Next Generation Internet Initiative (NGI)

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The Next Generation Internet Initiative (NGI) is a conglomeration of projects funded by the United States government under the rubric of creating an Internet capable of accommodating the demands placed on it in the advanced world of business, consumer, research, and communication networking in the 21st century. The initiative's three primary goals are: the expansion of bandwidth capabilities to create universal high-performance Internet connectivity; the construction of sophisticated distributed applications for areas as diverse as digital libraries, telemedicine, and manufacturing systems; and the development of easy-to-use, secure networking technologies.

Officially launched in 1997, the NGI was designed as a five-year project, during which time the government would remain the primary coordinator of the networks and associated technology. After the five years were up, the fruits of the initiative would be turned over to the stewardship of the private sector and services would proliferate throughout the networked world. Still, the government was adamant that the companies involved in assisting in the development of NGI begin implementing the technologies, applications, and processes they develop from their work on NGI as quickly as possible. Among the tasks charged to the NGI was the coordination of next-generation network capabilities and next-generation applications, whereby the technical requirements of highly touted applications can enjoy proper support from the networks on which they operate.

The NGI Initiative had its genesis under the Clinton administration, which launched NGI as a supplement to the existing high-speed initiatives Backbone Network Service (vBNS) and Internet2 (I2). At the time, the promise of NGI included transmission speeds a million times greater than those offered by contemporary modems. The National Science Foundation (NSF) sponsored vBNS as a testing ground for emerging high-speed Internet systems. I2, meanwhile, was the fruit of the collaboration between 100 universities, and served as a support system for experimental applications that required extensive bandwidth. I2 was geared more specifically toward educational purposes. With universities as the primary actors driving I2, this program was designed to enhance the research capabilities at educational institutions across the United States, facilitate such advanced teaching and research collaboration tools as full-screen distance learning and real-time, long-distance project coordination.

Perhaps the defining characteristic of the NGI is speed; the initiative was launched primarily to accommodate increasing traffic and skyrocketing bandwidth demand to enable instantaneous Internet speeds. By converting the backbone of the Internet network into a fiber-optic system, download times were shrinking rapidly in the early 2000s. The biggest challenge was in what telecommunications experts refer to as the last milethe telecommunications infrastructure that brought the signals from the Internet backbone directly into the residential areas where PCs are used. These infrastructures generally relied on older electronic systems that required a conversion of the photonic signals employed by the backbone into electronics, thereby slowing the transmission of data. The NGI aims at the conversion of the last mile to a compatible photonic system to allow the capabilities of the telecommunications breakthroughs to be realized. In addition to addressing the prevalent complaints from average users of excessive delays in download speeds, dial-up busy signals, and poor-quality video and audio streams, NGI was expected to clear the path for sophisticated applications that were expected to drive the Internet in the early 2000s, including advanced business applications such as video teleconferencing.

The government's initiative called for five test-bed networks, each supported by a federal agency, including the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), the National Science Foundation (NSF), the Department of Energy (DOE), the National Institute of Health (NIH) and the Department of Defense (DOD). The Defense Department agency most responsible for NGI development was the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), the same agency under which the Internet's first two decades of development took place.

NGI enjoyed widespread support in the telecommunications industry, which not only hoped to implement the new initiatives but also stood to derive technological spinoffs from the government-sponsored research. Internet backbone stalwarts such as Bell Atlantic, MCI WorldCom (later renamed WorldCom), and Sprint offered parts of their commercial networks to various NGI projects. In this way, NGI projects such as experimenting with expanded-bandwidth techniques could proceed immediately without necessitating the laying of thousands of miles of new cables and supporting infrastructure.

Thus, the plan for the NGI was similar to the course of development of the original Internet. That is, after extensive government-led research and investment, the technology would become commercialized and fall under control of private companies that would assume the responsibility for its construction, refinement, and ownership. This time around, however, private industry, with considerable background in the Internet already, is involved from the very beginning, thereby resulting in commercial products more quickly.


Abernathy, Donna J. "Internet 2: The Next Generation." Training & Development, February, 1999.

Anderson, Neil. "Next Generation Internet: Work in Progress." Network World, June 14, 1999.

Scannell, Ed. "NGI On the Brain." InfoWorld, December 4, 2000.

Swartz, Jon. "Need for Speed Spawns 2 Internetlets." San Francisco Chronicle, July 28, 1997.

Tweney, Dylan. "Network Necessities for Next-Generation I-Commerce: It's More Than Just Bandwidth." InfoWorld, November 2, 1998.

SEE ALSO: History of the Internet and World Wide Web (WWW); Optical Switching; Photonics