The group behind the Internet2 (I2) initiative to provide a super-fast network backbone for advanced research applications over the internet has just opened participation in the project to include K-12 schools.

Douglas E. Van Houweling, president and chief executive officer of the University Corporation for Advanced Internet Development (UCAID), unveiled the new policy Oct. 19 at the School Technology Management 2000 conference sponsored by eSchool News and held in Washington, D.C.

The decision to invite K-12 schools to participate in I2 was made by member universities at their Fall 1999 Internet2 Member Meeting in Seattle, Oct. 10-13. Though the details are still being worked out, Van Houweling said each member university will be allowed to partner with one or more K-12 school systems to offer connectivity through a regional switching center called a gigaPoP.

To take advantage of the ultra high-speed access, participating K-12 schools must have at least category-5 cable with switched 100 megabit (MB) Ethernet connections inside their buildings and at least a 50 MB pipeline running into the school, Van Houweling said.

Until now, I2 has been solely the province of the higher education community, though its high-speed access and applications eventually will be made available commercially.

Launched in 1996 to support a new generation of network-based research and learning applications that the current internet is too slow to support, I2 currently consists of two separate backbones, Abilene and vBNS (very high performance Backbone Network Service).

Abilene, which debuted in March, already has linked together 60 colleges and universities, and an additional 22 were in the process of connecting to the network as of October. According to UCAID, Abilene allows for the transfer of 2.4 gigabits (billion bits) of data per second—that’s 1,600 times faster than a T-1 line.

In addition to high-speed connectivity, the announcement means that K-12 schools will have the opportunity to team with leading research universities to provide cutting-edge learning applications to their students online, such as:

Digital libraries. At Carnegie Mellon University, video footage from CNN is fed to and stored on a university server through a project called Informedia. Students and faculty can search for video segments by keyword; a search using the word “Kosovo,” for example, would generate up to 12 postage stamp-sized clips at a time on your computer screen. When you pass the cursor over one of the clips, the date and time it originally aired and the first phrase of the clip appear at the bottom of your screen; clicking on the image will give you a full-screen, full-motion video replay. “It’s TV under the control of the learner,” Van Houweling said.

Audio collections. Indiana University’s Variations project has archived an extensive collection of music that is available to students enrolled in the university’s music program over the internet. Students (and faculty) can play audio clips just like they can with a CD player—they can forward, pause, replay, or jump to the next movement of a piece to study it in greater detail.

‘Virtual laboratories’ and collaborative research. Through its Distributed NanoManipulator project, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill provides students with real-time access to remote sensing instruments in laboratories all over the world. Using a digital pencil connected to a scanning probe electron microscope, for example, students can manipulate a tobacco leaf under a remote microscope to study a plant virus.

‘Tele-immersion’ (shared virtual reality). Tele-immersion changes what is possible through distance learning by allowing individuals at different locations to interact in a single virtual environment and communicate with each other in real time. The University of Illinois at Chicago’s Virtual Temporal Bone project, for example, lets researchers in separate locations manipulate and share a single 3-D virtual image such as the bone structures in the human ear.

High-definition television (HDTV). In September, ResearchTV, a consortium of leading research institutions working to create greater access to research information, teamed with Sony Electronics to demonstrate the first-ever streaming of HDTV over the internet. A 40-minute stream of HDTV video was sent over the Internet2 backbone from Stanford University in Palo Alto to the University of Washington in Seattle in an almost “dropless” 270 megabit connection. “HDTV over the internet brings us closer to a more perfect transfer of visual data,” said Amy Philipson, executive director of ResearchTV. “Particularly in the case of accessing vivid images that are important to the progress of research activity. This is one of the highest speed applications ever run over the internet.”

To enable these high-bandwidth applications over the second-generation internet, the I2 project incorporates the following new features:

Quality of service. Through its QBone initiative, I2 is building the capability to schedule the necessary bandwidth for an application directly into the network, thereby guaranteeing that when you start an application, it won’t quit when other applications are launched simultaneously.

Multicasting (as opposed to broadcasting). Right now, if you broadcast something over the internet to a million viewers, you need a million different connections out from the server. Multicasting lets you fan out a single connection from the server to multiple viewers, thereby saving bandwidth and boosting transmission speeds.

Distributed storage. The I2’s Distributed Storage Infrastructure (I2-DSI) is a replicated hosting service for internet content and applications. DSI consists of servers with substantial processors and storage capacities located throughout the U.S. Each user request is directed to the server closest to the requesting client. The result is that network traffic is kept local and load is balanced among the distributed servers. “If you can cache items locally, then performance [of the network] is greatly improved,” Van Houweling noted.

Member universities and K-12 districts will be responsible for setting the terms and conditions of their partnerships to bring I2 applications and connectivity speeds to K-12 students, Van Houweling said.

Currently, 163 member universities—representing all 50 U.S. states—are involved in the I2 initiative, and there are about 30 gigaPoPs nationwide for connecting to the high-speed network. A complete list of members and a map of gigaPoP sites are available on the Internet2 web site (see link below).

Internet2 Project

Carnegie Mellon University

Indiana University’s Variations Project

University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

University of Illinois at Chicago