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The December East Coast rollout is just the beginning. By mid 2007, the network will be available to all participating research institutions nationwide. The network is being implemented through a partnership with Level 3 Communications, one of the largest providers of wholesale dial-up service in North America. Level 3 provides Internet connectivity to broadband subscribers through partnerships.

To be sure, much of the new Internet2’s capacity will be gobbled up by big science. Physicists need it to send around data from atomic collisions in particle accelerators, such as the Relativistic Heavy Ion Collider at Brookhaven National Laboratory, where researchers are trying to figure out what the universe looked like in the first moments of its creation. The network will also allow radio telescopes to be linked in real time, essentially turning them into one giant telescope.

But most of the applications are yet to be determined. How hospitals and other research institutions actually use the network will be completely up to them. “We are trying to throw out a network with these sorts of capabilities and see what people come up with in terms of using it,” says Cotter. “It’s kind of up to the users. We are putting this network out there and want researchers to use it as a test bed.” He adds, “You’ve got YouTube now–maybe [there will be] a High Definition YouTube down the road.”

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