Move over internet. Internet2 has arrived. According to a bi-annual survey presented to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Oct. 6, more than 25,000 K-12 schools, libraries, and museums in 34 states have graduated to the supped-up internet backbone, which works at a hundred times the speed of the fastest T1 line.
Led by more than 200 U.S. universities working with industry and government partners, the Internet2 project was conceived seven years ago as a way to deploy advanced network applications and technologies for research and higher education, in effect creating a super-fast, “next-generation” internet.
The survey, conducted by Internet2 members to assess the adoption of the technology in educational institutions across the U.S., indicates K-12 schools have been actively partnering with member universities to tap into the nationwide Abilene network, a 10 gigabits-per-second backbone used to access virtual laboratories, digital libraries, distance-education facilities, and tele-immersion projects.
“Internet2 has been working diligently with the state education networks across the country to bring next-generation internet capabilities to the K-20 community,” said Louis Fox, executive director of the Internet2 K-20 Initiative and vice provost of the University of Washington. “Through this program, we have begun to enable participants to leverage the latest in networking technology to collaborate, share experiences, and learn from one another in real-time.”
Proponents of the next-generation technology contend access to high-performance networking provides teachers and students opportunities they could barely imagine with today’s commercial internet.
During his presentation to the FCC, Fox cited examples of how Internet2 connectivity is beginning to change the face of education, giving schools unfettered access to high-quality video and conferencing tools. Unlike the traditional internet, where video sometimes appears sluggish and delayed, he said, video via Internet2 is crisp and clear, enabling students to view full-screen images without the blurriness attributed to lower-speed connections.
From the safety of their own classrooms, students today are using the technology to study real-life strands of the West Nile Virus as they appear under an electron microscope–or to explore underwater volcanoes off of the Pacific coast.
Through an Internet2 initiative sponsored by the nonprofit JASON Project, for instance, students are invited to go on a deep-sea dive with professional explorers and ask questions about what they are seeing in real time.
With Internet2, “students make the great leap from studying science to being scientists,” Fox explained. And video-quality, he said, is just the beginning.
The technology also has provided a tremendous opportunity for students and teachers to gather online and interact with people from all corners of the world, he said.
In March, more than 10,000 students and faculty members from schools and universities across the nation tuned into the first virtual Internet2 Day, to participate in a series of projects and witness firsthand the power of the new internet. (See ‘Internet2 Day’ showcases the future of education and research).
In May, nearly 100 schools worldwide took part in Megaconference Jr., a spin-off of the highly successful annual Megaconference–the world’s largest web-based video conference–to take part in a cultural exploration that included musical demonstrations and an amateur talent show for students around the globe. (See ‘Megaconference Jr.’ brings students together via Internet2).
To receive Internet2, interested institutions and nonprofit organizations, including K-20 schools, libraries, art galleries, and hospitals must seek sponsorship from one of the program’s 200 member universities.
According to the report, educational institutions are by far the largest population using the technology. Eighty-six percent of Internet2 users are K-12 schools (23,388). Four-year universities and community colleges, which are smaller in number, make up another 5 percent at 1,446. While 2,360 public libraries also are using the technology.
But even as schools have begun exploiting the benefits of Internet2, many still are experiencing “bottlenecks” in connectivity, where local network infrastructures aren’t equipped with enough bandwidth to use the technology to its full potential.
The survey revealed that while 84 percent of the connected K-20 facilities could potentially access the network at over 155 megabits per second (Mbps), the vast majority report connections of less than 10 Mbps, which is still approximately 10 times faster than most traditional high-speed or broadband internet connections. The goal, according to Internet2, is to eventually provide connections of 100 Mbps or better for every desktop connected to the network.
“Undoubtedly, advanced networking applications aid educators in creating a rich, interactive learning environment for students of all ages. However, without adequate local connections to the network, the benefits of advanced networking will largely be unrealized for the majority of individual organizations,” said Fox. “By investing in an upgraded local infrastructure, schools, colleges, museums, and libraries can begin to take full advantage of the myriad resources already in place and available to them.”