Bill would guarantee funding for Next Generation Internet

After Congress balked last year at fully funding President Clinton's $105 million request for the high-powered Next Generation Internet (NGI) program, a Senate bill that was introduced this month would guarantee for the next two fiscal years almost the full amount the administration had been seeking to develop the network.

The Next Generation Internet Research Act of 1998, introduced by Sen. Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) and Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), would give six agencies a total of $102.5 million in fiscal 1999 and $115 million in fiscal 2000. The bill is the first to target separate funding for the NGI program. Last year, NGI funding was embedded in individual agency budgets.

Some lawmakers had complained that Clinton's NGI program, which has a goal of increasing the present speed of the Internet by as much as 1,000 times, lacked focus and neglected research universities in rural states when doling out funds. As a result, Congress allocated only $85 million of the $105 million Clinton requested for fiscal 1998.

The bill, which would amend the High-Performance Computing Act of 1991, would ask a presidential computing advisory committee formed last year to ensure that the role of each agency's NGI work is clear and does not duplicate other efforts in the federal government. The legislation also calls for the committee to address concerns regarding disproportionately greater costs for Internet users in rural areas because of increased distances from a network.

A Frist spokesman said the bill has bipartisan support and that separate legislation was needed to give "focus and direction" to NGI. The bill has been referred to the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation. No hearings have yet been scheduled.

Although the legislation and the Clinton administration's proposal for the NGI are nearly identical, the new bill would fund the Energy Department and NASA at $5 million each less for NGI work than what the president's plan earmarked for those agencies.

Tom Kalil, senior director of the National Economic Council and the administration's point man for the program, said he thought the funding differences could be ironed out. "We're delighted to see such strong bipartisan support," he said. "It raises the level of awareness and support for the initiative overall for the Hill."

In addition to NASA and the DOE, the following agencies would also receive NGI funding under the new bill: the Defense Department, the National Science Foundation, the National Institutes of Health and the National Institute of Standards and Technology.

Additional co-sponsors of the bill include Sen. Ernest Hollings (D-S.C.), Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) and Sen. Conrad Burns (R-Mont.).

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