Building the open road: The NREN as test-bed for the national public network
RFC 1259

Document Type RFC - Informational (September 1991; No errata)
Author Mitchell Kapor
Last updated 2013-03-02
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Network Working Group                                           M. Kapor
Request for Comments: 1259                Electronic Frontier Foundation
                                                          September 1991

                        Building The Open Road:
          The NREN As Test-Bed For The National Public Network

Status of this Memo

   This memo provides information for the Internet community.  It does
   not specify an Internet standard.  Distribution of this memo is


   A debate has begun about the future of America's communications
   infrastructure.  At stake is the future of the web of information
   links organically evolving from computer and telephone systems.  By
   the end of the next decade, these links will connect nearly all homes
   and businesses in the U.S.  They will serve as the main channels for
   commerce, learning, education, and entertainment in our society.  The
   new information infrastructure will not be created in a single step:
   neither by a massive infusion of public funds, nor with the private
   capital of a few tycoons, such as those who built the railroads.
   Rather the national, public broadband digital network will emerge
   from the "convergence" of the public telephone network, the cable
   television distribution system, and other networks such as the

   The United States Congress is now taking a critical step toward what
   I call the National Public Network, with its authorization of the
   National Research and Education Network (NREN, pronounced "en-ren").
   Not only will the NREN meet the computer and communication needs of
   scientists, researchers, and educators, but also, if properly
   implemented, it could demonstrate how a broadband network can be used
   in the future.  As policy makers debate the role of the public
   telephone and other existing information networks in the nation's
   information infrastructure, the NREN can serve as a working test-bed
   for new technologies, applications, and governing policies that will
   ultimately shape the larger national network.  Congress has indicated
   its intention that the NREN

      would provide American researchers and educators with the computer
      and information resources they need, while demonstrating how
      advanced computer, high speed networks, and electronic databases
      can improve the national information infrastructure for use by all

Kapor                                                           [Page 1]
RFC 1259                 Building The Open Road           September 1991

      Americans. (1)

   As currently envisioned, the NREN

      would connect more than one million people at more than one
      thousand colleges, universities, laboratories, and hospitals
      throughout the country, giving them access to computing power and
      information -- resources unavailable anywhere today -- and making
      possible the rapid proliferation of a truly nationwide, ubiquitous
      network... (2)

   The combined demand of these users would develop innovative new
   services and further stimulate demand for existing network
   applications.  Library information services, for example, have
   already grown dramatically on the NREN's predecessor, the Internet,
   because the

      enhanced connectivity permits scholars and researchers to
      communicate in new and different ways.... Clearly, to be
      successful, effective, and of use to the academic and research
      communities, the NREN must be designed to nurture and accommodate
      both the current as will as future yet unknown uses of valuable
      information resources. (3)

   So as the NREN implementation process progresses, it is vital that
   the opportunities to stimulate innovative new information
   technologies be kept in mind, along with the specific needs of the
   mission agencies which will come to depend on the network.

   Far from evolving into the whole of the National Public Network
   itself, the NREN is best thought of as a prototype for the NPN, which
   will emerge over time from the phone system, cable television, and
   many computer networks.  But the NREN is a growth site which, unlike
   privately controlled systems, can be consciously shaped to meet
   public needs.  For a wide variety of services, some of which might
   not be commercially viable at the outset, the NREN can

      provide selective access that proves feasibility and leads to the
      creation of a commercial infrastructure that can support universal
      services.... If we fully focus on ...[current] goals and work our
      way through a multitude of technical and operational issues in the
      process, then the success of the NREN will fully support its
      extension to broader uses in the years to follow. (4)

   In order to function as an effective test-bed, one that promotes
   broad access to a range of innovative, developing services, the NREN
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