The Internet2 experiment goes global

Can advanced networking initiatives like Internet2 fuel a global renaissance?
Written by Mari Silbey, Contributor

Internet2 has been around since the 1990s, a consortium of universities and research institutions working to further advanced networking technology. While born in the United States, the organization has worked diligently to expand beyond its national borders and align with other groups pursuing similar goals globally.

Indeed, that was the theme of the opening session of this month's Internet2 member conference in Philadelphia.

Why is a global perspective on networking important? The takeaway from keynote speakers Sam Pitroda and John Sexton is that we need global resources to solve local problems. Advanced networking infrastructure spreads intellectual capital and offers opportunities to improve quality of life; from creating more efficient food distribution to expanding education access and accelerating the development of new healthcare solutions.

Pitroda is an adviser to the Prime Minister of India and has been called the father of the telecommunications revolution there. In his video address to the Internet2 audience, Pitroda recounted how India has built its robust National Knowledge Network (NKN) in a short four years, connecting 400 nodes with optical fiber and gigabit bandwidth. The research and education network is operational today, but Pitroda cites more ambitious goals for the future, including a plan to connect 250 thousand local governments in India with optical fiber over the next year and a half.

He also wants to extend India's networking reach internationally, which is why Pitroda is the face of a new effort to bring together India's Research and Education Network (REN) community and Internet2. As he emphatically highlights, India needs teachers. Without teaching resources in his own country, Pitroda believes technology and connected infrastructure are the only ways to achieve education expansion for India.

John Sexton has similar views. As president of New York University and an Internet2 Board of Trustees member, Sexton envisions an "organic circulatory system" connecting universities globally. His institution is working with Internet2 directly to bring that vision to life, connecting far-flung campuses in places like Abu Dhabi and Shanghai with high-speed broadband links. For Sexton, as for Pitroda, those connections are a way to enable students to enter into the education system from anywhere, contribute ideas, and take change back to their communities. Both Sexton and Pitroda want to use Internet technology to access and foster talent no matter where it exists physically in the world.

If Internet2 is primarily a network experiment in the U.S. today, it is only one of many such ventures globally, with other examples including NKN in India, GEANT in Europe and APAN in Asia. Many of these efforts are now breaking free of national borders. Leaders are finding ways to join networks together to enable new research and education. They're creating new opportunities for remote learning, and for pooling resources to accelerate scientific and cultural discovery.

As Pitroda put it, "connectivity is only the beginning." According to its proponents, advanced communications infrastructure has the potential to fuel a new renaissance. Internet2 is only part of a bigger whole, and its members are working hard to connect the pieces globally.

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