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Gore unveils Internet2 backbone

Vice President Al Gore unveils a superfast computer network backbone connecting U.S. universities to the Internet2 project.

A superfast computer network backbone connecting U.S. universities that could lead to a much speedier Internet was unveiled today by Vice President Al Gore.

The high-speed Internet protocol (IP) network backbone, dubbed Abilene, is being developed by the University Corporation for Advanced Internet Development (UCAID). The network uses the nationwide Qwest fiber optic network and technologies provided by Cisco Systems and Nortel.

The backbone will serve universities participating in Internet2, a new computer network to be funded by $500 million in private investments.

CNET Radio talks to Internet2 Project's Greg Wood
The network is expected to begin operation before year's end, with full deployment completed by the end of 1999. The Abilene project will interconnect with existing advanced research and education networks, such as the National Science Foundation's very high performance Backbone Network Service (vBNS).

Qwest also announced last week that it would provide the backbone for the Corporation for Education Network Initiatives in California's project, dubbed CalREN-2. The high-speed network goes live in June to link together more than a dozen private and public universities, and eventually it will hook into Internet2.

Internet2 will not be available immediately to the public, but technology and applications developed on the university system are expected eventually to help speed up the global Internet.

That would allow a host of new uses for the Internet, which has become bogged down amid tremendous growth and limited transmission capacity. With faster and more reliable access, the network could be used to transmit live sound and pictures allowing, for example, doctors to consult on operations performed thousands of miles away.

The Internet2 project, started in 1996, includes more than 100 universities and a host of private company sponsors such as 3Com and MCI Communications.

The project is closely related to the Clinton administration's Next Generation Internet initiative. In his 1997 State of the Union address, President Clinton pledged to build a new Internet that would be 100 to 1,000 times faster than the current network.

While the Internet2 project is using university and private sector funds to build a superfast network, the next generation initiative is using government money to fund basic research about using the faster network. Clinton asked Congress for $110 million for the next generation initiative in his fiscal 1999 budget.

Both projects are intended to develop new technologies that will trickle down to the global Internet as well as private computer networks.

"We think this is the cutting edge that's going to define how our products shape next generation networks," said David Katz, 3Com's director of global education markets. "What happens here will be happening in other industries in a very short period of time."

Katz said 3Com awarded grants to ten universities in the Internet2 group for advanced networking research.

Last month, the government awarded 23 members of the Internet2 group, ranging from Columbia University in New York to the University of Wyoming, grants to connect to vBNS.

The vBNS theoretically can transfer data at a rate of 622 million bits per second, compared to a home modem's speed of 28,800 bits per second. The network is expected to be upgraded to 2,400 million bits per second eventually.

Qwest chief executive Joseph Nacchio said there was no direct connection between today's deal and his company's efforts to keep Net telephony unregulated. Qwest is rolling out a nationwide network to carry voice calls over the Net, which could cut long distance phone bills in half.

On Friday, the Federal Communications Commission said firms that carry phone calls over the Internet should not be designated as long distance carriers?which for now means the industry won't face new fees. But the FCC did leave the door open for future regulation on a case-by-case basis.

"I understand what they are concerned about, but there needs to be rule-making procedures," Nacchio said today. "I think there needs to be a lot of debate about imposing regulation on the most innovative segment of the industry."

Reuters contributed to this report.