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What if a privileged few could buy the best possible Internet technology – what would they get? The answer is out there: created by the advanced networking consortium called Internet2, it’s high-performance connections built for, and used by, more than 240 research and academic institutions in the United States. Internet2 networks handle such jobs as the transmission of torrents of data from astronomical observations and physics experiments.

While the average Internet user can’t tap into Internet2, its technologies show what might be possible in an idealized world: everything from high-definition streaming television to ever-more complex, multiplayer, 3-D online games. Technology Review chief correspondent David Talbot asked Douglas Van Houweling, CEO of the Ann Arbor, MI-based Internet2, how – and when – these technologies can make the transition from a closed research environment to the public.

Technology Review: What is Internet2 accomplishing for the research community it serves?

Doug Van Houweling: Today, scientists throughout the world are collaborating via Internet2’s network on things like high-energy physics experiments, medical diagnoses, and the sharing of vast amounts of supercomputer data. Internet2 is led by more than 200 U.S. universities working with industry and government to develop and deploy advanced network applications and technologies for research and higher education.

Today, over 240 institutions, 34 state education networks, and 70 international networks connect to Internet2 networks to facilitate teaching and learning programs, to enable investigations into new networking technologies, and to make revolutionary Internet applications possible. We also have close to 70 corporations from diverse industries who are active collaborators within the Internet2 community. These corporate members play a key role in understanding and developing emerging technologies and how to make them routinely available to hundreds of millions of people on the global Internet.

TR: What’s the problem with today’s Internet?

DVH: Internet technology has begun to reach limits that could pose barriers to future economic growth. The proliferation of closed architectures, the tendency for companies to protect their interests rather than invest in standards-based solutions, increased security and safety concerns across a wide range of sectors, and ongoing scalability challenges all stand in the way of an advanced Internet.

TR: What do you expect the average consumer would want from an advanced Internet?

DVH: It is only a matter of time before consumers will make the same capacity demands on the network in their day-to-day use of network applications that the research and education community has today. Telecommunications companies have been talking for years about bringing fiber to the homes of consumers to enable the delivery of demanding digital content. But services like HDTV-quality video and immersive surround sound create demands that destabilize today’s Internet. So the concept of “if you build it, they will come” simply will not work in the current environment – simply putting fiber in place will not do the job.

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