NSF & Congress
Dr. Joseph Bordogna
Acting Deputy Director
National Science Foundation
Before the House Science Committee
Basic Research Subcommittee
September 25, 1997
Mr. Chairman, members of the subcommittee, thank you for allowing me the opportunity to testify on the National Science Foundation's role in fostering growth of the Internet, including our role in domain name registration and also our role in fostering the development of the next generation of information science and technology.
Federal government support of fundamental research and development has been critical to the growth of the Internet and information technology in the United States. The Internet has its roots in the pioneering work supported by the federal government over several decades: from research first supported by the Department of Defense in the mid 1960's, to the sponsorship of the NSFNET by the National Science Foundation in the 1980's, to today's robust global activity on the World Wide Web.
According to the Computing Research Association, the United States now holds a commanding lead in Internet technology and that lead is "the result of an extraordinary 50-year partnership among government, industry and academia." That partnership was integral to the creation of the Internet and will be integral to the creation of the next generation of computer-communication technologies.
NSF has supported some of the most successful and innovative computer-communications concepts and technologies at their earliest, most experimental stages. This support has led to significant accomplishments and breakthroughs that have not only pushed the frontiers of science and engineering forward, but have created real economic and societal benefits for the Nation and the American people.
Significant NSF-supported breakthroughs include:
- Creation of the popular MOSAIC web browser software - This development spawned industry leader Netscape Communications and eventually led to the blossoming of a multi-billion dollar industry.
- Network video-conferencing software - CUSeeMe Software developed through NSF support was one of the first software programs for video conferencing. It is the precursor of most Internet video conferencing software commercially available today. CUSeeMe is now available free on the Internet and is widely used in many elementary and secondary schools.
- CAVE 3-D Virtual Reality - This 3-D environment gives scientists and engineers a powerful tool to visualize their data. A researcher can walk through the enzyme she is studying or fly through a developing galaxy as seen, for example, in the new IMAX film "Cosmic Voyage".
- Global SchoolHouse - Originally supported by NSF - the Global SchoolHouse has gone on to receive significant private sector support, including Cisco Systems, Network Solutions and MCI. This "school of the future" uses the most powerful Internet tools to link classrooms to their communities and to other children around the world.
At NSF we are proud of our record of accomplishment in computer networking and communications. We hope to build on this record in the future. We've already seen advanced information technologies transform how research is conducted. We've glimpsed how they can dramatically improve teaching and learning in schools and classrooms at all levels of education. We've seen the Internet grow into a veritable global village. We've even seen a supercomputer crowned king of the world of chess.
THE FUTURE OF INFORMATION SCIENCE AND TECHNOLOGY AT NSF: KNOWLEDGE AND DISTRIBUTED INTELLIGENCE
Let me now turn to NSF's vision for the next generation of information science and technology. The phase "information is everywhere" is more than just a cliche. We can now link to a rich array of information sources virtually anywhere and anytime. We can check the weather at the beach and on Mars, see who won the late game, and keep tabs on the world financial markets - all without ever leaving our living rooms.
It is an open question, however, if this increased access to information is enriching us as individuals and as a society. Mere access to widely distributed sources of information is one thing. Absorbing, refining and analyzing this information to glean useful knowledge is another altogether.
NSF has launched an ambitious set of research and education activities -- Knowledge and Distributed Intelligence or KDI -- to do just this. It aims to improve our ability to collect, represent, transmit and apply information. It will produce new knowledge bases and provide new insights into the behavior of large complex systems related to areas that are vital to progress across our economy and society. These include manufacturing, gene mapping and sequencing, environmental analysis, education and many more.
THE EVOLUTION OF NSF'S SUPPORT OF THE INTERNET
KDI represents the future direction for most NSF investments in networking and information science and technology. Consistent with this direction, NSF has been slowly withdrawing our support of technologies and concepts related to the original Internet. This shift includes our decommissioning of the original NSFNET backbone in 1995 and our recent determination that further support of Internet domain name registration should be transferred to the private sector.
To understand the complex issue of Internet Domain Name registration more fully, I want to discuss briefly NSF's role in fostering the growth of the Internet. The domain name issue has roots in the early development of the Internet and many of the problems surrounding the registration of domain names today stem from decisions made when the Internet was conceived and used as a tool dedicated primarily for research and education.
NSF's support of the Internet dates back to our support of high-end supercomputing centers in the mid-1980's and their link via the NSFNET backbone -- beginning what we now know as the Internet.
In order to enable U.S. scientists, engineers and their students greater access to state-of-the-art, high performance computing, NSF began supporting supercomputing centers in the 1980's. This access was later enhanced by the establishment of the high speed NSFNET national backbone network that connected the NSF supercomputing centers. NSF later promoted the creation of regional networks to connect colleges and universities to the NSFNET. Gradually, the NSF-supported regional networks sought additional members from the private sector and one of the great technology transfer successes of all time was set in motion.
