsoft Corp., which is based near Seattle in Redmond, Wash.

The project's first-year 1998 budget request for $100 million was cut to $78 million in the budget plan approved by the House of Representatives because White House officials failed to deliver a development plan on time, said Rep. James Sensenbrenner, R-Wisc., chairman of the House Committee on Science. The Senate Committee on Appropriations has approved a 1998 budget of only $35 million for the NGI.

Negotiators for the Senate and House will meet to hammer out a compromise, likely leaving the NGI with a budget far short of the requested $100 million.

"I would strongly encourage the administration to rethink the [program] details ... [and] rebuild momentum for NGI by submitting legislation detailing the NGI initiative next February with the fiscal 1999 [budget] request," Sensenbrenner said at a Sept. 10 hearing before the science committee.

The draft "Next Generation Internet" research plan was delivered by the White House to Congress in July, five months after the $100 million NGI request was sent to Congress. It was prepared by representatives from the White House, universities, industry and Congress.

"Challenges are formidable, the results are unpredictable ... but it is central to the technical pre-eminence of the United States," according to Joe Thompson, a professor at Mississippi State University, Starkville, Miss., who spoke in favor of the project at Sensenbrenner's hearing.

The plan called for the research to be overseen by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, Arlington, Va., the Department of Energy, NASA, the National
Science Foundation, the National Institute of Standards and Technology in Gaithersburg, Md., and the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Md.

But the NGI project will likely benefit from other government funds during 1997, partly because many agencies and research universities are already working on related communications projects, including the less ambitious Internet 2 project.

The Internet 2 project is slated to provide high-capacity communications links among the 100 top research universities that run the project. Many of these universities receive extensive government grants for technology research. The White House's 1998 budget plan requested $188.3 million for government-sponsored research into wide area, high-capacity communications links, plus another $100 million for the NGI.

The Internet 2 project is also tangled in the debate over the location of the gigapops, which could reduce a university's annual cost for a link to the improved Internet to only $250,000, said Thompson. But if the university is located far from a gigapop, its annual bill could rise severalfold, he said.

That concern over costs reflects growing technological competition between universities vying for tech-savvy students, said David Farber, a professor of telecommunications systems at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia.

Students are looking for technologically advanced colleges, and colleges are competing by offering to teach distant students via emerging education networks. "It is a shoot-out worldwide," because universities through the United States are also competing with overseas universities in countries such as Singapore, he said.

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