[iDC] The Lure of Internet2

Trebor Scholz trebor at thing.net
Thu Feb 16 12:23:26 EST 2006

[Dear all,
These are a few thoughts on Internet2. This loosely relates the
conferencing thread. I¹m curious if somebody knows about 
the technical details of I2.
best, Trebor]

The Lure of Internet2

Internet2-- if that does not sound like the future!! Next week on a
panel at The conference of the College Art Association in Boston we will
discuss Internet2 as vehicle for global artistic practice. What is
Internet2? If you speak acronym-- just call it "I2." Slate.com writer
Alexander Russo introduces the issues surrounding I2 in his article
"Internet 2. It's better, it's faster. You can't use it." He describes
I2 as the academic answer to what he calls the commercial Internet1. He
envies students at Columbia University who can download the film The
Matrix in 30 seconds.

Gary Bakula, Vice President for External Affairs at Internet2 describes
it as ³a not-for-profit partnership of 208 universities, 70 companies
and 51 affiliated organizations, including some federal agencies and
laboratories [whose] mission is to advance the state of the
InternetŠprimarily by operatingŠa very advanced, private,
ultra-high-speed network called Abilene.² Bakula: ³our Abilene network
does not give preferential treatment to anyone¹s bits, but our users
routinely experiment with streaming HDTV, hold thousands of high quality
two-way video conferences simultaneously, and transfer huge files of
scientific data around the globe without loss of packets.²

Some argue that Internet2 is a centrally managed entity. I could not
find conclusive evidence on this. But I2 is a different network to the
Internet and the train that is running on it-- the WWW. If it is
centrally controlled then that would be drastically different to
Internet1. Here it was central that the "user" instead of the network
provider has control.

The University of New Mexico I2 page states: "Internet2 Advanced
Applications enable collaboration among people and interactive access to
information and resources in a way not possible on today's Internet."
Researchers in Hanover use Internet2 for high quality video
conferencing. The University of Illinois at Chicago Electronic
Visualization Lab uses it for  networked Virtual Reality projects. I2 is
currently mainly used for projects in the field of geography,
neuroscience and tele-medicine; large data-science projects are
facilitated. The Motion Picture Association of America and Recording
Industry Association of America (RIAA) are keen on developing a future
business models for digital content distribution on I2. An RIAA
representative said: "The Internet2 consortium is a unique and
innovative test bed for us to explore technologies that will help us
produce and distribute our content with an eye on protecting those
creative works." However, such excitement did not stop RIAA from suing
students over he use of the high bandwidth network i2hub for movie-file
sharing. The student p2p file sharing network was shut down.

Art. More bandwidth does not equal more or better art. But it does open
up new possibilities. Applications of I2 in the arts include real time
video and musical performance. The list of art projects on the Internet2
website is short. Slashdot reports students creating games on I2. Those
who are keen on many-to-many video conferencing can look at experiences
with the AccessGrid. While such international academic setups certainly
have potential for artistic uses I have not seen very many such art
projects. One obvious limitation of the AccessGrid is access. Some
report discouraging, excessive setup times. The opportunities and
audiences are limited to a network of international universities. This
may change but so far there is still the academic doorman who is in the
way. In relation to live events such as conferences real time
broadcasting or two-way communication is frequently a very private
affair. Who watches that? Or, who comes to interact? How many people
tune in? The bitter reality is all too often that the online millions
need damn good reasons to come to your "party." Real time projects work
(socially) if an institution has a long-established history of streaming
events. (This is true for the University of Toronto, for example.) If we
think of art as dialogue then success of an art project is related to
"attendance"/participation of "spectators." It takes time to develop
such an audience for real time distributed events! Archives often make
more sense. But there are enthusiasts of real time performance out
there. Worth mentioning in this context is Waag Society's project
KeyWorx that facilitates real time performance. 

The recent debate on Internet Neutrality before Congress is important to
this debate about Internet2. In this debate Lawrence Lessig warned that
the telcos¹ plans endanger the growth of the Internet. In his animated,
engaging style he said:  ³The leaders of Verizon and the leaders of AT&T
would radically reduce competition in applications and content on the
Internet. As they set up fast lanes on the Internet, the only companies
that could afford access are the Googles and the YahoosŠcompanies that
have already made a success on the Internet. This restriction in
competition would fundamentally weaken the growth in the Internet.² 

Essentially, what the telecom executives are proposing is the creation
of a two-lane Internet where larger, more established websites with
financial resources could out-do smaller websites.

