Building the Next Generation Internet

The Next Generation Internet (NGI), a cross-agency project begun in 1996 to develop a high-capacity version of the Internet, promises a lot: massive data bandwidth, vast information resources and supercomputer-like processing power.

The benefits are obvious for research.ers in government laboratories and universities, who simply need more raw computing power. Five years later, though, the applications for agencies doing more mundane work remain uncertain.

That's the problem Commerce.Net (www.commerce.net), a California-based nonprofit organization, is trying to answer with a grant program aimed at developing applications that will show how people can conduct everyday business across the NGI. CommerceNet awarded nearly $2 million in NGI funding in October, with plans for a second round next spring.

"Widespread access to the NGI is not there yet and probably won't be until 2005 or 2006," said Richard Jllig, NGI program manager at CommerceNet. "But applications are what will drive its use, and we have to begin now to try and get around that inevitable chicken-and-egg situation of no applications being available, so people won't use it, so companies won't develop applications for it."

CommerceNet also would like to help people better understand the ramifications of the NGI. More bandwidth, for example, means more than just faster downloads.

"I think it's fair to say that the [desktop PC] era will come to an end, because with the NGI it will finally become feasible to make the application available on the Internet itself," Jllig said.

CommerceNet also is opening two NGI test and demonstration centers at the University of California, Berkeley, in the northern part of the state, and at the University of California, San Diego, in the south.

The organization hopes the tests will demonstrate how NGI applications work and how they will integrate with existing applications, Jllig said.

In particular, CommerceNet officials are interested in e-business applications, with a focus on such areas as collaborative design and product development, real-time supply chain integration, customer support with interactive video and intelligent agents, and community interaction and real-time relationship support.

The projects highlighted in the box below were winners in the first round of awards.

Robinson is a freelance journalist based in Portland, Ore. He can be reached at hullite@mindspring.com.

About the Author

Brian Robinson is a freelance writer based in Portland, Ore.

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