The development of Next Generation Internet (NGI)–a super-fast network designed to deliver real-time, high-quality data, voice, and video–just got a boost that should make it more likely you’ll see an array of impressive new multimedia applications in your schools before too long.

On Oct. 28, President Clinton approved a spending measure to add the resources of the federal government to the development and testing of NGI.

NGI is the new broadband internet that delivers voice, video, and data over the same line at very high speeds. It provides internet connections that are not only much faster, but also more reliable and secure. NGI makes it possible to transmit and receive “theater-quality” video and better audio over the internet.

The Next Generation Internet Research Act of 1998 signed by Clinton authorizes government agencies, including the National Science Foundation and NASA, to work with America’s business and academic communities to build the network. It identifies areas of research and sets funding priorities for $110 million–up from last year’s spending of $85 million, according to Sally Howe, associate director of the National Coordination Office for Computing, Information, and Communications.

NGI & K-12

Supporters of NGI see great potential for education. The network will give teachers and students access to a broad range of course materials, content-rich multimedia and distance-learning applications.

“This can really change K-12 education,” said Ralph Ungermann, president and CEO of FVC.COM, maker of NGI-ready equipment. “Now you can have [communication with an] interactive, live teacher. It’s a totally different experience.”

The costs associated with installing NGI can run in the millions, Ungermann said. Schools will still be able to use much of the same basic equipment–computers and peripherals–that were purchased over the last few years. But schools also will need some new equipment to benefit from NGI.

NGI & distance learning

NGI is similar to Internet2, a collaborative effort by more than 120 universities working with business and government to develop advanced internet technologies and the means to deliver them to higher education.

The NGI is a federal initiative, whereas Internet2 is led by the University Corporation for Advanced Internet Development (UCAID). The two initiatives will help ensure that advanced networking services are available on interoperable regional and local networks.

Because of limited bandwidth and overcrowding, today’s internet can’t handle the kinds of applications educators increasingly want to use.

A key characteristic of the NGI is its ability to handle multimedia applications, such as real-time interactive video, as well as stored and live video-on-demand.

Universities–and now K-12 schools–are experimenting with technologies such as two-way video to remote sites, VCR-like replay of past classes, and online access to instructional software.

“[NGI’s] main benefit is bringing people together who otherwise couldn’t get together,” said Chuck Bowen, assistant superintendent of the Pekin (Ill.) School District.

Pekin’s 10 buildings have been running on a network that has the capability to make full use of NGI since last spring, but Bowen said district teachers have yet to take advantage of applications like videoconferencing.

“All we can do right now is inside the district,” Bowen said. Teachers often feel it’s not worth their time to set up and learn the equipment just to videoconference with others in the same district or building.”

But it’s only a matter of time, Bowen says, until more school districts catch up. Then, he predicts, Pekin’s teachers will be receptive to using the network’s advanced capabilities to arrange two-way conferences with educators in other parts of the country.

–R.F.

FVC.COM

http://www.fvc.com/

Next Generation Internet

http://www.ngi.gov/

National Coordination Office for Computing, Information, and Communications

http://www.ccic.gov

Internet2

http://www.internet2.edu/UCAID

http://www.ucaid.edu/