Splinter networks will fix bandwidth ills, but development is slow

It seems that good ideas come in twos on the Internet.


A perfect example involves Internet 2 and UseNet II. They're taking a while to get off
the ground, but they hold enormous promise for government users who can take advantage of
them.


Of the two, Internet 2 shows more promise. It's an effort to develop ultra-high-speed
private TCP/IP networks just for government research centers and universities.


As the Internet fills with commercial traffic, it has become difficult for these
institutions to get enough bandwidth for work projects such as distance learning,
real-time multimedia collaboration and virtual reality simulations.


A dedicated high-speed network--the original goal behind the Internet--would give them
the bandwidth they need. Projected rates could go as high as 600 million bits/sec using
asynchronous transfer mode and Synchronous Optical Network connections.


Unfortunately, progress on Internet 2 has slowed down.


President Clinton's Next Generation Internet effort, described at http://www.ngi.gov/, has adopted Internet 2's central goals
in a request for $100 million for advanced networking in 1998. That request has stalled in
the House Science Committee. But Internet 2 lives on. A coordinating World Wide Web site
appears at http://www.internet2.edu/.


Internet 2 has more than 100 participating universities and research centers that
continue to work with the help of corporate sponsors and some National Science Foundation
funding.


For example, the Consortium for Education Network Initiatives in California is working
under NSF grants to help to develop CalREN-2, a research network that will link to the
larger Internet 2 as it develops.


The second-generation Internet effort isn't limited to the United States. The Canadian
Network for the Advancement of Research, Industry and Education is developing a CA*net II
in a similar way.


What makes this exciting is that Internet 2 will serve as a test bed for technologies
that later could transfer to the commercial Internet. The government's research centers
will benefit at first, but eventually all agency users will profit as services such as ATM
become ubiquitous on other networks.


Meanwhile, UseNet II is evolving for the same reasons. People who relied on the
Internet's UseNet groups to track issues and talk with colleagues became disgusted when
spammers overran the international message-board system with commercials.


UseNet II will attempt to recreate the old UseNet model of cooperation and trust, say
its organizers, who are known as czars. Their doctrines appear at http://www.usenet2.org/.


The old UseNet's problems were too vast to sort out, and there were a lot of legal gray
areas when it came to spammer censorship. So the UseNet II czars decided to build
something similar with strict user guidelines.


Like the original UseNet, UseNet II uses the Network News Transport Protocol over
TCP/IP networks. But no participating site is required to carry articles from any other
site. Participants and sites alike must adhere to the rules or be dropped from UseNet II.
Monitors can legally cancel posts originating from problem sites.


Another good thing about UseNet II is that it's text-only--no binary files allowed.
There are plenty of other ways to exchange files these days. Participants don't need to
pig up UseNet servers with silly programs and images.


How can the government take advantage of UseNet II?


It would be nice if the .gov message area moved there. Commercial advertisements on
.gov aren't a big problem yet, but why should government users put up with any spam?


It also would be nice to see government Internet servers carry UseNet II groups. With
the ads, prurient content and flame wars stripped out, this model of collaboration can
once again become the wonderful resource it used to be.


Shawn P. McCarthy is a computer journalist, webmaster and Internet programmer for GCN's
parent, Cahners Publishing Co. E-mail him at smccarthy@cahners.com.


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