An End and a Beginning
By 1995, it was clear the Internet was growing dramatically. NSFNET had spurred Internet growth in all kinds of organizations. NSF had spent approximately $30 million on NSFNET, complemented by in-kind and other investments by IBM and MCI. As a result, 1995 saw about 100,000 networksboth public and privatein operation around the country. On April 30 of that year, NSF decommissioned the NSF backbone. The efforts to privatize the backbone functions had been successful, announced Paul Young, then head of NSF's CISE Directorate, and the existing backbone was no longer necessary.
From there, NSF set its sights even higher. In 1993, the Foundation offered a solicitation calling for a new, very high performance Backbone Network Service (vBNS) to be used exclusively for research by selected users. In 1995, Young and his staff worked out a five-year cooperative agreement with MCI to offer the vBNS. That agreement was recently extended to keep the vBNS operating through March 2003. The vBNS has met its goal of pushing transmission speed from its starting point of 155 Mbps to speeds in excess of 2.4 billion bits per second by the turn of the century.
The vBNS originally linked the two NSF supercomputing leading-edge sites that are part of the Foundation's Partnerships for Advanced Computational Infrastructure (PACI) program. NSF soon tied in another thirteen institutions. By 2000, the network connected 101 institutions, including 94 of the 177 U.S. universities that have received high-performance computing awards from the Foundation.
"In ensuring that vBNS will be available at least through March 2003, NSF is living up to its Next-Generation Internet commitments while charting the course for new research applications that capitalize on that infrastructure," says NSF's George Strawn. "The new Information Technology Research programbegun in fiscal year 2000has spurred an overwhelming response of proposals from the academic community, which proves that these tools have become critical to research in science and engineering."