RESEARCH TRIANGLE PARK, N.C. (AP) - North Carolina universities are at the forefront of a national effort to put together the cutting-edge technology called Internet II.
University officials say they need a next-generation Internet, or on-line computer network, because the mass commercialization of the first has made it too congested to handle huge computations and data transmissions researchers need.
"We built it, and they came, and they came, and they came and they're still coming," said William Graves, associate provost for information technology at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
The Internet also is inefficient, sometimes bouncing e-mail around the globe before it lands in a computer down the hall from where it was sent.
The second phase of the Internet, expected to take three to five years to develop and cost at least $500 million, will include face-to-face communication and be up to a thousand times faster than the current Internet.
The next generation of on-line surfers will travel along advanced fiber-optic cable connected by a series of super high-speed points, computer experts say.
So far, more than 60 universities are signed on. The project also has support from the federal government and private industry.
Like the original, Internet II is expected to begin with universities, then pique the interest of the private sector, and eventually land in the hands of consumers.
Helping them along the way will be researchers at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, N.C. State University, Duke University and Research Triangle Park's MCNC, a nonprofit microelectronics center.
An internship program is planned so students will help researchers build Internet II, with hopes that they will then work for the companies that take it over.
Besides solving problems of space, speed and efficiency, those developing Internet II hope it will make possible "real-time" networking, in which people can talk to and see each other over the computer without the time delays and picture-quality problems notorious on the Internet.
Eventually, this could be the technology that lets a child wiggle a loose tooth for his grandparents while he's telling them about it long-distance.
The developers of the new technology hope that the costs of Internet II will be spread more equally than those of the first Internet, which many used for free for years before it became commercialized. Users might be charged by the minute like long-distance telephone service, by levels of quality or technology, or a combination.
"We have certain things in mind today," said Alan Blatecky, vice president for information technologies at MCNC. "But I'll be highly surprised if we're on target."