The tangled Internet: Is it time for a new one?
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Douglas Van Houweling, the president and CEO of Internet2, says he once observed San Francisco Symphony conductor Michael Tilson Thomas coaching a young conductor via an Internet2 feed. Mr. Thomas told the student to take his watch off his wrist because it was weighing down his arm movement, a subtle observation.Skip to next paragraph
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"Music at the highest level is very nuanced, and you have to have [a] very high quality [connection] to make it work," Dr. Van Houweling says. The two-way interface is "very high fidelity. This is not your typical postage-stamp video conference."
In another example, Robert Ballard, who found the wreck of the Titanic, is using Internet2 to connect with high school students across the country, giving them a chance to join him on his undersea adventures.
Beyond these "real time" uses, Internet2 also transmits what Van Houweling calls "really large [digital] objects" - from scientific data to the latest Hollywood movie - in seconds. That's captured the interest of the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA), which is using Internet2 to explore the advantages and threats that such a robust system represents.
Pirates have already "begun to hijack" Internet2, Cary Sherman, president of the Recording Industry Association of America, told Congress in October. A student file-sharing system called i2hub.com, she said, has been using the Internet2 to move copyrighted material between students at different campuses.
An MPAA study last summer found that 58 percent of South Koreans, nearly all of whom have fast broadband connections to the Internet, had already downloaded a movie over the Net. Worldwide, the ratio of users doing so is about 1 in 4, it claims. Quick movement of video files could open up new business opportunities but also create massive piracy problems.
Both Internet2 and IPv6, a new addressing system that stands for Internet Protocol Version 6, offer better security and privacy than the current Net, which operates on the older IPv4 system.
"IPv6 has a higher bar for security," says Jim Bound, chairman of the North American IPv6 Task Force, a nonprofit group urging its adoption. "In IPv4, it's an afterthought."
With IPv6, for example, a phone call made over the Internet would be encrypted and very difficult to tap. The IPv6 standard is already embedded in many devices today, and the US Department of Defense has said it will switch to IPv6 by 2008.
Even so, adoption will be gradual, says Dr. Bound, and a "hybrid" of both systems will be around for a long time. An intellectual battle is going on now about "when and how and why" to deploy Ipv6, he says.
But IPv6 will emerge victorious as mobile Internet applications become more popular and more and more devices are connected to the Net, Bound says.
"We want pervasive computing," he says. "We want every kid in every ghetto and in every country [using the Net]. This technology is not just for the elite. This technology is for all. And that's not going to happen with IPv4."
Meanwhile, Zittrain sees the possibility of two Internets developing, one offering the Internet2 concept of "trusted communities" of users on a system that is closed and secure.
But outside, the wide-open Internet would remain, "a vibrant jungle containing undiscovered riches and poisonous snakes" that adventurous people could volunteer to explore, he says.
• Worldwide, roughly 1 in 10 people has Internet access.
• Iceland boasts the highest share of Internet users in the world - 6.7 per 10 - followed by South Korea (6.1), Sweden (5.7), Australia (5.7), and the United States (5.5).
• Alaska was the most wired state in the US in 2000, with 64 percent of households online. Mississippi had the lowest Internet penetration with 37 percent.
• By 2003, a fifth of US households had speedy, high-bandwidth connections - double the share in 2001.
• Roughly half the world's Internet traffic passes through Virginia, home to many large online firms.
Sources: International Telecommunication Union; US Census, US Commerce Department; State of Virginia.