Imagine John Glenn circling the earth in the space shuttle. At the same time, he’s answering questions about his many life achievements and what it’s like to travel in space–questions posed by students in the Midwest who are speaking to him through the magic of interactive video.

But this video isn’t like the jittery video available on today’s internet. This is broadcast-quality video, making students feel like they’re in the shuttle with the astronauts. And anyone who misses the live talk can catch it later by accessing a video archive whenever it’s convenient.

Imagine teachers and students interacting and collaborating coast-to-coast, or even nation-to-nation. Music classes in different states find each other over the internet and decide to write a musical together. They send drafts back and forth, singing the parts to each other via videoconferencing. In fact, they don’t actually meet until it’s time to perform their creation.

Imagine young people learning about the Holocaust, not from books and lectures, but from eyewitness accounts archived in the U.S. Holocaust Museum. Students hear survivors talking about how they spent each day in the ghetto, saw their families taken to camps, and struggled to survive–and how they view the experience today.

This vision is not about multimedia, networking, or the internet. It’s about changing the face of education forever. The technology that makes this possible is being deployed today by forward-looking K-12 districts and universities in the U.S., Europe, and Asia. It’s also appearing in enterprise-wide networks of global corporations including British Airways, IBM, The Limited Stores, and Owens-Corning, to name a few.

At Virginia Tech, the revolution is already underway, led by an advanced, broadband network called NET.WORK. VIRGINIA that delivers asynchronous transfer mode (ATM) service statewide. The goal is to develop universal access to advanced digital communications services for all of Virginia.

With more than 200 participating sites, NET.WORK.VIRGINIA offers access to an incredibly rich array of educational and information resources.

Participants include four-year colleges and universities, the Virginia Community College System, private schools, and several K-12 school systems.

Also, many state agencies are taking advantage of NET.WORK.VIRGINIA, including the Department of Health, the Virginia Employment Commission, the Department of General Services, the Virginia State Library, the State Police, the Institute of Marine Science, and others. Private industry can connect to NET.WORK.VIRGINIA to gain access to the wealth of educational resources available including on-site, distance learning programs.

This is the Next Generation Internet (NGI). It’s a new broadband internet, being deployed by service providers and enterprises (i.e. intranets) for the integrated delivery of voice, video, and data. A key characteristic of the NGI is the ability to handle end-to-end multimedia applications such as real-time interactive video and stored video on demand, with two-way voice, video, and data. In contrast, the regular internet carries only text, graphics, and one-way video.

The NGI is being built in parallel to the existing internet, with an installed base of 60 million switched ethernet and ATM nodes.

This infrastructure is being built out rapidly as a result of massive funding from federal and state governments, corporate networks, university systems, and K-12 school districts. The NGI enables a wide range of room and desktop environments for video applications such as distance learning, distance meetings, and distance medicine.