From: r...@eff.org (Rita Marie Rouvalis)
Subject: EFFector Online 3.2 -- Future of NSFNet
Sender: use...@eff.org (NNTP News Poster)
Organization: Electronic Frontier Foundation
Date: Wed, 19 Aug 1992 15:03:41 GMT
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EFFector Online August 19, 1992 Issue 3.2
A Publication of the Electronic Frontier Foundation
GETTING A HANDLE ON THE FUTURE OF NSFNET
by Andrew Blau (b...@eff.org)
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
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
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 eff.org. DC staff members
Danny Weitzner(d...@eff.org) and Andrew Blau (b...@eff.org), as well as
Jerry Berman (jber...@eff.org), 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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