Rick Boucher, a member of Telecommunications and the Internet
Subcommittee and the House Internet Caucus says that
"Internet 2 demonstrated that a multi-track Internet model is
unnecessary to assure quality of service. Internet2 has for the past
seven years deployed an advanced broadband network to more than 5
million users and has learned that in a network with enough bandwidth
there is no congestion and no bits need preferential treatment because
all of them arrive quickly enough to assure excellent quality, even if
intermingled." Does Boucher use this context to lure us into I2? His
argument is correct but it leaves out of sight that I2 is centrally
controlled. I2 access to abundant bandwidth is already available in the
'firewalled' academic network of some 200 universities. The Great
Firewall of the University is surely limiting. But proponents argue that
it will take over households soon. In the mentioned testimony before
Congress Gary Bakula said that Internet2 would like to see Congress set
a national goal of 100 Mbps symmetrical bandwidth in five years and one
gigabit symmetrical bandwidth within ten years." Sounds great. But which
liberties do we have to surrender? And, which content will we share?
The prospect of I2 is fascinating but with university-only access it is
in the all-prevailing not-yet-state of the Internet. Technology-talk is
so often about the future. Over the years I learned to look closely at
what is in front of me. Yes, there is always the shiny future with all
its promises. But then there is also the clumsy, sometimes pathetic
reality of the machines and networks in front of us. There is no
question that higher bandwidth would be empowering. But the main
argument for me is not video conferencing. That works fine with the good
old Internet and iChat. I don't need to talk to two thousand people at
once. There are so many cooperation-enhancing tools that communication
would not be the main attraction. The AccessGrid administrator at my
university talked to me about HUGE conferences (something like the
MegaConferenceat Penn State). His cheeks turned red and his eyes were
wide open. But maybe other technologies already "caught up without
passing by." The East German slogan was "einholen ohne ueberholen." The
assumption was that you can reach the other shore without actually
having to pass by your competitor. Or, just look at todays' MMORPGs.
Does more bandwidth inevitably mean better communication? Does I2
automatically pull up the volume on social bandwidth? Does connecting
hundreds of people inevitably mean that the volume of social bandwidth
is turned up as well? Just think of ten people in an Instant Messaging
environment. Content does not come with bandwidth. MegaConferences often
miss the fact that people find coffee breaks the most productive time
during conferences, for example. Currently, such high bandwidth is only
available for tête - à - têtes within the university network. In
addition, scholars like Barry Wellman show that availability of social
tools does not signify more participation. 

The AccessGrid is largely underutilized (at least jugding from what I
saw). Several times I had the opportunity to work with it. There were
people all over the world that could have used the facility in their
university. But we could not find experts on the given topic in these
places. It took 8 years since the invention of the weblog to really get
going (in 2004). Availability of a particular technology does not mean
that 1) people are comfortable using it and 2) that there is a true
social need for it.

But the central issue in this debate is not if I2 will be mainly used
for enhanced communication. The burning issue is the battle between the
currently proposed multi-tracked Internet and the Internet2 model that
would circumvent the need for privileged treatment of certain sites or
services. Does that make a strong enough case for I2? Before I'd sign my
heart away to I2 I'd want to know how it works technically, what part of
this network is privately owned, and what central control entails. In
October 2005 artist and curator Jon Ippolito wrote a text on Internet2.
In "Orchestrating the End of the Internet?" Jon highlights some of the
technical issues:

"The technology behind Internet2 *breaks* anything remotely resembling a
broadcast business model, which is why the MPAA will do its best to
disarm the technology by installing Digital Rights Management directly
in its routers to stop interesting content from ever getting into the
Now, the idea of "intelligent routers" may sound appealing to the
average Congressperson, but the technologists of Internet2 should know
better. Internet 1 was able to adapt so quickly to new uses--from email
to the Web to IM--because its routers are fundamentally *dumb*."

Speaking to the same context Brian Holmes points out that "the whole
reason [Internet1] worked globally was the ubiquity of TCP/IP, which is
installed in every machine so that each computer handles transmission,
reception and error-checking and all the routers do is just route. The
comparison was to the centrality of the X.25 protocol being developed at
the same time by national telcos, where the telco would provide very
elaborate data streams and error correction at router level - obviously
leaving both the content and technicalities of those data streams under
their control.
TCP/IP just gives you packets, and when you don't get 'em, it asks for
them again. Each computer can then do whatever it wants with the
packets. Let the thousand applications bloom."

The culture of openness and sharing is central to Internet1. Put a leash
on that and you cripple the Internet as we know it. The carrot of high
bandwidth looks delicious. Should we swallow it? We digest hidden
technical control with it; an agenda that could backfire at us big time.

 I asked a few people what they think about Internet 2. They all
responded that it is too early to say.  But maybe after 10 years of it's
existence it's too late to still be hopeful. Perhaps node-to-node
wireless networks and grid computing have more promise? 

Trebor Scholz


CAA Panel on I2

Wikipedia definition Internet2

Slate.com article

Gary Bakula on I2

I2 is centrally managed

Dartmouth I2 projects

The University of Illinois at Chicago Electronic Visualization Lab

MIT uses I2 for data-heavy science projects

RIAA about I2

RIAA sues students

I2Hub network shut down

I2 art projects

Students create games on  I2



Debate on Internet Neutratlity

Rick Boucher on I2

MegaConferene at Penn State

Jon Ippolito on I2

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