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Private dollars wanted for next Net

The federal government holds a briefing to rope in commercial technology partners for the three-year, $3 million Next Generation Internet initiative.

SANTA CLARA, California--A White House official's call was dropped when he tried to patch into a high-tech industry meeting about the Next Generation Internet (NGI) today--a timely demo of the network's need for a facelift.

NASA's Ames Research Center hosted the federal government's briefing today in hopes of roping in commercial technology partners to help build the Clinton administration's three-year, $3 million NGI initiative.

The NGI initiative aims to build a faster, smarter Internet, creating new applications and networking technologies to improve communication among the nation's academic and research centers. In some cases, NGI will route data at 1,000 times the speed of today's network and will be able to store bandwidth for real-time data transmission.

The audience laughed when the videoconferencing connection from Washington to the Techmart here crashed. But the White House's senior director of the National Economic Council, Thomas Kalil, spun the mishap into a plea for his cause.

"This certainly shows why dependability and reliability need to be a priority for the Next Generation Internet," Kalil said when he finally got connected.

Just as the private sector and universities assisted in creating ARPANET, the precursor to the Internet, Kalil and representatives from NASA and the Energy Department want companies and the government to build the NGI as a team.

Companies could benefit by receiving federal funds for research and development; they would be able to keep copyrights of their products in order to commercialize them, said Maylene Duenas of NASA Ames.

In return the government will get input and expertise from the industry without re-creating existing private research or making the same mistakes. Federal agencies and research facilities also need NGI to shoot huge volumes of secure data across the country.

"Past investments in this area have a high return on investment," Kalil said. "We would like to see the United States maintain its position as a charter of innovation."

California is already heading up a private/public Internet partnership.

The Corporation for Network Education Initiatives in California's (CENIC) goal is to oversee the development and operation of an improved data network between the state's university research centers.

Pacific Bell has already struck a deal to set aside some of its bandwidth for the project. "Private involvement is critical," Susan Astrada, executive director of CENIC, said today. "There is no way the academic community could afford it."

Sun, Cisco, Silicon Graphics, Novell, Lucent Technologies, and MCI have already endorsed NGI or plan to work on the project in various capacities.

Although the general public won't be able use the infrastructure for five to ten years, the NGI initiative makes several promises that the White House says will trickle down to all Net surfers.

For example, developers are working with the creators of Internet 2, a separate project funded by academia.

More than 100 universities across the country are spearheading the project to develop new computer network applications to help improve their teaching and research facilities. The academic community will invest $50 million a year to connect the schools' students and faculty at speeds 100 times faster than the current network.

Another component of NGI will connect just ten research facilities nationwide at speeds 1,000 times faster than the Internet.

This means the Energy Department could send its reports of global climate changes over the NGI in 15 seconds. The data takes 15 minutes to send now, said Martha Krebs of the government agency.

Not all are happy with Clinton's plan for the next Internet. Yesterday, senators from Alaska to Montana told the president's technical advisers that NGI was leaving out rural universities by turning only to well-known urban institutions for guidance.