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Super Internet Waiting Online Washington Legislature Mulls Funding Next-Generation Network For $3 Million

Wed., March 4, 1998

What’s faster than a speeding bullet - 622 million bits per second, to be exact - and able to download the contents of the Library of Congress twice a day?

The next-generation global computing network known as Internet2, and it soon could be coming to a school or high-tech business near you.

A $3 million provision in the budget plans being considered by the Washington Legislature would make the speedy state-of-the-art technology available to students and researchers across the Northwest within the next year or so.

If the provision remains intact when the Legislature adjourns its 1998 session next week, the University of Washington would become a hub in the vBNS, or “very high speed Backbone Network System,” a new scientists-only component of the next generation Internet that exchanges data at speeds that leave World Wide Web users in a cloud of bits and bytes.

Researchers and businesses believe the urgency of the moment cannot be understated.

Supporters say joining the “Next Generation Internet initiative,” as coined by the Clinton administration, will allow ground-floor participation in a new world of multimedia learning, telemedicine and Internet commerce.

It also would mean a boon to research universities in Washington, Idaho Oregon, Alaska and Montana as well as to companies on the cuttingedge of technology, including Microsoft, Boeing, Teledesic, GTE and Visio.

“The Internet2 train is about to leave the station and either we’re on it or we’re not. It’s a critical time for this to happen,” said Ed Lazowska, chairman of the UW’s Computer Science and Engineering Department. “This will make the Pacific Northwest a major player in the next generation Internet.”

The vBNS started in 1995 as a fiber-optic loop connecting the nation’s five supercomputing centers. Researchers need it because the Internet, the vast computer network originally built for scientists, is slowing down as regular folks send electronic mail, play games and download video clips.

In response, MCI Telecommunications Corp. built the vBNS to allow scientists to collect and share large amounts of data and run complex equipment from remote sites.

The network is currently designed to run at 622 million bits per second, or 21,000 times faster than the average modem on a home computer transmitting 28,800 bits per second, according to the National Science Foundation, a government agency that decides which researchers and projects get access to the network.

At the current speed, MCI says, 322 copies of a 300-page book can be sent every seven seconds. Plans call for increasing the capacity to 2.4 billion bits per second by the year 2000.

The National Science Foundation, which once managed the original Internet, last year authorized the UW to connect to the vBNS and, more importantly, to operate a hub known in computer lingo as a “gigapop.” The hub will allow other businesses and institutions to connect to the network and it is where the most significant research and development takes place.

But the foundation’s $350,000 grant won’t pay for the installation and setup, so the UW asked the Legislature for $4.6 million. Lawmakers and the governor have agreed to an initial investment of $3 million, an amount that UW officials say would be just enough to get started.

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