Congress chops budget for future Internet

Congress has balked at fully funding the high-profile $100 million Next Generation Internet (NGI) initiative and has removed or drastically reduced the initiative's funds for the project's two lead agencies.

The Energy Department has been hit the hardest by congressional budget appropriations. The Senate and the House of Representatives refused to provide DOE with any NGI funding for fiscal 1998. President Clinton requested $35 million for DOE's NGI efforts.

The Defense Department's fate is less clear the Senate allocated $10 million of the $40 million that the president requested for the next fiscal year. A House appropriations subcommittee approved $50 million for the project. Differences will be ironed out in conference. The three other NGI agencies - all slated to receive substantially smaller amounts for the project - appear to have emerged unscathed from the appropriations process.

NGI is designed to develop the next-generation network fabric and connect universities and federal research entities at rates that are 100 to 1 000 times faster than today's Internet.

According to a Senate committee budget report legislators believe that scientific research efforts at DOE would benefit from increasing Internet capabilities. But the committee decided that it is unnecessary for the government to fund the development of enabling technologies to meet the department's requirements "given the rapid rate of commercial Internet technology development " according to the report.

Gus Gloe senior government account manager at US Sprint said that because of the sheer magnitude of today's Internet the federal government will not play as dominant a role in the design of the NGI as it did for the development of the first network. However he added the government will always be in a position to contribute to technological advancement.

For example while Internet companies are tackling the problem of increasing bandwidth to alleviate clogging problems scientists are developing advanced tools to solve mission-specific problems. Both will contribute to the development of the NGI he said.

But supporters of the initiative said that reduced funding for DOE or DOD would set back the project. Each played a significant role in the development of the scientific and research networks that have mushroomed to form today's Internet.

John Cavallini former head of advanced computing at DOE and now director of technology and planning for DynCorp's Information and Engineering Technologies division said DOE and DOD each were assigned roles that are vital to the eventual deployment of an NGI. While DOD was tasked with network architecture performance and security research for the new network DOE was assigned much of the high-end application research work he said.

"It slows down progress toward advanced communication by a lot " he said. "You need a driver for a lot of this stuff." But Tom Kalil senior director of the National Economic Council and the administration's point man on the NGI initiative emphasized that the budget is not yet complete. Kalil also noted that NGI supporters have had conversations with the House Science Committee about a separate program authorization which could help the administration build support for funding.

"I still think that we have some explaining to do in terms of explaining why this is an important issue " Kalil said. "In the current budget environment things are tight and people look very closely at anything new." The NGI initiative also has drawn congressional fire in recent weeks for the exclusion of rural states from the planning process and for a lack of clear leadership lines for the multi-agency research project. The National Science Foundation last week announced steps intended to allay those concerns which were raised by legislators representing rural states.

NSF officials announced new grants to research universities in rural states to help defray the high costs of linking to the very high-performance Backbone Network Service project which will be one of the core test beds for the NGI initiative. NSF agreed to provide 18 states with up to $200 000 in funds to link with the high-speed network. The proposal came after a June hearing in which legislators from rural states expressed their concerns with the NGI initiative.

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