Changes in NSF policy become law - The Internet is Commercialized

After numerous committee meetings and Requests For Comments (RFC) from the computer research community, the NSF submitted a plan to congress that would satisfy both the network-intensive needs of researchers and the desires of businesses across the nation. The answer was to privatize the existing NSFnet backbone, while at the same time to create a new network for research named the National Research and Education Network (NREN).

The NREN high speed backbone would be used both to support government agencies, such as the Department of Energy and NASA, along with the needs of NSF-funded educational institutions. The only use of the NREN backbone by the NSF would be the connection between its various supercomputer centers (OTA June 1993).

The proposal also suggested the creation of of Network Access Points (NAP). <T> These new major network nodes would be the location where all of the major commercial Internet Service Providers could connect their individual networks to the existing Internet. Those ISPs who could not connect to the NAPs would be able to connect through larger ISPs who had direct access to the four NAPs. The NSF eventually awarded management of the NAPs to Sprint, PacBell, Ameritec, and MFS. The NAPs would serve as a central point for all of the NSPs to handle the Internet routing needs of their clients, rather than forcing ISPs to handle Internet routing on their own (Halabi).

In effect, the NSF was proposing to hand over the current NSFnet to the communications industry, but also create a new high speed research network. By creating a major point for the Internet businesses to connect to (the NAPs) and including the existing NSFnet backbone in the network, the commercial interests had little to complain about. They were able to use of the main part of the Internet, while researchers won with their own high-speed network.

The National Information Infrastructure Act of 1993 set in stone many of the ideas that the NSF proposed. The statute states in no uncertain terms that, "Federal finds should be used to stimulate new private sector investments, not to replace current private sector initiatives," (NII 17). The Act amended the High-Performance Computing Act of 1991 by making it specific that government funding would not go to "the network" in general, but rather only to "Federal test bed networks," where the research needs of educational institutions could be met. The amendment also instructed the developers of the new network to purchase or contract "standard commercial transmission and network services," as well as to use materials from the private sector in the development of the network (NII 36, 40). The revision of the 1991 High Performance Computing Act clearly took the development of the Internet out of the hands of the government and placed it into the hands of the competitive marketplace.

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©2000 John Thomson, Jr