The Information Highway May Go Four Lane

For years, federal agencies have been laying the groundwork for a $400 million "information highway" that would link scientists and schools to far-flung supercomputers and libraries. That vision got a boost on Nov. 22 when Congress passed a supercomputer bill, adding its stamp to the Bush Administration's plans for such a network.

Instead of starting from scratch, the idea is to expand an existing science network called NSFnet into the world's highest-capacity information superhighway, dubbed the National Research & Education Network. Currently, NSFnet is managed by a joint venture between IBM and MCI Communications Corp. under National Science Foundation auspices. But critics say this monopoly could hamper innovation and offers an unfair edge on potentially lucrative spin-offs. So, also on Nov. 22, the National Science Board approved a plan to put management of the network up for bid again early next year--with two operators, not one. "It will give us two avenues for infusions of new technology and new ideas about management and operation," says NSF networking chief Stephen S. Wolff.

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