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From: (Rita Marie Rouvalis)
Subject: EFFector Online 3.2 -- Future of NSFNet
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Date: Wed, 19 Aug 1992 15:03:41 GMT
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########   ########   ########   |       THE FUTURE OF NSFNET
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EFFector Online             August 19, 1992                Issue  3.2
         A Publication of the Electronic Frontier Foundation         
                           ISSN 1062-9424                            

                    by Andrew Blau (

                  A Report on the July 23 Meeting 
                 of the Communications Policy Forum 
                          in Washington, D.C.

The National Science Foundation (NSF) is responsible for the NSFNet. 
Originally a network created to link a handful of supercomputing 
centers serving the U.S. research and education community, NSFNet 
became the backbone of the Internet in this country, now serving 
millions of people and thousands of organizations.  Since 1987, the 
NSF has contracted with a partnership of Merit Network, Inc., IBM 
and MCI to provide and manage these "backbone network services.  
That contract will expire in November of this year.

In order to award a contract for the next phase of the NSFNet's 
growth and management, NSF staff is preparing a solicitation that 
will describe the network that the NSF wants and invite interested 
organizations to bid to become the provider of those services.  
However, before releasing the final solicitation that will be bid 
on, the NSF released a draft and asked for public comment on it. 
Comments were to be filed by August 3rd of this year.

In response to this, EFF, which administers the Communications 
Policy Forum in Washington, DC convened a roundtable on July 23 to 
bring together a wide cross-section of groups that would either be 
bidding on the new contract or would be affected by its outcome. 
Also attending the meeting were members of the NSF staff. The 
meeting itself, in order to stimulate an open exchange of views, was 
"off-the-record" in that while notes on the sense of the speakers 
were maintained, no speaker was directly quoted.

                 The Proposed New Shape of NSFNet

The Draft Solicitation describes a new architecture for the NSFNet. 
It specifies certain requirements for those who are interested in 
providing these services.  

Until now, the "backbone network services" that lie at the heart of 
the NSFNet worked as a single package. This package was a trunk for 
connecting regional or "mid-level" networks across the country. It 
was provided by an organization that also controlled access to the 
backbone and directed traffic on it.  In recent years, this 
arrangement created a sense of unfairness among competitors in the 
independent commercial sector who are eager to provide network 
services and Internet connections. 

In order to address these and other concerns, the Draft Solicitation 
proposes that the next generation will split this package into two 
distinct units. The first unit would be a "very high speed backbone" 
or "vBNS". The second unit would provide a number of "network access 
points" or "NAPs."  The entity responsible for providing the NAPs 
will also be the Routing Authority that oversees network traffic.

The draft also specifies some requirements for the new architecture. 
First the vBNS must operate at 155 mbps or higher. Second, it must 
connect to all NAPs. Third, it must provide high speed interregional 
connectivity. Fourth it must be restricted to research and education 
traffic only. Fifth, the NAPs must operate at speeds of at least 100 
mbps, may connect any number of networks to each other or the vBNS, 
and are open to any kind of traffic.  Finally, the vBNS provider and 
the NAP manager must be two different entities.

                        Reactions at the CPF

Two major themes emerged from the nearly six hours of discussion at 
the July 23rd CPF meeting.  

First, there has been substantial lack of shared understanding about 
some of the draft's key elements.  Among items mentioned were such 
basic questions as what is a NAP, what is the vBNS, how will they 
relate, are there ways of connecting to the vBNS without going 
through a NAP, how many NAPs will there be and where will they be 
located, what will it cost to connect to a NAP and how will charges 
be set?

Second, it became clear that there were many important issues about 
which the NSF remained "intentionally silent."  Most obviously, the 
draft has no guidelines to suggest how bids will be evaluated.  In 
addition, the draft is silent about how this generation of the 
NSFNet intersects with the development of the NREN. It does not 
suggest how prices for NAP attachment will be set, and when. The 
draft fails to address the procedure for starting a non-NSF 
sponsored NAP and connecting to the vBNS. The draft also fails to 
illuminate how the NSF determines when a technology is no longer 
"experimental" and can be provided commercially without further 
government funding.

Additional issues came from the various constituencies around the 
table who brought with them very different concerns.  For example, 
the research and education community appreciated that the draft 
seemed to make it easier to access commercial services through the 
Internet, yet expressed concern that the new architecture would 
disrupt the regional arrangements that allow costs to be shared.  
These cost sharing arrangements, they argue, foster more widespread 
connectivity, and disrupting them could reduce rather than increase 
the number of networked institutions.

Commercial network service providers expressed a range of opinions.  
Some supported the basic architecture, although suggested certain 
modifications, such as that the Routing Authority be separate from 
the entity that manages the NAPs.  Others argued that the draft 
continues to unfairly distort the marketplace for network services 
by subsidizing standard connections such as e-mail.

Local telephone companies, who have not previously been involved in 
the development of the NSFNet, pointed out that the NSF was 
proposing a new commercial network without taking into account the 
infrastructure and regulatory boundaries of the nation's local 
exchange telephone companies.  Since the breakup of the Bell System, 
for example, the Baby Bells cannot transport traffic across certain 
regional boundaries.  If the NSF's architecture does not put a NAP 
in every one of these regions, then these network providers are 
automatically excluded from full participation.

Following the meeting, the EFF staff prepared a summary of the major 
issues that arose during the course of the discussion and circulated 
it to all those in attendance. The EFF also submitted it to the NSF as 
a record of important concerns that the EFF believes should be 
considered in preparing the final solicitation.  In addition, the EFF 
asked the NSF to resubmit a draft solicitation for public comment 
before issuing a final version.
                       *      *      *      *      *

Want more information?

For more information about the NSFNet draft solicitation and bidding
process, contact our Washington office at  DC staff members 
Danny Weitzner( and Andrew Blau (, as well as 
Jerry Berman (, the Director of the Washington office, 
have all been working on this issue.

About the Communications Policy Forum

The Communications Policy Forum, a project administered by the EFF, 
provides consumer and public interest groups, telecommunications 
companies, computer industry groups and policy makers a common forum 
in which to discuss telecommunications issues and exchange views in 
a non-partisan setting.  The CPF also undertakes non-partisan 
research.  It is co-sponsored with the Consumer Federation of 
America and the ACLU.


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Rita Marie Rouvalis     
Electronic Frontier Foundation   | 
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