This rapid growth and transfer to the private sector of the Internet is a success story of which the Congress and the Executive Branch should be proud. In 1980, scientists and engineers had only limited access to the highest levels of computational power. Today, they employ desktop systems with power comparable to the supercomputers of the late 1980's and now, linking these workstations though the Internet, these same scientists and engineers also have access to a collection of robust supercomputing facilities with capabilities they could only dream about a decade ago. Over this same period, the number of host computers on what is now the Internet has leapt from about 200 to over 10 million in 1996 -- a 50,000 fold increase.
REGISTRATION OF DOMAIN NAMES
In April 1993, in order to serve an expanding base of research and education users, NSF, after an open, competitive process, entered into a 5-year cooperative agreement with Network Solutions, Inc. Our objective was to provide Internet registration services for the non-military part of the Internet, which was still primarily composed of the research and education community. Because of the subsequent unexpected explosive growth in use by the commercial sector and related explosive growth in registration costs that soon ensued with respect to the use of the Internet, the NSF-NSI cooperative agreement was amended in September 1995. It was changed so that NSI could charge fees to cover the costs of registering addresses in the "domain names" such as ".com," ".net," and ".org," where most registrants were not part of NSF's research and education clientele. Thirty percent of the registration fees were to be set aside in "an interest bearing account for the preservation and enhancement of the Intellectual Infrastructure of the Internet." Currently the set aside contains $30 million and is growing at the rate of several million dollars per month.
When the Internet was a U.S. government-supported research project, the original authority overseeing the registration of Internet addresses rested on the consent of the governed. Today, the vast majority of domain name registrants are commercial interests whose activities now go well beyond the research and education community that NSF is chartered to serve. Now that the Internet is a global industry, the "Internet Community" is struggling to find an appropriate structure commensurate with the demands and novel issues of this burgeoning enterprise.
DOMAIN NAME REGISTRATION: NO LONGER CONSISTENT WITH NSF'S MISSION
Whether there should be some continuing form of Federal oversight of Internet names and addresses once NSF funding under the cooperative agreement with NSI expires next March is a difficult issue. With that in mind, an interagency working group -- of which NSF is a member -- co-chaired by the Office of Management and Budget and the Office of Science and Technology Policy, is currently considering this matter. It is our view that, since NSF's mission is to promote research and education in science and engineering, the Foundation is not the best entity to take on the Federal role, if any, of managing the policy and commercial issues that are increasingly associated with today's domain name registration process.
The reason for this transition is obvious. In today's performance-based budgeting and management environment, NSF must closely scrutinize our operations to ensure that all NSF activities are consistent with our mission. The Internet has become a global communications infrastructure, it is no longer a medium that primarily supports the conduct of Federally-supported research within the science and engineering research and education community -- the original reason for NSF involvement.
As a result, we feel that continued NSF support and administration of the original Internet is not consistent with our mission and should be ended. NSF believes its strength and expertise lies in the support of merit-based, cutting-edge research and education in such areas as the Next Generation Internet and Knowledge and Distributed Intelligence. Through these new initiatives, the Foundation hopes to take information, communications, computing and networking to a new level of technological, economic, educational, and societal impact, continuing to enhance Internet capabilities for research and education at colleges, universities and even K-12 education.
With respect to the disposition of the funding set aside for intellectual infrastructure, several approaches for utilizing these funds have been suggested, and each comes with its own set of legal, ethical, policy and/or financial issues that have to be thoroughly considered. Each approach has advantages and disadvantages and NSF -- in conjunction with the Interagency Working Group -- is continuing to evaluate the various options associated with the use and management of the intellectual infrastructure fund.
CONCLUSION: PROMOTING PRIVATE SECTOR SOLUTIONS
It is clear that the Internet is now the domain of the venture capitalist, not the adventurous academic. Internet companies like Netscape Communications that did not exist five years ago are now giants in a billion-dollar industry and are front page news.
While NSF has determined that our oversight of the Internet should be concluded, we also recognize our special relationship with the Internet. That is why we are committed to helping find solutions to the Internet's "growing pains" and we will do so by pursuing the following objectives:
- Ensuring Stability - While we will no longer provide support for what is now a private sector enterprise, we will promote actions that will ensure stability of the system - a system that works;
- Promoting Self-Support - NSF will pursue policies that will spur private sector solutions to Internet registration. It is our belief that this transition should occur as soon as is practicable.
- Maintaining American Leadership - NSF -- through our investment in KDI -- will continue to invest in research and education efforts to change how we learn and create, how we work and how we live.
As I mentioned earlier in my testimony, we are proud at NSF of our record of accomplishment in fostering the growth of the Internet and we hope to build on this record in the future. This means that NSF will turn to supporting even more innovative communications and computing projects, while the private sector should be allowed to take the lead in solving the "growing pain" problems associated with the Internet. That is why NSF is working with the Administration and the other relevant agencies to ensure a smooth transition to a regime where the Internet can continue to flourish as a stable global communications network of the 21st Century, free of overly intrusive federal regulation or oversight.
See also: Hearing Summary.