Magazine article Online

Whose Internet Is It Anyway? - A Challenge

Magazine article Online

Whose Internet Is It Anyway? - A Challenge

Article excerpt

It began innocently enough. I was rummaging around the Internet looking for some NREN information to include in a proposal I was writing, when I came across a rather one-sided "debate."

It was a string of messages written mostly by people from academic computing centers bemoaning the fact that the NREN might be made available to K-12 schools, businesses, libraries, and (horror of horrors) even to the general public. They were beside themselves. "The Internet and the NREN are supposed to be for academic and research purposes," they said. "What's going to happen if we allow all these other people on? There's not going to be enough bandwidth. Transmission time will suffer. Before you know it, the NREN is going to be just as bad as the Internet is now."

As the messages came in, their outrage seemed to build. So did mine.

Finally I came across a message that simply read: "Why should we let them use it at all???" and suddenly the terrible mistake we've been making became clear. We in the non-university networking community have been framing the wrong issue.

Until now, the issue has been whether K-12 schools and community users are going to have access to the NREN. It should have been whether K-12 and community users are going to allow the academic centers to access the NREN. Somehow we had gotten our priorities crossed.

Who do they think is paying for all this? When the NREN comes online, the money to build it will be coming from that apparently forgotten group of people called "taxpayers." Who do they think is paying for the current Internet backbone? The National Science Foundation? Wrong! It's the taxpayers. Who do they think is paying for those mid-level networks, and for the high-speed data lines to connect their colleges to those networks, and for the nice high-powered servers that makes the connection so easy? Do they think that money is coming from good ole Siwash State U.? If so, then who, pray tell, is funding Siwash State? Right again. Taxpayers!

So now we come along, with hat in hand, begging for permission to have minimal access to the Internet and to be a part of NREN. Why? So we can set-up K-12 networks that will allow the taxpayers' kids to learn the information age skills they will need to be competitive in the 21st century. So we can provide the taxpayers access to electronic mail, government information, and other resources via libraries and community computer systems. So we can provide some piece of the information age to the people who paid for it in the first place! And the academics treat us like beggars in a subway station.

Absurd! Absurd, but not surprising.

To understand this attitude, you have to keep in mind that, in most locations, these university computing centers are designed for the people who work there plus 35 of their buddies. No one else--including the other students and faculty on their own campuses--need apply. In most locations, students or faculty members seeking to use the Internet are given a blinking cursor that dares them to come up with some combination of nonsense syllables to make it do something. That's it. No help. No training. No assistance. Nothing. It is not surprising that the idea of letting the community have access to this preciously guarded resource would send chills up their spines.

But, in many ways, we in the non-academic computing circles have made our share of mistakes as well. Not only have we been apologetic in our claims to this national resource, but we have engaged in what I call the "Balkanization" of the information age--the fragmentation of our efforts into dozens of competing networks and special interest systems. We should be working toward a common framework with enough "conceptual bandwidth" to include everyone.

As a function of developing my organization, the National Public Telecomputing Network, I am asked to speak at a lot of conventions and conferences; and what I find at those meetings has become quite predictable. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed


An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.