The huge growth in public access to the Internet in the nineties has brought its facilities to an audience scarcely imaginable to those who created the original system in the late sixties. The downside is that the Internet is now so crowded and slow that the researchers for whom it was designed have to compete for access, hampering their work.
A project called Internet 2 (sometimes written Internet II) aims to solve the problem by creating a new system, compatible with the old, but to which access is limited to the academic community. This is not unlike the most recent phases of the British SuperJANET system, which is currently the fastest in the world. Though increasing capacity is the first aim, Internet 2 is also a research project, in which innovative techniques — such as interactive distance learning, multimedia, videoconferencing, real-time collaboration between physically-separate groups, remote operation of laboratory systems — are being investigated.
Since the initial meeting in October 1996, more than a hundred universities have signed up (committing each of them to spend at least $500,000 a year over the next three years), the US government has pledged support as part of its parallel Next Generation Internet scheme, and non-profit organisations like the National Center for Supercomputing Applications and many commercial firms have become involved. The whole scheme is expected to take between three and five years to complete.