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Banding together for bandwidth

Thirty-four major universities quietly form a new national network to provide students with a more reliable and faster Internet, partly in an effort to bypass gridlock on the original and newly commercialized system.

A new national network is quietly being formed by 34 major universities to provide students with a more reliable and faster Internet, partly in an effort to bypass gridlock on the original and newly commercialized system.

The new network, to be called Internet II, is similar to the National Science Foundation's initiative with MCI to provide 13 U.S. universities with $350,000 each to build a better Internet.

The Net's roots date back to the late 1960s, when it was created to aid communication between university-based researchers. But its purpose has vastly changed since the PC explosion transformed the Internet to a mass market medium. That change has sparked complaints from academics and researchers who say the gridlock can hamper their research efforts.

Internet II, perhaps more akin to the intranets being started by corporations to communicate, is intended to allow students to use the Internet for high-speed transmission of voice, video, and data, according to officials at Educom, a consortium of 600 colleges and 100 companies that promote computing in higher education.

Internet II researchers will be given bandwidth to provide students with digital libraries and the tools to conduct online research.

The NSF also plans to give universities access to its high-speed computer network called the Backbone Network Service. The backbone will provide high-bandwidth networking for research applications and can transfer data at 155 mbps, more than 5,000 times the speed of a standard 28.8-kbps modem.

Like the NSF project, researchers of the Internet II project hope to receive funding by computer companies and the federal government.

The decision to move ahead with the plan stems from a meeting of campus technology officers in Chicago last week, according to the Chronicle of Higher Education, which broke the story in its October 11 issue.

Participating schools include Stanford University, Pennsylvania State University, and the Universities of Chicago, Michigan, North Carolina, and California.